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- Half a Dozen Girls - 2/45 -
street, while her mother stood by the window, watching until the bright curls under the blue sailor hat had passed out of sight. Then she turned away with a half-smile, saying to herself,--
"Poor Polly! She has hard times fighting her temper; but Molly does tease her unmercifully. After all, she comes naturally by it, for she's very much as I was, at her age."
"What's the matter?" queried Aunt Jane, as her sister came back and took up her work once more. "Have Molly and Polly been having another fuss?"
"Nothing serious, I think," said Mrs. Adams lightly.
Aunt Jane's thin lips straightened out into an ominous line as she answered,--
"Strange those two children can't get on together! I think it is largely Polly's fault, for Molly is a sweet, quiet girl. You are spoiling Polly, Isabel, as I keep telling you. Some day you'll come to realize it, and be sorry."
Mrs. Adams bit her lip for an instant, and a clear, bright color came into her cheeks; but after a moment she replied quietly,--
"You must allow me to be the judge of that, Jane."
"Of course you can do as you like with your own child," retorted Aunt Jane stiffly; "but I can't shut my eyes to what is going on around me, and let a naturally good child be spoiled for want of a firm hand, without saying a word to stop it. Your mother didn't bring you up in that way, Isabel, though she did indulge you a great deal more than she did us older children."
As Aunt Jane paused, Mrs. Adams rose abruptly and left the room, saying something about a letter which she must write in time for the next mail.
Aunt Jane could be exasperating at times, as even her younger sister was forced to admit, and occasionally she was driven to the necessity of running away from her, rather than yield to the temptation of answering sharp words with sharper. Mrs. Adams could and did bear patiently with unasked advice in all matters but one; but in regard to the discipline of her little daughter she stood firm, for she and her husband had agreed that here Aunt Jane was not to be allowed to interfere. Yet, though Aunt Jane soon found that her sister left her and went away whenever the subject was mentioned, the worthy woman was not to be turned aside, but returned to the charge with unfailing persistency.
The intimacy between mother and daughter was a peculiar one, and at times seemed far more like that between two sisters. Mrs. Adams was one of the women whose highest ambition was of the rather old- fashioned kind,--to make a pleasant, homelike home, and to be an intelligent, helpful wife and mother. From her quiet corner she looked out at her friends who had "careers," with curiosity rather than envy, and, for herself, was content to have her world bounded by the interests of her husband and Polly. It might be a narrow life, but it was a busy and a happy one. With all her household cares, she still found time to look into the books which were interesting her husband, and intelligently discuss their contents with him; she read aloud with Polly, played games with her, and watched over her with a quick understanding of this warm-hearted, impetuous little daughter, in whom she saw herself so closely reflected that she knew, from the memory of her own childhood, just how to deal with all of Polly's freaks and whims. And her endless patience and devotion were well rewarded, for Polly adored her pretty, bright little mother with all the fervor of her being. There were times, it is true, when Polly rebelled against all restraint; but such moments were of short duration, and, for the most part, she yielded easily to the pleasant, firm discipline which made duty enjoyable, and punishment the necessary result of wrong-doing, a result as hard for the mother to inflict as for the child to bear. In her gentler moods, Polly realized that nowhere else could she find so good a friend, so interested and sympathetic in all that concerned her, and the two spent long hours together, now talking quite seriously, now chattering and laughing like children, with a perfect good-fellowship which appeared very disrespectful to Aunt Jane, who believed in the old- time rule, that children should be seen, not heard. However, Polly never minded Aunt Jane's frown in the least, but went on playing with her mother and petting her, confiding to her her joys and sorrows, her friendships and her quarrels, and calling her by an endless succession of endearing names, of which her latest was Jerusalem, an epithet taken from her favorite, "Oh, Mother dear, Jerusalem," and adapted to its present use, to the great mystification of her aunt, to whom Polly refused to explain its derivation.
Between his office hours and his patients, Polly saw but little of her father; for Dr. Adams was the popular physician of the large, quiet, old New England town where they lived. A man who had grown up among books, and among thinking, wide-awake people, he was a worthy descendant of the two presidents with whom he claimed kinship. He was a strong, fine-looking man, so full of quiet energy that his very presence in the sick-room was encouraging to the invalid; and he had come to be at once the friend, physician, and adviser of every family in town, whether rich or poor. If his patients could afford to pay him for his visits, very well; if not, it was just as well, for neither Dr. Adams nor his wife desired to be rich. To live comfortably themselves, to lay up a little for the future, and to be able to help their poorer neighbors, now and then,--this was all they wished, and this was easily accomplished. In past years, two or three other doctors had settled in the town; but after a few months of trial they had closed their offices and gone away, because not one of Dr. Adams's patients could be tempted to leave him, and his lively black horse and shabby buggy were seen flying about the streets, while their shiny new carriages either stood idle in their stables, or were taken out for an occasional pleasure drive.
If Polly had been asked what was her greatest trial, her answer, truthful and emphatic, would have been: "Aunt Jane." It was a mystery to her as, indeed, it was to every one else, how two sisters could be so unlike. Mrs. Adams was a pretty, graceful little woman, with a dainty charm about her, and a winning, off- hand manner, which made her a favorite with both young and old. Aunt Jane Roberts was tall and thin, with a cast-iron sort of countenance, surmounted by a row of little, tight, gray frizzles of such remarkable durability that, though evidently the result of art rather than nature, neither wind nor storm, appeared to have any effect upon them. On festal occasions it was her habit to adorn herself with a symmetrical little blue satin bow, placed above these curls and slightly to one side; but there was nothing in the least flippant or coquettish about this decoration, for it was as precise and unvarying as the gray frizz below it, and only seemed to intensify the hard, unyielding lines of her face.
Miss Roberts was fifteen years older than her sister, and she appeared to have been stamped with the seal of single blessedness while she still lay in her cradle and played with her rattle;-- that is, if she ever had unbent so far as to play with anything. Even her walk was not like that of most women; she moved along with a slow, deliberate stride which was at times almost spectral, and reminded one of the resistless, onward march of the fates. Aunt Jane was serious-minded and progressive, and, worst of all, she was conscientious. However great a blessing a conscience must be considered, there are some consciences that make their owners extremely unpleasant. Whenever Aunt Jane was particularly trying, her friends brought forward the singular excuse: "Jane is _so_ conscientious; she means to do just right." And she certainly did. So far as she could distinguish its direction, Aunt Jane trod the path of duty, but she trod it as a martyr, not like one who finds it a pleasant, sunshiny road, with bright, interesting spots scattered all along its way. She had advanced ideas about women and pronounced theories as to the rearing of children; she was a member of countless clubs, and served on all the committees to talk about reform; she visited the jail periodically, and marched through the wards of the hospital with a stony air of sympathy highly gratifying to the inmates, who tried to be polite to her because of her relationship to the doctor, whom they all adored. The demands of her public duties left Miss Roberts little time for home life; but in the few rare intervals, she sewed for her sister, refusing the more attractive work, and devoting herself to sheets, pillow-cases, and kitchen towels, in the penitential, self-sacrificing way which is so trying to the person receiving the favor. She appeared to regard these labors as an offset to the frank criticisms of her sister's housekeeping, which she never hesitated to make when the opportunity offered. Aunt Jane had come to live with her sister soon after Mrs. Adams was married; and the doctor's happy, even temper enabled him to make the best of the situation, though he had at once given Miss Roberts to understand that she was in no way to interfere with him or his concerns.
No introduction to the Adams family would be complete which failed to mention Job Trotter, for Job was a faithful servant who had done good service for many a long day. He was the old family horse whom the doctor had driven for years, but who, owing to age and infirmity, had been put on the retired list as a veteran, and given over to the tender mercies of Mrs. Adams. She changed his youthful nickname of Trot to the more fitting one of Job, and stoutly maintained his superiority to the lively colt that succeeded him between the thills of the doctor's buggy. Job, too, appeared to share her opinion, and never failed to give a vicious snap at his rival, whenever they came in contact. There was a family legend that Job had been a fast animal in his day, and Mrs. Adams often told the story of the doctor's first ride after him: how, at the end of a mile, he had turned his pale face to the horse-dealer who was driving, and piteously besought him: "In mercy's name, man, let me get out; I've had enough of this!" But all this was enveloped in the haze of the remote past, and now Job was neither a dangerous nor exhilarating steed, but rather, a restful one, who allowed his driver to contemplate the landscape and impress its charms upon his memory. Job had been twenty-three years old when the doctor handed him over to his wife; and, as if to prove his relationship to the family, and to Aunt Jane in particular, he had never advanced a year in age since then, but, long, long afterwards, his headstone bore the legend:
IN MEMORY OF JOB TROTTER, A FAITHFUL FRIEND, WHO DIED AT THE AGE OF TWENTY-THREE.
A rear view of Job still showed him a fine-looking horse, for his delicate skin, slightly dappled here and there, his long, thick tail and proudly arching neck plainly betokened his aristocracy. But unfortunately, reckless driving in his youth had bent his fore
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