Read POLLY’S VALENTINE of A Flock of Girls and Boys, free online book, by Nora Perry, on ReadCentral.com.

CHAPTER I.

Polly was seven years old before she knew anything about valentines. This may seem very strange to most girls, for most girls have heard all about Valentine’s Day by the time they are three or four, and have had no end of fun sending and receiving these friendly favors. But Polly didn’t know a thing about them until she was seven. I’ll tell you why. Polly was one of a number of children who lived in an Orphan’s Home, and Polly herself was the youngest of the orphans.

One morning as she looked out of the window, she saw the postman suddenly surrounded by a whole flock of little girls, and heard one of them say, “Oh, haven’t you got a valentine for me?” And then the whole flock cried, “And for me? and for me?” And the postman laughed good-naturedly, and, looking through his pack of letters, took out two or three quite big square envelopes, and handed them to one and another of the clamorous little crowd.

Polly, hearing and seeing all this, wondered what a valentine could be. She did not ask anybody the question, however, just then; but when the postman came around at noon, and she saw the same scene repeated, her curiosity could not be restrained any longer, and she started off to find Jane McClane, for Jane was fourteen years old and knew everything, Polly thought.

Jane was in the linen-room mending a sheet when Polly found her, and being rather lonesome was quite willing to enter into conversation with any one who came along. But Polly’s question made her open her eyes with surprise.

“A valentine?” she exclaimed. “You don’t mean to say, Polly, you never heard of a valentine before?”

“No, never,” answered Polly, feeling very small and ignorant.

“Well, to be sure,” said Jane, “you’re very little, and ain’t ’round much, but I should have thought you’d have heard somebody say something about valentines before this; but you ain’t much for listening and asking, I know.”

“No,” echoed Polly; “but I’m listening now.”

Jane laughed. “Yes, I see you are. Well, a valentine is just a piece of poetry, with a picture to it, that anybody sends to a person on Valentine’s Day.”

“What’s Valentine’s Day?”

“Why, it’s the day you send valentines, to be sure, the 14th of February.”

“Is it like Christmas? Was Valentine very good, and is it his birthday as Christmas is Christ’s birthday?”

“Mercy, no! What queer things you do ask when you get going, Polly! Valentine’s Day is just Valentine’s Day, when folks send these poetry and picture things for fun, and don’t sign their own names, only ’Your Valentine,’ and that means somebody who has chosen chosen to be your well, your beau, maybe.”

“What’s a beau?” asked innocent Polly.

“Polly, you don’t know anything!” cried Jane, in an exasperated tone. “A beau is is somebody who likes you better ’n anybody else.”

“Oh, I wish I had one!”

“Had one what?” asked Jane.

“A beau to like me like that; to send me a valentine.”

“Oh, oh! you are such a baby,” laughed Jane.

“I ain’t a baby!” cried Polly, indignantly; and then her lip quivered, and she began to cry.

“Hush, hush!” said Jane; “if Mrs. Banks hears you, she’ll send you out of here quicker ’n a wink.”

But Polly could not “hush” all at once, and continued to sob and sniff behind her apron; Jane trying in the mean time to soothe her, but not succeeding very well, until she thought to say,

“If you won’t cry any more, Polly, I’ll get Martha” Martha was the chambermaid “to show you her valentine; it’s a beauty.”

Polly dropped her apron and began to swallow her sobs, while Jane ran to Martha, who was very proud of her valentine, and very glad to show it even to little Polly Price; and the valentine was a beauty, as Jane had said. Polly, looking through the tears that still hung on her lashes at the group of little cherubs that were dancing out of lily-cups and roses, cried, “Angels, angels!” winding up with, “Oh, I wish somebody ’d send me a valentine!”

“She didn’t know a thing about valentines; never heard of them till just now,” Jane explained to Martha.

“Well, to be sure,” said Martha, “she is the greenest little thing; but then she ain’t never been to school like the rest of ye, and things is very quiet and out-of-the-way like in the Home here, and she’s nothin’ but a baby.”

“I ain’t a baby! I ain’t, I ain’t!” screamed Polly.

“Polly, Polly!” warned Jane. But Polly only burst out afresh in loud sobs and cries. Jane was a good-natured girl, but she could not stand this, and, reaching forward, she gave Polly a little shake, and said, “Now, Polly Price, you just stop and be a good girl, or I’ll never have anything more to do with you.”

Polly gasped. Three years ago, when she was first brought to the Home, she had been assigned to a little bed next the one that Jane occupied, and had been more or less under the elder girl’s care. Jane had been very good to the child, and with her womanly ways and superior knowledge she stood to Polly for both mother and sister. No wonder, then, that she gasped at Jane’s threat. What would she do if that threat were carried out, and Jane had nothing more to do with her? What would life be in the Home without Jane?

Polly did not ask herself these questions in exactly these words, but she felt the desolate possibility that had been suggested to her; and it was so appalling that it quite overpowered her flare of temper, and stopped her sobs and cries as effectually as Jane could have desired. But Jane herself, busy with her darning, did not notice the expression of Polly’s face, and had no idea how deeply her words had penetrated the child’s mind until hours afterwards, when, as she was preparing to go to bed, Polly’s voice called softly,

“Jane, haven’t I been a good girl since?”

Jane started. “What in the world are you awake for now, Polly Price?” she asked. “It’s nine o’clock. You ought to have been asleep long ago.”

“I couldn’t go to sleep, I felt so bad,” answered Polly.

“You felt so bad; where? Have you got a sore throat?” inquired Jane, remembering that a good many of the children’s illnesses began with sore throat.

“No, ’tisn’t my throat.”

“Where is it, then your stomach?”

“No, it’s it’s my feelin’s. I felt bad ’cause ’cause you said if I didn’t stop cryin’ and be a good girl, you wouldn’ ever have anythin’ to do with me any more. But I did stop, and I have been a good girl since, haven’t I?”

“Yes, oh, yes, you’ve been good since,” bending down to tuck Polly in. As she stooped, Polly flung her arms around Jane’s neck, and whispered,

“Do you love me just the same, Jane?”

“Yes, I guess so,” replied Jane, smiling.

“I love you better ’n anybody in the world, Jane.”

“And you’d choose me to be your valentine, then, wouldn’t you?” laughed Jane.

“Oh, yes, yes; and if I could only send you one of those po’try picture things, I’d send you the most bewt’f’lest I could find. Don’t you wish I could, Jane?”

“Yes, of course I do.”

“Did you ever have a valentine, Jane?”

“No, never.”

“Those girls ’cross the street had ’em, and Martha had one. Why don’t you and I have ’em, Jane?”

“You ‘n’ I? Those girls across the street know girls and boys who have fathers and mothers to give them money to buy valentines with.”

“Why don’t we know such girls and boys?”

“‘Cause we don’t. We’re poor, and live in an Orphans’ Home. Those girls only know folks that live like themselves.”

“But Martha lives right here, just where we do, and Martha had a valentine.”

“Martha’s different. She’s only paid for staying here to work. She’s got folks outside that she belongs to. It was a cousin of hers sent her that valentine.”

“Oh,” and Polly gave a soft sigh, “I wish we had folks that we belonged to! Don’t you, Jane?”

Don’t I!” and as Jane said this, she dropped down upon Polly’s little bed, and covered her face with her hands.

“Oh, Jane, Janey! what’s the matter? Has somebody hurted your feelings?”

“No, no,” answered Jane, brokenly; “nobody in particular. I I felt lonesome. I do sometimes when I get to thinking I don’t belong to anybody and nobody belongs to me.”

“Janey, I belongs to you, don’t I?” And around Jane’s neck two little arms pressed lovingly.

“You don’t belong to me as a relation does. You ain’t a sister or a cousin, you know.”

“Can’t you ’dopt me, Jane?”

Jane laughed through her tears. “What do you know about adopting?” she asked.

“Martha tole me ’bout it. She said folks of’n ’dopted children to be their very own, and that mebbe some time somebody’d ’dopt me; and I tole her then I didn’ want anybody to ’dopt me, but I’d like you to ’dopt me, Jane. Couldn’t you?” with great earnestness.

“Of course not, Polly. Folks who adopt children are older ’n I am, and have money to take care of ’em. But I do wish some nice lady would adopt you, some nice lady with a nice home.”

“But I’d rather stay here ‘long o’ you, Jane. I don’t want to go ’way from you; I’d be lonesome. But mebbe they’d ’dopt you too. Would you like to be ’dopted, Jane?”

“I don’t know’s I would. I’m too old now; I couldn’t get to feel as if they were own folks, as if I really belonged to them, as you could. But, Polly,” suddenly sitting up and looking very seriously at Polly, “you mustn’t think I’m finding fault with the Home here. It’s a very comfortable place, and we are treated well. I only feel kind of lonesome sometimes when I see girls like those across the street, who have mother-and-father homes.”

“And valentines,” cried Polly.

“Oh, Polly, Polly! you’ll dream of valentines to-night,” laughed Jane; “and mind you send me one in your dream, and the very prettiest you can find.”

“I will, I will!” exclaimed Polly, flinging her arms again about Jane’s neck, and giving her a good-night hug and kiss. “The very prettiest I can find! the very prettiest I can find!” And saying this over and over, Polly drifted away into the land of sleep.

CHAPTER II.

And sure enough, when it was well on towards morning, she did dream of valentines, piles and piles of them, and out of them all she was hunting for the prettiest, when she heard a strangely familiar voice, calling,

“Come, come, Polly! It’s time to get up if you want any breakfast.”

Polly opened her eyes to see Martha looking down at her. “Oh, Martha, Martha,” she cried, “if you hadn’t waked me, I should have got it. I’d almost found it, and in a little minute I’d ‘a’ had it sure.”

“Had what?” asked Martha.

“Janey’s valentine;” and, sitting up, Polly told her dream.

Martha laughed till the tears came. “You are the funniest young one we ever had here,” was her comment, when she caught her breath. “Some time you’ll dream you’re an heiress, and wake up counting out your money to buy valentines with.”

“What’s an heiress?” inquired Polly.

“Oh, a girl that has a bankful of money,” replied Martha, carelessly.

Polly gave one of her long-drawn “O hs,” then slipped out of bed, and began to dress so slowly that Martha said to her,

“What are you dreaming about now, Polly?”

But Polly didn’t answer. She was too busy pulling on her stockings, and thinking of something else that Martha had said, and this “something” was “a girl with a bankful of money.” Martha little suspected what effect her words had had, little thought what a fine scheme she had set going. If she had, the scheme would certainly never have been carried out, or never have been carried out as Polly planned it. And Polly knew this perfectly well, and kept as still as a mouse all through breakfast, so still that the matron, Mrs. Banks, asked, “Don’t you feel well, Polly?” whereat Polly choked over her oatmeal as she confusedly answered, “Yes, ’m.”

If it had been any other child, Mrs. Banks would have suspected that there was some mischief brewing behind this stillness; but Polly had never been given to mischief, so she was not further questioned or observed, and thus left to herself she scampered back to the dormitory after the chamber-work was done, and, going straight to a small bureau that stood between Jane’s bed and her own, she cautiously pulled out the lower drawer, and took from it a little toy house. This pretty toy house was nothing more nor less than a child’s bank that had been given to Polly one Christmas, and into which she had dropped the pennies that had been bestowed upon her from time to time. Polly had long yearned for a paint-box; and whenever she went out, she used to stop at a certain shop-window where these tempting things were displayed, and wonder how much they cost. One day she summoned up courage to go in and ask the price of the smallest.

“Twenty-five cents,” the clerk told her. Polly at first was dismayed. Twenty-five cents seemed a vast sum to her. But it was a long time yet to next Christmas, and perhaps by then she might find even as much as that in her bank. This hope had warmed her heart for weeks, so that when she was smarting under the first sense of disappointment about the valentines, she consoled herself with the thought of the little paint-box that might soon be hers. But when Martha had said, “Some time you’ll dream you’re an heiress, and wake up counting your money out,” and had told her an heiress meant a girl with a bankful of money, like a flash of lightning came another thought into Polly’s mind, the thought that then and there from her little bank she might count the money to buy a valentine for her dear Jane; and once this thought had entered Polly’s head there was no putting it out. Over and above everything it kept gaining, until it sent her to tugging at that red chimney. Then suddenly the chimney that had stuck so fast gave way.

Polly nearly fell backward, it was so sudden; but righting herself, she shook the treasure into her lap, and fell to counting it. She counted up to ten; that was as far as her knowledge of arithmetic went. Putting aside the ten pennies into a little pile, she began to count the rest. “One, two, three,” she went on until why, there was another pile of ten, and more yet; and the “more yet” counted up to five. Polly couldn’t “do sums.” She couldn’t add these two piles of ten and the “more yet,” and she couldn’t ask Jane or any one else in the house to do it for her. But what she could do, what she would do, was to slip the whole treasure back into the bank, and take it around to the shop on the corner, the shop where she had seen the paint-boxes, and where she was sure she should also find plenty of valentines. So getting into her little coat and hood, she scampered out and off, unseen and unheard by any of the household. It was rather terrifying to find several other customers in the shop, but she had no time to wait until they had left, and, going bravely forward, she called out, “Please, I want a valentine.” But the clerk was busy, and paid no attention to her; so she pressed a little nearer, and piped out again in a louder tone, “Please, I want a valentine.”

But even this did not succeed in getting his attention. Oh, what should she do! Perhaps in another minute Jane or Martha or Mrs. Banks would have missed her, and be hunting for her; perhaps they would be sending a policeman after her. Oh dear! oh dear! And summoning up all her courage, she cried out in a voice full of sobs and tears, “Oh, please, please, I want a valentine right off now this minute!”

“Don’t you see I’m busy now?” said the clerk, sharply.

But the lady he was waiting upon had turned and looked at Polly as she spoke, and immediately said to the clerk,

“Oh, do attend to the child now. Her mother has probably told her to make haste.”

“She hasn’t any mother. She’s one of the children at the Orphans’ Home,” replied the clerk in a lower tone.

“Oh!” And the lady started and looked at Polly with new interest, and then insisted still more earnestly that she should be attended to at once, at the same time beckoning Polly to come forward.

Polly obeyed her; but as she glanced at the cheap little five-cent valentines the clerk put before her, she shook her head disdainfully. “I want a bigger one; I want the bewt’f’lest there is,” she informed him.

The young man laughed. “How much money have you got?” he asked.

Polly produced her bank, and triumphantly shook out its contents.

“Oh,” laughing again, “all that? How much is it?”

“I don’t know jus’ exac’ly. I can count up to ten, and there’s two ten piles, and and five cents more.”

“Oh, two tens and five. Yes, I see,” running his fingers over the little heap, “that makes twenty-five. You’ve got twenty-five cents. Here are the twenty-five-cent valentines;” and he uncovered another box, and left her to make her choice.

“Twenty-five cents!” echoed Polly. Why, why, why, that was enough to buy the little paint-box! She glanced down at the twenty-five-cent valentines. They presented a dazzling sight of cherubs’ heads and wings and flowery garlands. She lifted her chin a little higher, and there, staring her in the face, was the very little paint-box, with its two brushes and porcelain color plate, and it seemed to say to her: “Come, buy me now; come, buy me now. If you don’t, somebody else will get me.” And she could buy it now, if only she gave up the valentine Jane’s valentine; and why shouldn’t she? She hadn’t told Jane anything about it; Jane didn’t expect it; Jane wouldn’t ever know about it. Why shouldn’t she? And Polly drew a deep sigh of perplexity as she asked herself this question.

“What is it?” a soft voice said to her here. “What is it that troubles you? Tell me. Perhaps I can help you.”

Polly started, and turned to see the lady who had made way for her standing beside her. The lady smiled reassuringly as she met Polly’s perplexed glance, and said again,

“What is it? Tell me.”

And Polly, looking up into the kind sweet face, told the whole story, all about the long saving for the little paint-box, Jane’s valentine, and everything, winding up eagerly with the appeal, “And wouldn’t you buy the paint-box now ’stead of the valentine, ’cos the paint-box mebbe’ll be gone when I get more money?”

“Wouldn’t I? Well, I don’t know what I should have done when I was a little girl like you. I dare say, though, that I should have felt just as you do have done just as you, I see, are going to do now.”

“Bought the paint-box!” cried Polly.

“Yes, bought the paint-box,” laughed the lady.

Polly beamed with smiles, and gave a rapturous look at the treasure that was so soon to be hers. But presently the rapture faded, and a new expression came into her face. The lady was watching her very attentively.

“Well, what now?” she inquired. “Doesn’t the paint-box suit you?”

Polly gave an emphatic nod. Perhaps it was that nod that sent two little tears to her eyes.

“Then, if it suits you, shall I speak to the clerk, and tell him you’ve changed your mind about the valentine, and will buy the paint-box?”

Polly shook her head, and two more tears followed the first ones.

“You’re not going to buy the paint-box?”

“N-o, I I gu-ess not. I guess I’ll buy the valentine. Jane didn’t ever get a valentine, and she hasn’t got anybody to give her one but me.”

The blurring tears made Polly’s eyes so dim here, she could scarcely see; but through the dimness she sent one last good-by look at the dear paint-box, and then resolutely turned to the valentines, from which she selected the biggest and “bewt’f’lest” she could find, the lady crowning her kindness by stamping and directing it, and finally mailing it in the letterbox just outside the shop door.

CHAPTER III.

“What yer watchin’ for, Polly?”

Polly didn’t answer.

“Guess I know,” said Martha, laughing; “yer watchin’ for the postman to bring yer a valentine.”

“I ain’t,” said Polly.

Just then the postman crossed the street, and ring, ring, went the Home bell.

“I told you so,” said Martha, as she ran down to answer it. In a minute she was back again holding out a big square envelope, and saying again, “I told you so.”

“’T ain’t for me,” cried Polly.

“Ain’t your name Polly Price?”

“Yes,” faltered Polly.

“Well, here ’s ‘Polly Price’ written as plain as print. Just look now!” and Martha held forth the missive.

Polly looked. She could read her own name in writing; and there it was, sure enough, plain as print, Polly Price, and it was written on an envelope exactly like the one she had chosen to send to Jane. A fearful thought came into Polly’s mind. She had told the lady her own name, Polly Price, and it was Polly Price she had written on the envelope instead of Jane McClane. Oh! oh! oh! and then Polly burst out,

“It ain’t mine, it ain’t mine, it’s Jane’s. The lady made a mistake.”

“What lady?”

“The lady in the shop.”

“What shop?”

And then Polly had to tell the whole story.

“And that’s where you were after breakfast, you little monkey, breaking a bank, and running away with it, to buy Jane McClane a valentine. Well, if this isn’t the funniest thing I ever heard of. Jane! Jane! come up here and show Polly your valentine!” And up came Jane, her face beaming with smiles, holding in one hand a big square envelope, and in the other an open sheet all covered with lilies and roses and cherubs’ faces; that very “bewt’f’lest valentine” that had been chosen for her.

Polly, staring at it in amazement, cried out, “Why, she’s got it! she’s got it!” And then, pulling open the envelope addressed to Polly Price, she stared in amazement again, and cried out, “Why, this is just like that one, the one I bought for you, Janey!”

And then it was Jane’s turn to cry out in amazement, to say, “You bought it; how did you buy it, Polly?”

“She broke a bank and ran away with the money,” laughed Martha.

“I didn’t, either. The chimney’s made to come out, and the bank’s my bank,” retorted Polly, indignantly.

“You took your money, your money you’ve been saving to buy the paint-box with, to buy this valentine for me?” asked Jane.

“Yes,” faltered Polly.

“And gave up the paint-box! Oh, Polly, Polly, you’re a dear;” and Jane swooped down upon Polly with a tremendous hug. Polly returned the embrace with ardor, and then, “Who d’ you s’pose,” she asked, “who d’ you s’pose sent me one jus’ exactly like yours? It must be somebody that likes me jus’ as I like you, Janey.”

“Mrs. Banks wants you to go down to the parlor, Polly. There’s some one to see you,” a voice interrupted here.

“To see me?” cried Polly.

“Yes, don’t stop to bother, run along.” And Polly ran along as fast as her feet could carry her, wondering as she went who had come to see her, who had never in her life had a visitor before. At the foot of the stairs she stopped in shy alarm. Then she tiptoed across the hallway to the parlor threshold, and there she saw the lady who had been so kind to her in the shop.

“Oh, it’s you!” exclaimed Polly, joyfully.

The lady laughed, and held out her hand. “Yes, it’s I,” she said. “Did Jane get the valentine all right, and did she like it?”

Polly nodded, and then burst out with the story of her own valentine, “Jus’ like Janey’s!”

“And who d’ you s’pose sent it?” she asked confidingly, nestling against the lady’s knee.

“I think it must have been one of the good Saint Valentine’s messengers,” answered the lady.

Polly’s eyes opened very wide. “Saint Valentine! Tell me ’bout him,” she said.

“A very wise man has told about him, a man by the name of Wheatley, and he says that this Valentine was a good bishop who lived long ago, and so famous for his love and charity that after he died he was called Saint Valentine, and a festival was held on his birthday, when all the people would send love tokens to their friends.”

Polly’s face was radiant. “Oh, I thought Valentine was a somebody very good, and that Valentine’s Day was his birthday. I asked Jane if ’t wasn’t. Oh, Janey, Janey!” running to the foot of the stairs in her excitement, “come down and hear ’bout Saint Valentine!”

“Polly!” said Mrs. Banks, reprovingly.

“Oh, don’t stop her,” cried the lady. “I like to hear her, and I want to see Janey.” After this there was nothing for Mrs. Banks to do but to send for Jane. As the strong, womanly-looking girl entered the room, a new idea entered the lady’s mind. “It’s the very thing,” she said to herself, “the very thing.” At that instant carriage wheels were heard at the door, and the bell was rung sharply and impatiently. “Oh, it must be my Elise,” said the lady.

The next instant the door was opened, and in hopped that is the only word to use a little lame girl of ten or eleven, lifting herself along by a crutch. She was very pale, and her eyes were sunken with suffering; but she looked about her with a smile, and said in a quick, lively way,

“I got tired of driving ’round the square waiting for you, mamma; so I thought I’d come in.”

“I’m glad you did; I wanted you to see ”

“I know Polly! Mamma ’s told me all about you, Polly, you and Jane and the valentine; and that’s Jane. How do you do, Polly? how do you do, Jane?” nodding and laughing at them in a way that made Polly and Jane laugh too, whereupon this odd little girl exclaimed, “That’s right, laugh, do! I like laughy folks;” and then, as she said this, her little figure swayed and would have fallen, if Jane, who was very quick of motion, hadn’t sprung forward and caught her in her arms. The girl’s face was all puckered up into little wrinkles of pain; but as soon as she could speak, she said, “Aren’t you strong, though, Jane!”

Jane couldn’t say a word, but Polly piped out, “If I let you have my valentine to look at a little while, do you think you’d feel better?”

“Lots, Polly, lots. Mamma told me about you; and when you come to stay with us, you’ll be a regular treat.”

“Stay with you?” cried Polly, wonderingly.

“Yes; what,” turning to her mother, “haven’t you asked her yet, mamma?”

“No; I’ve only talked with Mrs. Banks.”

“Well, I’ll talk to Polly. Polly, we’ve been looking for a nice little girl like you to come and stay at our house. I’m lame, and I can’t do much. When mamma came home and told me about you and the bank and the paint-box and the valentine, I said, ’That’s the girl for me; let’s go and ask her to come.’ And won’t you come, Polly?”

“I I’d like to if if Jane can come too.”

“Don’t. Polly. I can’t I can’t!” whispered Jane.

“Oh, mamma, mamma!” cried the lame Elise, entreatingly.

“Mamma” turned to Mrs. Banks. “If she would only come and help us, come and try us, at least, I’m sure we could make satisfactory arrangements.”

Mrs. Banks nodded, and smiled approval. “Of course Jane can go if she chooses.”

“And you will choose, you will, won’t you, Jane?”

“Course she will,” cried Polly; and then everybody laughed, and everything was as good as settled from that moment. Then it was that Polly burst out, “I should be puffickly happy now if I only knew jus’ who that mess’nger was that sent my valentine.”

“Tell her, mamma, tell her!” called out Elise; and “mamma” bent down, and said to Polly,

“It was somebody who saw what a loving heart a certain little girl had when she chose to give up her paint-box to buy her dear Jane a valentine.”

“’Twas you, ‘twas you!” cried Polly, joyfully. “Oh, I jus’ love Valentine’s Day, and I knew it must be Somebody’s birfday, some very good Somebody!”