List Of Contents | Contents of A Summer in a Canyon, by Kate Douglas Wiggin
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

understand,' she thought; 'and yet Polly confessed that Laura told
the truth.  Poor child!--but she has got to learn patience and self-
control through suffering.  However, I'll keep the matter a secret
from everybody at present, and stand between her and my inquisitive
brood of youngsters,' and she slipped the note into her pocket.

At six o'clock the members of the family came into camp from various
directions, and gathered about the supper-table.  All were surprised
at Laura's sudden departure, but no one seemed especially grief-
stricken.  Dicky announced confidentially to Philip that Laura was a
'norful 'fraid-cat of frogs,' and Jack ventured the opinion that Miss
Laura hadn't 'boy' enough in her for camp-life.

'But where is Polly?' asked Bell, looking round the table, as she
pinned up her riding-skirt and sat down in her usual seat.

'She has a bad headache, and is lying down,' said Mrs. Winship,
quietly; 'she'll be all right in the morning.'

'Headache!' ejaculated four or five people at once, dropping their
napkins and looking at each other in dismay.

'I'll go and rub her head with Cologne,' said Margery.

'Let me go and sit with her,' said Elsie.

'Have you been teasing her, Jack?' asked Mrs. Howard.

'Too much birthday?' asked Dr. Paul.  'Tell her we can spare almost
anybody else better.'

'Bless the child, she wants me if she is sick.  Go on with your
suppers, I'll see to her,' and Bell rose from the table.

'No, my dear, I want you all to leave her alone at present,' said
Mrs. Winship, decidedly.  'I've put her to bed in Dicky's play-tent,
and I want her to be quiet.  Gin has taken her some supper, and she
needs rest.'

Polly Oliver in need of rest!  What an incomprehensible statement!
Nobody was satisfied, but there was nothing more to be said, though
Bell and Philip exchanged glances as much as to say, 'Something is

Supper ended, and they gathered round the camp-fire, but nothing was
quite as usual.  It was all very well to crack jokes, but where was a
certain merry laugh that was wont to ring out, at the smallest
provocation, in such an infectious way that everybody else followed
suit?  And who was there, when Polly had the headache, to make a
saucy speech and look down into the fire innocently, while her
dimples did everything that was required in order to point the shaft?
And pray what was the use of singing when there was no alto to Bell's
treble, or of giving conundrums, since it was always Polly who
thought of nonsensical answers better than the real ones?  And as for
Jack, why, it was folly to shoot arrows of wit into the air when
there was no target.  He simply stretched himself out beside Elsie,
who was particularly quiet and snoozed peacefully, without taking any
part in the conversation, avowing his intention to 'turn in' early.
'Turn in' early, forsooth!  What was the matter with the boy?

'It's no use,' said Bell, plaintively; 'we can't be anything but
happy, now that we have Elsie here; but it needs only one small
headache to show that Polly fills a long-felt want in this camp.  You
think of her as a modest spoke in the wheel till she disappears, and
then you find she was the hub.'

'Yes,' said Margery, 'I think every one round this fire is simply
angelic, unless I except Jack; but the fact is that Polly is--well,
she is--Polly, and I dare any one to contradict me.'

'The judgment of the court is confirmed,' said Philip.

'And the shark said, "If you
Don't believe it is true,
Just look at my wisdom tooth!"'

sang Geoffrey.

'And if any one ever tells me again that she has red hair and hasn't
good features, I should just like to show them a picture of her as
she was to-day at the dinner-table!' exclaimed Bell.

'As if anybody needed features with those dimples,' added Elsie, 'or
would mind red hair when it was such pretty hair!'

'I think a report of this conversation would go far towards curing
Polly,' said Dr. Winship, with a smile.

'And you say we can't go in there before we go to bed, mamacita?'
whispered Bell in her mother's ear, as the boys said good-night--and
went towards their tent.

'My dear,' she answered decidedly, with a fond kiss for each of the
girls, 'Polly herself asked me to keep everybody away.'

Polly herself wanted to be alone!  Would wonders never cease?

Meanwhile Dicky, who had disappeared for a moment, came back to the
fire, his bosom heaving with grief and rage.

'I went to my play-tent,' he sobbed, 'and putted my hand underneath
the curtain and gave Polly a piece of my supper cake I saved for her-
-not the frosted part, but the burnt part I couldn't eat--and she
liked it and kissed my hand--and then I fought she was lonesome, and
would like to see my littlest frog, and I told her to put out her
hand again for a s'prise, and I squeezed him into it tight, so 't he
wouldn't jump--and she fought it was more cake, and when she found it
wasn't she frew my littlest frog clear away, and it got losted!'

This brought a howl of mirth from everybody, and Dicky was
instructed, while being put to bed, not to squeeze little frogs into
people's hands in the dark, as it sometimes affected them

All this time Polly was lying in the tent, quite exhausted with
crying, and made more wretched by every sound of voices wafted
towards her.  Presently Gin appeared with her night-wrapper and
various things for comfort sent her by the girls; and as she wearily
undressed herself and prepared for the night, she found three little
messages of comfort pinned on the neck and sleeves of her flannel
gown, written in such colossal letters that she could easily read
them by the moonlight.

On the right sleeve:-

Cheer up!  'I will never desert Mr. Micawber!'  BELL

On the left sleeve:-

Darling Polly,--Get well soon, or we shall all be sick in order to
stay with you.  Lovingly, MEG.

PS.--Jack said you were the LIFE OF THE CAMP!  What do you think of
that??  M.

On the neck:-

Dearest,--You have always called me the Fairy Godmother, and
pretended I could see things that other people couldn't.

The boys (great stupids!) think you have the headache.  We girls can
all see that you are in trouble, but only the Fairy Godmother KNOWS
WHY; and though she can't make a beautiful gold coach out of this
pumpkin, because there's something wrong about the pumpkin, yet she
will do her best for Cinderella, and pull her out of the ashes


Polly's tears fell fast on the dear little notes, which she kissed
again and again, and tucked under her pillow to bring her sleep.
'Elsie knows something,' she thought, 'but how? she knows that I'm in
trouble and that I've done wrong, or she wouldn't have said that
about not being able to turn a bad pumpkin into a beautiful gold
coach; but perhaps she can get Aunt Truth to forgive me and try me
again.  Unless she can do it, it will never come to pass, for I
haven't the courage to ask her.  I would rather run away early in the
morning and go home than have her look at me again as she did to-day.
Oh! what shall I do?' and Polly went down on her knees beside the
rough couch, and sobbed her heart out in a childish prayer for help
and comfort.  It was just the prayer of a little child telling a
sorrowful story; because it is when we are alone and in trouble that
the unknown and mysterious God seems to us most like a Father, and we
throw ourselves into the arms of His love like helpless children, and
tell Him our secret thoughts and griefs.

'Dear Father in heaven,' she sobbed, 'don't forgive me if I ought not
to be forgiven, but please make Aunt Truth feel how sorry I am, and
show me whether I ought to tell what made me so angry, though it's no
excuse.  Bless and keep my darling patient little mother, and help me
to grow more like her, and braver and stronger too, so that I can
take care of her soon, and she needn't work hard any longer.  Please
forgive me for hating some things in my life as much as I do, and I
will try and like them better; but I think--yes, I know--that I am
full of wicked pride; and oh, it seems as if I could never, never get
over wanting to live in a pretty house, and wear pretty dresses, and
have my mother live like Bell's and Margery's.  And oh, if Thou canst
only forgive me for hating boarders so dreadfully, and being ashamed
of them every minute, I will try and like them better and tell
everybody that we take them--I will indeed; and if I can only once
make Aunt Truth love and trust me again, I will make the boarders'
beds and dust their rooms for ever without grumbling.  Please, dear
Father in heaven, remember that I haven't any father to love me or to
teach me to be good; and though mamma does her best, please help her
to make something out of me if it can be done.  Amen.'

'Truth,' said Mrs. Howard, when all was quiet about the camp, 'Elsie
wants to see you a moment before she goes to sleep.  Will you go to
her tent, while I play a game of cribbage with Dr. Paul?'

Elsie looked like a blossom in all the beautiful greenness of her
tent, with her yellow head coming out from above the greens and
browns of the cretonne bed-cover for all the world like a daffodil
pushing its way up through the mould towards the spring sunshine.

'Aunt Truth,' she said softly, as Mrs. Winship sat down beside her,
'you remember that Dr. Paul hung my hammock in a new place to-day,
just behind the girls' sleeping-tent.  Now I know that Polly is in
trouble, and that you are displeased with her.  What I want to ask,
if I may, is, how much you know; for I overheard a great deal myself-
-enough to feel that Polly deserves a hearing.'

'I overheard nothing,' replied Mrs. Winship.  'All that I know Polly
herself confessed in Laura's presence.  Polly told Laura, just as she
was going away, that everybody would be glad to see the last of her,
and that she had made everybody miserable from the beginning of her
visit.  It was quite inexcusable, you know, dear, for one of my
guests to waylay another, just as she was leaving, and make such a
cruel speech.  I would rather anything else had happened.  I know how
impetuous Polly is, and I can forgive the child almost anything, her
heart is so full of love and generosity; but I cannot overlook such a
breach of propriety as that.  Of course I have seen that Laura is not
a favourite with any of you.  I confess she is not a very lovable
person, and I think she has led a very unwholesome life lately and is
sadly spoiled by it; still that is no excuse for Polly's conduct.'

'No, of course it isn't,' sighed Elsie, with a little quiver of the
lip.  'I thought I could plead a better case for Polly, but I see
exactly how thoughtless and impolite she was; yet, if you knew
everything, auntie, dear, you would feel a little different.  Do you
think it was nice of Laura to repeat what Polly said right before
her, and just as she was going away, when she knew it would make you
uncomfortable and that you were not to blame for it?'

'No, hardly.  It didn't show much tact; but girls of fifteen or
sixteen are not always remarkable for social tact.  I excused her
partly because she was half-sick and nervous.'

'Well,' Elsie went on, 'I didn't hear the whole quarrel, so that I do
not know how long it lasted nor who began it.  I can't help thinking
it was Laura, though, for she's been trying her best to provoke Polly
for the last fortnight, and until to-day she has never really
succeeded.  I was half asleep, and heard at first only the faint
murmur of voices, but when I was fully awake, Laura was telling Polly
that she doted on you simply because you had money and position,
while she had not; that you were all so partial to her that she had
lost sight of her own deficiencies.  Then she called her bold and
affected, and I don't know what else, and finally wound up by saying
that nobody but the Winships would be likely to make a pet of the
daughter of a boarding-house keeper.'

'Elsie!' ejaculated Mrs. Winship; 'this grows worse and worse!  Is it
possible that Laura Burton could be guilty of such a thought?'

'I can't be mistaken.  I was too excited not to hear very clearly;
and the moment the words were spoken I knew my poor dear's fiery
temper would never endure that.  And it didn't; it blazed out in a
second, but it didn't last long, for before I could get to the tent
she had stopped herself right in the middle of a sentence; and in
another minute I heard your voice, and crept back to the hammock,
thinking that everything would be settled by Laura's going away.  I'd
no idea that she would pounce on Polly and get her in disgrace, the
very last thing, when she knew that she was responsible for the whole
matter.  You see, auntie, that, impolite as Polly was, she only told
Laura that we girls were glad she was going.  She didn't bring you
in, after all; and Laura knew perfectly well that she was a welcome
visitor, and we all treated her with the greatest politeness, though
it's no use to say we liked her much.'

'I am very sorry for the whole affair,' sighed Mrs. Winship, 'there
is so much wrong on both sides.  Laura's remark, it is true, would
have angered almost anybody who was not old and wise enough to see
that it deserved only contempt; but both the girls should have had
too much respect for themselves and for me to descend to such an
unladylike quarrel.  However, I am only too glad to hear anything
which makes Polly's fault less, for I love her too dearly not to
suffer when I have to be severe with her.'

'She wouldn't ask you to overlook her fault,' continued Elsie, with
tears in her eyes.  'I know just how wretched and penitent she must
be--Polly is always so fierce against her own faults--but what must
be making her suffer most is the thought that she has entirely lost
your confidence and good opinion.  Oh, I can't help thinking that God
feels sorrier this very minute for Polly, who fights and fights
against her temper, like a dear sunbeam trying to shine again and
again when a cloud keeps covering it up, than He does for Laura, who
has everything made smooth for her, and who is unhappy when her
feathers are ruffled the least bit.'

'You are right, dear, in so far that a fiery little soul like Polly's
can, if it finds the right channels, do God's work in the world
better than a character like Laura's, which is not courageous, nor
strong, nor sweet enough for great service, unless it grows into
better things through bitter or rich experiences.  Now, good-night,
my blessed little peacemaker; sleep sweetly, for I am going into
Polly's tent to have a good talk with her.'

As Mrs. Winship dropped the curtains of Elsie's tent behind her, and
made her way quietly through the trees, the tinkling sound of a banjo
fell upon the still night air; and presently, as she neared Polly's
retreat, this facetious serenade, sung by Jack's well-known voice,
was wafted to her ears:

'Prithee, Polly Oliver, why bide ye so still?
Pretty Polly Oliver, we fear you are ill.
I'm singing 'neath thy window, when night dews are chill,
For, pretty Polly Oliver, we hear you are ill.'

She was about to despatch Master Jack to his tent with a round

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: