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- Princess Polly's Gay Winter - 3/21 -
hand, and silently walked toward the station.
She felt that if she tried to talk she would surely cry, but why was the sturdy captain so silent? Did he feel, as his little daughter did, that safety lay in silence? Did he fear to speak lest the tears might come? It had been decided that Sprite should accept Mr. Sherwood's invitation, and spend the Winter at Avondale, enjoying the early Winter months at Sherwood Hall, and the latter part of the season as the guest of Uncle John Atherton and his little niece, Rose.
She had enjoyed the planning of her modest little wardrobe, she had talked of the delight of having Rose and Princess Polly for her playmates all Winter.
She had promised to be a faithful little pupil at school, and she had dreamed all night, and talked all day of the delightful Winter that she was to enjoy.
Now, seated in the car, ready to take her first journey from home, she looked about her with frightened eyes. Captain Seaford stood beside her. He had bought a box of candy, and a book, trusting that they might help to cheer her.
He looked down at the little daughter who was so dear to him.
"I'd make the trip with ye, Sprite, but yer ma, I'm thinking, will need me, 'bout the time she knows yer train has started," he said.
"Oh, she will. You _must_ go back to her," cried Sprite.
The conductor entered and stated that all who were intending to leave the car must leave at once, or remain on board. Captain Seaford stooped to kiss the little upturned face.
"Oh, father, dear! If you and mother hadn't worked so hard to get me ready for the long visit, I'd give it up now. I'd rather go back with you."
"Tut, tut, Sprite! Be a brave lassie, and try to make the trip bravely. Ye need the good schooling and the merry playmates. The Winter at the shore is always dull. Cheer up, now. We're to have a letter, remember, as soon as ye reach Avondale."
"Ay, ay, sir!" he said, as the conductor beckoned, impatiently, and with another kiss, and a hasty "Good-bye," he left the car.
Sprite knew that he would stand on the platform, and she turned toward the window.
Through blinding tears, she saw his stalwart form, and she tried to smile, for his sake.
Before she could chase away the tears, the train had started, she saw through her tear-dimmed lashes a blurred landscape, and then,--why she was actually riding away from her seashore home! For a time she sat, as if in a dream, and then the conductor came along. Little Sprite looked up into his pleasant face, and wondered why he paused.
"Let me see your ticket, my dear," he said, and she blushed at her forgetfulness, and drew it from her pocket.
He punched it, and then, in a gentle, fatherly way, he said:
"Your father, Captain Seaford, is a firm friend of mine. He asked me to look out for you, and see that you got off the train at Avondale. He said this was your first bit of travelling alone, but that your friends would be waiting for you when you arrived."
"They will, oh, they will!" she eagerly cried, "and thinking of that makes me feel happier. I've never been away alone before."
"I've a little girl at home who is much braver to talk about going away from home, than she is when the time comes to start. But don't worry, little Miss Seaford," he said, with a laugh, "for I'll be your friend all the way to Avondale."
"Oh, thank you," she said, and he thought that he had never seen a lovelier face. She opened the new book, hoping that the story and the pictures might make her forget her homesickness. It was evident that she considered a good book a good friend.
The story held her attention, the picture charmed her, and the box of candy was an added comfort. She nestled close to the window, her long golden hair fell over her shoulders, and framed her face, and the old conductor smiled when he passed down the aisle, and looked at the dear little figure.
"The book has made her forget to worry," he said, softly.
A little later, when he paused beside her seat, she looked up to smile at him.
"I keep right on reading," she said, "because if I stop to think, I remember that all the time I'm going farther away from home."
"Then whenever you look up from the page, just remember that you are getting nearer, and nearer to Avondale, where you can write your first letter home," he said in an effort to cheer her.
"Oh, yes," said Sprite, "and I'll do that before I go to sleep to-night, and post it early to-morrow morning." Then, for a long time, she read the fascinating story.
Just as she closed the book she realized that the train was slowing down.
The conductor was coming toward her. What was the brakeman saying?
"The next station will be Avondale!" he shouted, and little Sprite's heart beat faster.
The conductor stood at her seat now. "I'll take your suit case," he said. "Come with me."
How her little heart beat!
Would they be at the station? They had promised to be there when the train arrived.
She could not see from where she stood in the aisle.
Ah, now the train had actually stopped! She was out on the platform! She was going down the steps. The kindly conductor was saying something about wishing her a pleasant visit. The train was starting off.
Oh, was she utterly alone?
"Sprite! Oh, you've come!" cried a sweet, familiar voice, and Princess Polly caught both her hands.
"I was _so_ afraid that something would happen, and you wouldn't come," she cried.
"And _I_ was wondering what I'd do if I didn't see you when I left the car. Oh, _wouldn't_ I have been frightened?" said Sprite, with a nervous little laugh.
"Oh, how could you think I'd miss coming to meet you? Mamma said the last moment, as I ran down the steps:
"'I _do_ hope you will find Sprite at the station,' and I _did_," Polly said. "Now, come over to the carriage, and we'll fly to Sherwood Hall."
"This is my suit case, and, oh, there's my trunk," Sprite said.
"Oh, the coachman will take care of those. We'll get seated so as to reach home in just no time. I can't wait to take you to mamma."
The color brightened in Sprite's dimpled cheeks.
She was determined not to be homesick, and the ride along the fine streets, and then up the long avenue, showed such grand residences, such spacious piazzas, such velvet lawns and gorgeous masses of flowers, that the sea captain's little daughter began to wonder if she were in some new country, or at Avondale, where her new friends actually lived.
"Here we are!" cried Polly, as the horse slackened his pace at the broad gateway, "and this is Sherwood Hall, your new home for the Winter."
"For _part_ of the Winter!" called a merry voice, and Uncle John Atherton with Rose beside him in his big motor, laughed gaily as Sprite turned to learn who greeted her.
For a moment the carriage and the motor stood side by side, while the three small girls chatted gaily, then, believing that Mrs. Sherwood and Polly should greet their guest, uninterrupted by neighbor or friend, Uncle John bowled away down the avenue, they responded to Rose's waving handkerchief, and then rode up the driveway.
"Oh, what a lovely, _lovely_ house!" cried Sprite, "and what a dear place to live in. I _know_ I'm to be happy here!"
"Indeed you are!" cried Polly, "and here's mamma."
"Dear little girl," Mrs. Sherwood said, as Sprite stepped from the carriage, and ran up the steps. "I'm glad to see you, and I shall be glad indeed to keep you as long as Captain Atherton will permit. He was over here last evening, and he said that he would let us keep you up to the first half of the Winter, as we agreed, but after that he would have you at his home with Rose, if he had to steal you. He laughed, but he meant it, so see how _very_ welcome you are at Avondale."
"Oh, it is sweet to have so many people love me," Sprite said, gratefully, and her eyes were as bright as stars. She was tired with the long car ride, and with Princess Polly, she sped to her room, there to make her little self fresh, and fair for dinner.
"We're to share this room, and these two pretty beds are yours and mine," said Polly.
"We could have had separate rooms, but I wanted you with me, and beside, mamma said if you were with me, you couldn't be lonesome."
"Oh, I'd rather be with you," said little Sprite, "and what a lovely room it is!"
She saw every dainty bit of color, every charming detail of the furnishings, she saw the river as she looked from the windows, and the
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