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


The weedy roadside was a witching tangle of shadows, and the air was drowsy with spicy, wind-blown scents, as four motor cars swept on their merry way to Foxford.

Juanita Sterling, in the last of the procession, watched the gay little imps dance across the windshield and thought glad thoughts. It was going to be a worth-while evening she felt sure, and it was good that her left-hand neighbors, Miss Major and Mrs. Winslow Teed, had each other to entertain, and she was free to anticipate and ponder and to feast her heart on the visions of the night.

The sometimes insisting opinions of Miss Major and the familiar “When I was abroad” of Mrs. Winslow Teed seldom obtruded on her dreams. Once, however, she came to her surroundings with a start.

“No,” Miss Major was asserting, “Nelson Randolph is not the man for the place. He takes some things for granted and lets other things drift. If we had a good, live president, our superintendent would get her walking ticket instanter.”

“A little strange he doesn’t marry again. His wife has been gone for some years, hasn’t she?”

“Five last June. They say he is devoted to her memory. I don’t take much stock in such devotedness so far as men are concerned. When he finds some pink and white doll that is sufficiently captivating he will go through with another wedding ceremony.”

“That makes me think of a Danish couple I met in Florence,” began Mrs. Winslow Teed; “she couldn’t have been over nineteen or twenty, and he was eighty at least. She

Miss Sterling was again absorbed in her own thoughts and never heard what became of the poorly-mated travelers.

Doodles and Blue ran down from the veranda as the cars speeded up the slope to the little bungalow, and they were quickly in the midst of a joyous circle.

Polly and David, alighting from the third car, ran back to help Miss Sterling and the others.

“Oh, Miss Nita! Wasn’t the ride lovely?” Polly squeezed her friend’s arm. “Say, did you know, at the very last minute Miss Sniffen sent over word that Mrs. Bonnyman couldn’t go? She had the toothache, and so mother came in her place! Oh, I did wish you were in our car! I wanted to say, ‘Isn’t that beautiful?’ and ‘Just look at this!’”

“You could talk to David,” laughed Miss Sterling.

“Oh, yes, I did some! But Mrs. Crump was jabbering to him most of the time. Haven’t you ever been out here before? Why, I thought you had! How d’ y’ do, Doodles!”

The three went up the steps hand in hand.

“Isn’t that the loveliest, biggest moon you ever saw?” exclaimed Polly.

While they lingered to look at it a car flashed up the road and turned in at the entrance.

“Somebody going to the Flemings’,” remarked Doodles carelessly.

“No, it’s coming here!” returned Polly. The lights blazed toward them.

They waited, and a man stepped out.

“Mr. Randolph!” breathed Polly, as he emerged from the shadows.

“I feel somewhat like an intruder,” said the president, as he grasped the hand of Doodles. “When Colonel Gresham invited me I told him my coming was impossible. Then things cleared up a little and here I am!”

A visible stir succeeded Nelson Randolph’s entrance. Mrs. Stickney and Colonel Gresham welcomed him most cordially, and Polly, as president of the Hiking Club, greeted him with a characteristic little speech.

Presently the unexpected guest was moving easily among the others, passing from group to group with hearty handshakes and happy words, at last coming face to face with Juanita Sterling.

She had watched him nearing her corner, the while politely attending to Miss Leatherland’s intermittent chit-cnat and vainly trying to banish from her mind the recent assertions of Miss Major. With his first word, however, they fled, and she found herself talking to the president unabashed and unafraid.

“I am glad to have the opportunity of telling you how much I thought of those beautiful roses,” she said; “I never saw handsomer ones.”

“It is good to know you enjoyed them. I hoped to have the pleasure of taking you out to Adalina Park in the height of the rose season.” Was there an inquiry in the eyes that bent to hers?

She felt the flush sweep up her cheeks. “I should have been delighted to go,” she replied. Hurriedly she tried to think of something to add to the brief sentence, but her mind was confused, and the seconds slipped by.

“I was sorry it happened so,” he went on; “but we will try it again. Adalina Park is in its full glory now, and there are pretty drives outside of the parks.” He smiled whimsically.

Then came the question that put her in doubt whether she should tell him the truth or not “When should I be most likely to find you disengaged?”

“Almost any time,” she answered, having decided that she would leave him to discover why she had not responded to his invitation. “Work is never pressing at the Home.”

“Isn’t it?” A puzzled look flickered in his eyes or was it only her fancy?

A little flutter about the piano told that somebody was to play or sing. David took the seat and began a prelude. Then he sang in a clear, fresh voice:

“Red as the wine of forgotten ages,
Yellow as gold of the sunbeams spun,
Pink as the gowns of Aurora’s pages,
White as the robe of a sinless one,
Sweeter than Arabys winds that blow
Roses, roses, I love ye so!”

“Who is that boy?” Nelson Randolph asked. “Some relation of Colonel Gresham’s, isn’t he?”

“His grandnephew, David Collins.”

“He has a fine voice.”

“Excellent. Polly Dudley has a sweet voice, too. I hope she will sing before the evening is over. And Doodles is wonderful! Have you ever heard him?”

“No. He told me he was in the choir at St. Bartholomew’s.”

“There he comes! Oh, Polly is to play for him!”

A very sympathetic accompanist was Polly. Juanita Sterling listened in surprise and wonder. How could such a child do so well!

“Young Davie was the brawest lad
In a’ the Lairnie Glen,
An’ Jennie was the bonniest lass
That e’er stole hearts o’ men;
But Davie was a cotter’s lad,
A lad o’ low degree,
An’ Jennie, bonnie, sonsie lass,
A highborn lass was she.”

Applause burst upon the hush that hung on the last note. It was insistent it would not be denied. Doodles must sing again.

“He is a marvel!” Nelson Randolph spoke it softly, as the young singer returned to the piano.

He gave the second verse of the song, which before he had omitted, and then sang the dainty little love song,

“Dusk, and the shadows falling
O’er land and sea;
Somewhere a voice is calling,
Calling for me!”

Yet even that did not satisfy his audience. So he returned once more and gave in an irresistibly rollicking way a song in Yankee dialect, the refrain to which,

“Oh, my boy Jonathan is jest as good as gold!
An he always fills the wood-box ithout bein told!

tagging as it did the various topics of the old farmer’s discourse upon his son, never failed to bring laughter from his hearers.

At the end the applause was long and urgent; but Doodles had run away, and would not come back.

Polly slipped up to Miss Sterling.

“Will you play for us now? please, Miss Nita!” seeing a refusal in the eyes that met her own.

“I am not in practice. I should hate to break down before all these people,” she smiled.

“There isn’t one mite of danger!” Polly asserted confidently. “Do come, Miss Nita! Mr. Randolph, I wish you’d coax her to come! She can play magnificently!”


“She can!” Polly addressed the president.

“I don’t doubt it,” Nelson Randolph declared, “and I should be delighted to hear her.”

“You wouldn’t be delighted at all,” Miss Sterling laughed. “You would want to stop me long before I had finished one page. My fingers would be lost in no time.”

He dissented with courtliness, and Polly wheedled until Doodles and Blue came to add their urging to hers; but in the end they had to let Miss Sterling have her way, which was to remain outside of the entertaining circle.

So Polly sang, “Such a li’l’ fellow,” and “Daisytown Gossip.” Then Mrs. Winslow Teed was beguiled into singing the old song of “The Beggar Girl,” and if her voice were a bit uncertain, on the whole it was sweet and received well-earned applause.

Games interspersed the music, and it was discovered that the president of June Holiday Home, as well as the eldest of the Home residents, was quite as clever in guesses as the young folks.

Either by chance or intention, Juanita Sterling could not decide which, Nelson Randolph appeared to have established himself for the evening at her side. Others came and went, but the president stayed.

“I wonder when we shall hear Caruso,” she said. “He is on the programme; I think they must be waiting until the moon is high.”

“Caruso?” he repeated with a puzzled look. “Not

“No, not the great Caruso,” she smiled; “the little Caruso.”

“But what has the moon to do with his singing? I am in the dark.”

She laughed out. “I don’t wonder! I supposed you knew about
Caruso. He is a wonderful mocking-bird that belongs to Doodles.
He can but wait! You will hear him soon, if I’m not mistaken.”

Blue was at the window, gazing skyward. He raised the curtain high, and the moonlight streamed in. A large cage was placed on a table in the direct beams. Suddenly the lights were out.

A mellow fluting broke the hush, and Caruso was in song!

Few of the guests had ever heard his like. He was a score of performers in one. The notes of a dozen birds issued in quick succession from that one little throat, clear, sweet, delicious. Then, without warning, came the unmistakable squeal of a pig, the squawking of hens, the yelp of a puppy, which in a moment merged into a little carol, and then Caruso was singing “Annie Laurie”!

The concert reached a sudden end, and the audience came to itself in such applause as none of the other performers had won.

“Are there any more astonishments in store for me?” asked Nelson Randolph, as the clapping dwindled to a few tardy hands. “When the Colonel invited me to come up this evening I did not anticipate a concert of this nature. He said they were to have ‘a little music,’ but you know what that generally means.”

“I know,” nodded Miss Sterling smilingly. “I wonder, after such an admission, that you were willing to risk it.”

“Oh, I didn’t come for the music!” he returned. “Nevertheless, it is worth going more than twenty miles to hear. Polly and Doodles and David would make a good concert by themselves and now the mocldng-bird! I never heard anything equal to his performance! He is a wonder!”

“He can whistle ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ too, I think he does it quite as well as ‘Annie Laurie.’”

The applause had started again, and the lights, which had been turned on, went out. The audience quieted at once.

Soft and sweet came the tones of a violin.

“Doodles,” breathed Miss Sterling.

Nelson Randolph bent his head to hear, and nodded in answer.

Softly the player slipped into “Old Folks at Home,” and the tune went on slowly, lingeringly, as if waiting for something that did not come. Again it was played, this time with the voice of Doodles accompanying.

Meanwhile Polly was tiptoeing noiselessly from group to group and from guest to guest, with the soft-breathed word, “No applause, please!”

Over and over sounded the sweet, haunting melody, until not a few of those unfamiliar with the methods of the patient teacher and his singular little pupil, wondered, with Miss Crilly, “what in the world was up.”

Then, just as almost everybody’s nerves were growing tense, Caruso took up the air and carried it on bewitchingly to its close.

“How can he do it!” “Wasn’t that perfectly beautiful!” “Did you teach it to him, Doodles?” “My! but he’s a jimdandy, and no mistake!” These and a score of others were tossed about as the lights went up.

“I must have a nearer view of that singer,” declared Nelson Randolph. “I’m sure he can’t look like an ordinary mocker; he must show the marks of genius in his feathers!”

Miss Sterling laughed. “He is certainly surprising. Doodles told me he was trying to teach him a new song, but I was not prepared for anything like this.”

“Who could be! Come!” he invited. “Let’s go over and see him!”

Juanita Sterling unavoidably brushed Miss Crilly on the way across, and smiled pleasantly, to which that middle-aged merrymaker responded with a whispered, “Ain’t you swell, a-goin’ with the president all the evening!”

Miss Sterling flung back a laughing shake of the head, and passed on.

Nelson Randolph scanned the slim gray bird in silence. Then he turned to his companion.

“It doesn’t seem possible that this little fellow could do all that!”

Doodles smiled across the cage. He was giving Caruso the tidbit which he had well earned.

“How long does it take you to teach him a song?”

“I’ve only taught him one, Mr. Randolph. He was several months learning that. He knew ‘Annie Laurie’ when he came, and Mr. Gillespie taught him ‘Auld Lang Syne.’”

“The bird had finished his little feast and stood nonchalantly preening his feathers.


The mocker lifted his head and gave a short whistle. Then he went on with his interrupted toilet.

Nelson Randolph laughed softly.

“Caruso!” began Doodles again. “Caruso!”

The bird looked up and whistled as before.

Doodles bent closer. “Can’t you sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ for Mr.
Randolph? He has never heard it, you know.”

The mocker stretched a wing and let go a mellow strain.

Softly Doodles began to sing,

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?”

The bird had stood listening, and now caught tip the air with vigor, carrying it on with a surety that was as astonishing as it was delightful.

Nelson Randolph shook his head in admiration. “Marvelous!” he cried; “marvelous!” He put his hand in his pocket “I wish you liked pennies!” he laughed.

“His pennies are meal worms,” said Doodles with a grimace. “I’ll get him one.”

“Ugh! How can he?” laughed Miss Crilly, as the bird disposed of the dainty.

His reward seemed to incite him to further song, for straightway he launched into a gay little medley that set his hearers laughing and admiring at once.

“The birthday supper is ready!” announced Blue informally from the door of the dining-room.

Doodles ran quickly to Miss Lily’s side and they took place at the head of the little procession.

Colonel Gresham and Mrs. Adlerfeld came next.

“Oh, I’m so glad!” thought Juanita Sterling, catching a sight of the little Swedish woman’s happy face.

The company speedily divided itself into two’s, and Miss Sterling, with a bit of a heart flutter, found herself walking beside the president of June Holiday Home. Just ahead were Patricia and David. Where was Polly? She and David were always together everywhere. But now she and Leonora were side by side. Strange! but wonderings were lost in the pleasant calls of the occasion.

In the smallish dining-room a long table gave seats to everybody, and no one was crowded.

Nothing elaborate had been attempted, all was simple and homelike. Except for the curious decoration above the seat of honor, and the birthday cake with its pink and white frosting, there was little to distinguish it from an every-day repast.

Talk and appetite went merrily hand in hand, and the “birthday girl,” as Polly and Doodles insisted on calling her, grew actually gay.

“When she had cut the cake, and everybody’s plate was empty, Doodles asked her to pull a pink ribbon hanging from the umbrella-like contrivance over her head.

“With a half-frightened face and fingers that trembled, she plucked at the dainty string. Nothing happened.

“Pull harder!” urged Doodles.

She made another attempt and gave a little cry, for tumbling about her came birthday gifts in wild array.

Into her lap plumped an embroidered pin-cushion, on one shoulder drooped a muslin and lace apron, over her head was draped a white silk waist, while all around, on floor and table, were other articles, besides packages of various sizes tied with pink and white ribbons. In the laughter and confusion, presents too bulky or too frail to be risked in a fall were placed near her, a long box of pink roses, a tall vase of cut-glass, a big, big box of candy, a pretty bon-bon dish, a small fern, and a little begonia with lovely pink blossoms.

To be thus suddenly surprised, and at the same time to be made the attractive point of so many eyes, was more than Faith Lily’s composure could bear. Her lip quivered like a little child’s, her blue eyes filled with tears and over-flowed she began softly to sob.

Doodles looked distressed. Then he did the best thing possible.

He took up the pincushion. “Mrs. Dudley made you this,” he said, “and this is from Leonora,” he held the apron for her to see. “Isn’t it pretty? Turn round a bit and I’ll tie it on!”

The crying ceased, and the tension had passed. Miss Lily smiled down on the apron with happy eyes.

“Here is a handkerchief that Polly embroidered for you,” Doodles went on, “and this box of chocolates is from Mr. Randolph. Colonel Gresham gave you the roses just smell them!” He lifted the box to her face.

“Oh!” breathed Miss Lily in delight.

“The china dish is David’s present, and these cards are from Mrs. Albright and Mrs. Bonnyman and Miss Crilly. This beautiful waist that’s from Patricia, and the box of handkerchiefs from her mother, and the booklet from Miss Castlevaine, and the photograph from Miss Major. Oh! the vase is from the ’Hiking Club,’ and I don’t know about the packages.”

Miss Lily beamed on her riches, upon Doodles, upon the whole tableful.

“Why,” she exclaimed softly, “I don’t see how you came to do it! I never thought of having a single present! Oh, it’s beautiful of you!” Her voice trembled. “I can’t thank you half enough, but I shall love you, every one, as long as I live!”

Doodles was picking up the small parcels scattered on the floor.

“Will you have these now?” he nodded.

“Oh, yes!” she said, eagerly as a child.

Everybody seemed interested in the unwrapping. They were simple gifts, but Miss Lily fingered them lovingly, even to the plainest little card.

The telephone called Blue into the next room. He returned almost at once.

“Mr. Randolph,” he said, “some one wishes to talk with you.”

They were rising from the table as the president came back.

“I am sorry to say good-bye so early,” he told them; “but a New York man is waiting to see me on important business and has to return home on the 11.45 train. So I must get down to him as soon as possible.”

He came over to Juanita Sterling with a little rueful smile.

“I hoped to have the pleasure of taking you home, but ” He shook his head. “We’ll make up for it in a day or two,” he finished blithely.

Her eyes met his. Something she saw there sent a warm flush to her cheeks, and she looked away.

“You will hear from me soon.” He held out his hand. “Thank you for giving me so much enjoyment this evening good-night.”

That was all. Simple courtesy, Juanita Sterling told herself two hours later; but now her heart was filled with a quivering joy that was almost pain.

On the homeward ride she found herself seated next to Miss Major, with Miss Castlevaine just beyond.

“We seem to be shifted round,” Miss Castlevaine observed. “I came up in the second car, Dr. Dudley’s; but Mrs. Winslow Teed has my seat I was in front with the chauffeur. So I took the first vacant place I saw.”

“She rode up with us.”

“Then it is all right. I see David Collins has got Patricia Illingworth in tow he came with Polly. I wonder if they’ve had a quarrel.”

“I never knew them to quarrel,” said Juanita Sterling.

“Oh, don’t they? Well, it looks like it now. He took Patricia out to supper, too.”

“So he did,” responded Miss Major. “I didn’t think of it in that light. We’ve had a nice evening, anyway. It seems good to get out of the rut.”

“Yes,” answered Miss Castlevaine grudgingly; “but they’ll have to keep this up, now they’ve begun, or there’ll be more fusses than a few!”

“What do you mean?”

“Why, everybody’ll have to have a birthday party, or the rest’ll be jealous.”

“Oh, yes, I see! But they couldn’t do it for all.”

“Then there’ll be trouble! And I don’t know as I should blame them any. Why should one of the family have all the good times and loads of presents, and nobody else have anything huh!”

“It hasn’t established a precedent by any means,” asserted Miss Major.

“Indeed, it has! And they ought to have thought of that before they began.”

“I doubt if any such thing ever occurred to Polly and Doodles,” interposed Miss Sterling. “They were thinking only of giving Miss Lily a pleasant birthday. I am glad she had so many presents.”

“Well, Mr. Randolph meant she should have enough candy for once, didn’t he? A five-pound box certainly! If she eats it all herself, it’ll make her sick! I don’t suppose she ever had so much at one time before, and she won’t use any judgment about it. It would have been in a good deal better taste to have given her a simple pound box.”

“Oh, no!” laughed Miss Major. “I’d rather have a five-pound box any time! And so would you!”

“I suppose he’s used to that size,” retorted Miss Castlevaine. “He probably gives ’em to his girl by the cartload huh!”

“Who is she?” queried Miss Major.

“Why, that Puddicombe girl! He is engaged to Blanche
Puddicombe didn’t you know it?”

“No, I hadn’t heard.”

“Well, he is! They say the wedding isn’t coming off till next spring. I guess he’s bound to have all he can get out of his freedom till then he won’t have much after he’s tied to that silly-pate!”

“She looks it all right! Her mother isn’t any too smart.”

“No, and the Puddicombe side is worse. We used to think that Si Puddicombe knew less than nothing! And Le Grand Puddicombe

Juanita Sterling edged a little closer into the seat corner. She had no interest in Le Grand Puddicombe. She stared into the night. A raw wind struck her face. Thick clouds had suddenly shut out the moon, and a chill over-spread the earth. All was dark, dark, except for the flashing lines ahead. The steady pur-r-r-r-r-ing of the car was in the air. Miss Castlevaine’s monotonous voice ran on and on; but, the little woman at the end of the seat realized nothing except the insistent words knelling through her brain, “Engaged to Blanche Puddicombe! Engaged to Blanche Puddicombe!”

It was not until she was in her room, with the door safely locked, that she commanded herself sufficiently to answer the clanging voice.

“I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it!” she burst out. “It’s a lie! a miserable, sneaking lie!”

“Engaged to Blanche Puddicombe! Engaged to Blanche Puddicombe!” was the mocking retort.

She dropped on her knees by the bedside and covered her face with her hands.

“Oh, God,” she whispered, “forgive me for being a fool!”