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


Miss Sterling was not in her room. Polly had knocked and knocked. Finally she turned away and went slowly downstairs.

“Is Miss Nita out?” she asked of Miss Sniffen in the lower hall.

“I don’t know,” was the answer. She did not offer to look at the day-book on the desk.

Miss Lily came by, on her way upstairs, and said good-morning as she passed.

Polly had reached the door, when a little cry arrested her. She turned to see Miss Lily half kneeling on the stairs, clutching the rail.

“Oh! are you hurt?” Polly ran up to her.

“Not much, I guess,” was the tremulous answer. “I can’t see, and the stairs are so wide! I fall every day or so!”

Polly helped her up. “I’d go close to the balustrade, if I were you.”

“Oh, no! I mustn’t!” Miss Lily whispered, glancing down into the hall.

“She’s gone,” said Polly softly. “Come right up here! Afraid of scratching? ’T won’t do any harm with your soft slippers.”

“She won’t let me!” breathed the frightened woman.

“Oh, I guess she won’t mind!” returned Polly easily. “That’s what rails are made for to cling to.”

“What’s the matter now!” broke in a cutting voice.

“Why, Miss Lily fell, and I’m trying to make her come up close to the rail, so she can get a good, firm hold; but she’s afraid of scratching the stairs.”

“Of course it will scratch to go tramping over that polished wood! She’s to step on the carpet, as I told her! You’re always interfering, Polly Dudley!”

“Miss Sniffen, I didn’t mean to interfere; but Miss Lily can’t see as well as you can, and

“She can see well enough! Her eyesight is good. There is no need of her falling.”

“But she can’t get hold of the rail away off in the middle!”

“Certainly she can reach it! Don’t stand there talking nonsense!”

Miss Lily turned and hastened up the long flight. Polly watched her for a moment and then walked slowly down the stairs.

The superintendent waited at the foot, her face flushed and stern.

“You have made trouble enough round here,” she said bitingly. “Now I think we’ll stop it!”

“Why, Miss Sniffen, what have I done?”

“You’re putting foolish notions into the heads of these old women petting and pampering them in the way you do! To organize a walking-club for them, when they’ve got one foot in the grave it’s absurd!”

“Oh, they’re not old all of them!” broke in Polly. “Miss Nita isn’t old! or Miss Crilly! or

“You need not enumerate! I know how old they are, and I know how old they say they are! To think of your coaxing them into such disgraceful escapades as you have! Those gray-haired women dancing out in a pasture lot! Oh, you needn’t look so surprised! I know what you’re up to, if I do stay home here! You were saucy on that occasion, and bold, too! Calling to passing automobilists to come and dance with you! It was scandalous!”

“Why, Miss Sniffen,” Polly’s tone was gently explanatory, “you can’t have heard it straight! We didn’t do a single thing out of the way! And I didn’t call anybody! Mr. Randolph and Miss Puddicombe drove along, and Mr. Randolph said it looked too tempting, and wanted to know if they couldn’t come and dance. That was all!”

The superintendent primmed her lips. “We won’t discuss it any further. All I wish to say is that hereafter you may confine your calls to Wednesday afternoon, when we receive visitors.”

Polly stood for an instant, dumb with surprise and dismay; then she took a step forward.

“Good-bye, Miss Sniffen!” she said in a low, tense voice, and passed swiftly out into the sunshine.

She walked along, regardless of anything besides her own tumultuous thoughts, until, as she was turning in at her home entrance, she heard the old familiar call, “Pollee, Pollee, Pollee-e-e!”

David was only a few yards ahead, and she waited.

“What is it?” he asked as he came up.

The ghost of a smile flickered on Polly’s face.

“I’ve just been shut out of the Home!” she said with almost a sob.

An angry light leaped in the boy’s eyes; but he spoke no word, only clinched his teeth.

They went up the walk together, Polly talking fast. Mrs. Dudley met them in the hall, and the story was begun again.

“That woman!” cried the boy; “I’d like to go over and knock her down!”

“David!” chuckled Polly, with an admiring glance at his broad shoulders and athletic frame.

“It is terrible to think of those dear people being in her power!”

“Something must be done.” Mrs. Dudley looked troubled.

“If only Mr. Randolph hadn’t been sick!” said Polly plaintively. “But Doodles says he is better!” Her face brightened. “Oh, David! did you know Doodles has been singing to him?”

“No. I suppose that cured him.” There was a little warning tone in the rich voice.

“It has helped,” Polly replied gently. “It makes him forget the pain. Mr. Randolph sends after him every day and has his man take him home again isn’t that nice?”

M hm,” nodded David.

“Doodles was here this noon,” Polly went on. “Something was the matter with the car, and so he ran over while Murray was fixing it. The Doctor says Mr. Randolph may go to ride to-morrow if it is pleasant.”

“When shall you see him?” asked David.

“Soon as ever I can to think of Miss Nita’s being shut up there, and my not being able to get to her!”

“It wouldn’t do any good to telephone,” mused David, “or to write a note.”

“I’m afraid!” Polly shook her head. “If she’d grab those cards from Mr. Randolph’s boxes of roses, she’d take a letter. What do you suppose she did it for?”

“Didn’t want her to know who sent them.”

“But why?”

“Oh, probably she’s in love with him,” replied David carelessly.

“Miss Sniffen?” Polly’s voice was flooded with astonishment.

“Anything very surprising about that?” laughed David.

“Why, the idea! He couldn’t!”

“No, he couldn’t, but she could.”

“I have thought of that,” assented Mrs. Dudley. “I cannot account for her actions in any other way.”

“It’s so funny!” giggled Polly. “And she probably knows he is engaged to Blanche Puddicombe!”

“That is what stumps me!” exclaimed David. “Such a girl!”

“They say she has a fortune in her own name,” put in Mrs. Dudley.

“Fortune!” scorned the boy. “I wouldn’t marry her if she would give me a hundred million!”

Mrs. Dudley laughed.

“She’d be better than Miss Sniffen,” said Polly.

“But to think of coming home to such a wife as she’ll make!” cried David.

“And sitting down to dinner with her!” went on Polly.

David shook his head. “A man might stand it for one day, but for a lifetime good-bye!”

“It doesn’t seem as if he would marry just for money,” sighed Polly.

“That’s what most men think of first. Isn’t it, Mrs. Dudley?”

“Some of them,” she agreed. “I can’t believe they are in the majority.”

“She’ll make the very crotchetiest wife!” asserted Polly. “He’ll have to keep her in a glass case! See how she went on up in the pasture! The sun was too hot and the wind was too cool, her stone seat was too hard, and the ground was too rough to dance on! Everything was too something! She wasn’t contented till she got her ‘Nelson’ out of reach of Miss Nita. I guess men have to run more risk than girls do.”

“Uncle David wouldn’t agree with you,” smiled David. “Aunt Juliet tells a story about him long before he was married. A girl I think it was a trained nurse, anyhow somebody he knew pretty well asked him what he thought of her marrying. He waited a moment, and then said, in his deliberate way, ’Well, I don’t know more than three or four decent men anyway, and you wouldn’t be likely forget any of them!’ She had to tell of that, and Aunt Juliet heard it. Uncle David looks solemn at first, when she begins it then he chuckles.”

“That sounds just like Colonel Gresham,” laughed Mrs. Dudley.

“He’s such a nice man!” praised Polly with emphasis. “And so is Mr. Randolph, just as lovable! I wouldn’t mind marrying him myself.”

“You wouldn’t!” flashed David.

“No,” maintained Polly; “but I shan’t have a chance,” she chuckled.

Her mother heard the Doctor calling and went to him.

“You ought to go in there and hear those children ’talking about marriage,” she whispered; “it is better than a circus!”

The Doctor looked through to where they sat, and smiled.

Meantime the talk in the living-room had taken a personal turn.

“I suppose you’d marry any of the fellows.” David was grumbling.

“I should prefer to choose,” laughed Polly. “Oh, David! it is funny to hear you go off!”

She dimpled over it.

“’Funny’!” he scorned. “That Wilmerding dude will be walking down to school with you, same as last year! Carrying your books, too!” David frowned. “And you’ll let him!”

“He might as well be of use. It’s lots easier than to carry them myself.”

“Wish your father’d send you down in the car.”

“He thinks it better for me to walk,” she smiled.

“You’ll talk and laugh,” David fretted on, “till he’ll think you’re dead in love with him! You jolly with all the boys more than you do with me!”

Polly’s face sobered. “David,” she said, “in some things you are wonderfully wise; but you don’t seem to know very much about girls. I am not always the happiest when I’m laughing. You talk as if you’d like to keep me in prison, same as Miss Sniffen keeps those poor dears over there. I know better, but it sounds that way.”

“Forgive me! I’m getting piggish again!”

“No, but I wish you weren’t quite so suspicious. I’ll have to make a bargain with you, how will this do? If anybody steals my heart away, I’ll notify you at once.”

David stood up straight. “I must go,” he said. “It is later than I thought. No, Polly, you needn’t promise me anything! I can trust you. Only ” He smiled, looking down at her. “Good-bye!”