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- Half a Dozen Girls - 3/45 -
legs to a decided angle, and turned in his toes in an absurdly deprecating fashion, until Mrs. Adams declared that she would put a skirt on him to cover these defects, unless people stopped turning to look after him and laugh.
But it was when he was in motion that Job exhibited his peculiarities to the best advantage. His ordinary gait was a slow, dignified walk, varied, at times, by a trot of which the direction was of the up-and-down species, and made his progress even slower than usual. But now and then the old fellow would seem to be inspired with a little of his former spirit, and, after a skittish little kick, he would straighten his body with a suddenness which brought Mrs. Adams to her feet, and rush off at a mad pace that soon faltered and failed, when the old brown head would turn, and the gentle eyes seem to say pleadingly,--
"I did try, but I can't."
In reality, the cause of Job's slowness lay, not so much in his age as in his afflicted knees; and they kept his driver in a constant state of anxiety as to which pair would give out next. Now his hind legs would suddenly fail him, and he would apparently attempt to seat himself in the dust; then, just as he had recovered from that shock, his front knees would collapse, and Job would plunge madly forward on his venerable nose.
But, after all, they had many a pleasant drive up and down the country roads, where the old horse plodded onwards, apparently enjoying the scenery as much as his mistress did, now stopping to graze by the roadside, now suddenly turning aside and, before his driver was aware of his intention, landing her in the dooryard of some farmhouse where the doctor had visited a patient years before. For Job had a retentive memory, and was never known to forget a road or a house where he had once been. During the last of the time that the doctor had driven him, he had lent him to do occasional service at funerals, where Job was never known to disgrace himself by breaking into an indecorous trot. Something in the ceremony of these melancholy journeys had struck Job's fancy and impressed the circumstances on his memory to such an extent that, ever after, he was reluctant to pass the cemetery gate, but tugged hard at the lines to show his desire to enter. It was not so bad when Mrs. Adams and Polly were by themselves; but Mrs. Adams often invited some convalescing patient of the doctor to go for a quiet little drive, and it was mortifying to have Job, taking advantage of the moment when his mistress was deep in conversation, stalk solemnly under the arching gateway and bring his invalid passenger to a halt beside some new-made grave. There seemed to be no apology that could fitly meet the occasion and do away with the gloomy suggestiveness of the situation.
Aunt Jane rarely had time to drive with Job, for an ordinarily fast walker could pass him by; but Polly and her mother enjoyed him to the utmost, and spoiled him as much as they enjoyed him, letting him stroll along as he chose, stopping whenever and wherever he wished. To avoid being dependent on the man, who was often away driving the doctor upon his rounds, Mrs. Adams had learned to harness Job herself, and nearly every pleasant day she could be seen buckling the straps and fastening him into the carriage, while the old creature stood quiet, rubbing his head against her shoulder, now and then, with a gentle, caressing motion, or turning suddenly to pretend to snap at Polly, who was much in awe of him, and then throwing up his head and showing his teeth, in a scornful laugh at her fear.
This was the family circle in which Polly Adams had spent the thirteen happy years of her life, respecting and loving her father, adoring her mother, and continually coming in conflict with Aunt Jane. And Polly herself? Like countless other girls, she was good and bad, naughty and lovable by turns, now yielding to violent fits of temper, now going into the depths of penitence for them; but always, in the inmost recesses of her childish soul, possessed with a firm resolve to be as good a woman as her mother was before her. She knew no higher ambition.
Everybody in town knew the Hapgood house. It stood close to the street, under a row of huge elms, and surrounded with clumps of purple and white lilac bushes whose topmost blossoms peeped curiously in at the chamber windows. Such houses are only found in New England, but there they abound with their broad front "stoops," the long slant of their rear roofs, where a ladder is firmly fixed, to serve in case of fire, and the great, low rooms grouped around the immense chimney in the middle. The Hapgood house had been in the family for generations, and was kept in such an excellent state of repair that it bade fair to outlast many of the more recent houses of the town. A wing had been built out at the side; but even with this modern addition, no one needed to glance up at the date on the chimney--sixteen hundred and no- matter-what--to assure himself of the great age of the stately old house before him.
Up in the Hapgood attic a serious consultation was going on.
"Now, girls," Polly Adams began solemnly, "'most half of our vacation has gone, and I think we ought to do something before it's over."
"Aren't we doing something this very minute, I should like to know?" inquired Molly Hapgood, who had felt privileged, in her capacity as hostess, to throw herself down on the old bed which occupied one corner of the garret.
Polly frowned on such levity.
"I don't mean that, Molly, and you know it. What I think is, that we should get together regularly every two or three days and do something special. Aunt Jane is in lots of clubs and things, and-- "
"I've heard it said," interrupted Jean Dwight solemnly, "that Aunt Jane spent so much time doing good outside that she never had a chance to be good at home." "Now, Jean, that isn't fair," said Polly laughing. "You know I'd be the very last one to hold up Aunt Jane as an example, only she has such good times with her everlasting old people that I thought we might do something like it."
"Which do you propose to do," asked Molly disrespectfully, "start a society for the improvement of the jail or open a mission at the poor-house to teach Miss Bean some manners?"
"Let's have a dramatic club, and get up a play," suggested the fourth member of the group, who was seated on a dilapidated hair- covered trunk under the open window, regardless of the strong east wind which now and then lifted a stray lock of her long yellow hair and blew it forward across her cheek.
"What a splendid idea, Florence!" said Jean, rapturously bouncing about in her seat on the foot of the bed. "How does that suit you, Polly?"
"We might do that, for one thing," assented Polly cautiously; "but oughtn't we to try something a little--well, a little improving, too." "I'd like to know if that wouldn't be improving?" asked Molly. "It would teach us to act, and then, if we wanted, we could charge an admission fee and raise some money."
"I think it would be splendid, girls," said Polly, in spite of herself carried away by the prospect, and forgetting her own plan. "What shall we take?"
"Let's take 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,'" said Jean. "We could make it over into a play easily enough, and Florence would be just the one for Eva. Alan could be Uncle Tom, you know."
"I think we could get something better than that," remarked Florence, in some disgust. "If I'm Eva, I'll have to die, and I don't know the first thing about that."
"Oh, that's easy enough," answered Molly, with the air of one who had experience; "just stiffen yourself out and fall over. But I don't believe you could ever get Alan to act."
"Why not take a ready-made play?" asked Polly. "It would save ever so much work."
"What is there?" said Molly, sitting up to discuss the matter.
"We don't want any Shakespeare," added Jean; "that's all killing, and Florence doesn't want to go dead, you know."
"I'll tell you what, girls," said Molly, as if struck with a sudden idea, "we'll have an original play, and Jean shall write it."
Florence and Polly applauded the suggestion, while Jean groaned,--
"I can't, girls. I never could in this world."
"Yes, you can," returned Molly, who had firm faith in her friend's ability. "You go right to work on it, and you ought to get it all done in a week or two, so we can give it before school opens."
"And we want just five people in it," said Polly. "I know I can get Alan to act, if Molly can't."
Molly shrugged her shoulders incredulously, while Jean inquired, with the calmness of desperation,--
"What shall it be about?"
"John Smith and Pocahontas," replied Polly promptly. "He almost gets killed, and doesn't quite; so that will get the audience all stirred up, but save the trouble of dying."
"But that only needs three," observed Florence thoughtfully, "and there are five of us."
"Doesn't he take her home to England, I'd like to know? There's a picture in the history where he shows Pocahontas to the queen. One of us can be king, and the other queen."
"But at court there are always lots of people round," remonstrated
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