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- Half a Dozen Girls - 30/45 -
"You see," he went on, as they walked away down the corridor together; "I thought it would be a good scheme to have a full dress rehearsal of our scenes in the play, so I went to your house, bag and baggage. They told me that you weren't at home, that you'd gone on an errand to Bridget, so I followed on after you. I waited round outside for a good while; but it was so cold that I nearly froze, so I rang the bell and asked if you were here. You were such a forever-lasting time that I'd begun to think you had gone out by some other door."
"No danger of that," returned Policy, as he paused. "I'm a snob and only take the front door. But go on; what did you do then?" "I asked if you were here," the boy resumed; "and the woman said you were, and took me up into that room, for she said I could see you go past the door when you came out. I don't see what possessed her to put me in there, and I hadn't any idea of taking any notice of those babies, but somehow or other they got round me."
There was an apologetic tone to Alan's voice as he spoke the last words, which made Polly say heartily,--
"I am so glad they did, Alan. They don't often get hold of a boy in there, and they'll remember it ever and ever so long. It won't hurt you any, just for once, and it delighted them."
"I hope it did," said Alan, frankly adding, "I did feel no end silly, though, when you came out and caught me at it, playing child's nurse."
"I wonder why it is," returned Polly reflectively, as they went down the steps, "that a man always acts ashamed of doing what a woman is expected to do, day in and day out. I don't see why we shouldn't take turns and mix things up."
They walked along in silence for a little way. Alan's chin and ears were buried in his wide coatcollar, but the part of his face that showed was very sober.
"I say, Polly," lie said suddenly; "you don't know how kind of squirmy it made me feel, in there to-day, with all those little fellows, the one with the brace on his ankle, and the one with his eye tied up where they'd taken out a piece, and all the rest of them. I couldn't stand it to just sit there and stare at them, as if they were a show; that was too mean, when I couldn't do anything to help them out. What's the use of it all, any way?"
"I'm sure I don't know," answered Polly, as she tucked her mittened hand confidingly down into his, as it lay in the side pocket of his over-coat. "I felt just the same way when I began to go, last fall; but now I'm used to it, and don't mind so much."
"But what's the use, I'd like to know?" persisted Alan.
"What's the use of your having so much rheumatism in your bones?" responded Polly, answering question with question.
"How should I know?" returned Alan. "To make me cross as a bear, and give mother something to worry about, as much as anything, I suppose."
"I don't believe that's all the reason," said Polly seriously; "but as long as these things are round, and have to be, just think how splendid it must be to be a doctor!"
In spite of himself, Alan shivered at the thought. The scenes of the past hour had made a strong impression on his quick, sensitive nature.
"No," he said, "I don't want to spend my whole time among such things. It would be dreadful, Poll."
"I don't think so," said Polly energetically, as she snatched at the blue cap which a sudden gust of wind was lifting from her curls. "I don't want to be one myself, but I'm glad papa is a doctor, and I've always wished I had a brother to be one, too. I know the side of it you mean, Alan, and it is dreadful at first; but after a little, you'd get used to that, and I think there could be nothing grander than to spend all your life in mending broken bones, and cutting people to pieces to take out bad places, and helping them to grow all strong and well. I'd rather be a real good doctor than the President in the White House, and I don't believe but what I'd do more good."
While she was speaking, Alan watched her with admiration, for her eyes had grown dark and deep, and her whole face was alive with the earnestness of her words.
"You ought to have been a nurse, Poll," he said, when she had finished her outburst. "That's what makes you so nice and comfortable when I'm sick. I'd rather have you than Molly any day. But don't let's talk about it any longer; I can't keep those poor babies out of my head. They just seem to stick there."
"Go to see them again, and perhaps they won't," suggested Polly quickly.
"I'll see about it," said Alan; "but it strikes me I had enough of it this morning to last me for one while." And he lapsed into silence once more, while Polly eyed him stealthily, trying to read his thought.
When he spoke again, it was on an entirely different subject, and with an evident effort to dismiss the matter from his mind. Polly did her best to fall in with his mood, with an instinctive feeling that, boy-fashion, Alan did not care to put into words all that he thought; so by the time they reached the house, they were lightly discussing all sorts of unimportant matters; the weather, the sleighing, their play, and even Job, and Alan had thrown off his momentary seriousness and become as gay as ever.
"Where did you put your war-paint and feathers?" asked Polly, as they ran. up the steps, rosy and breathless from facing the strong wind.
"My war-paint, ma'am! It's yours. I'm a civilized white man, named Smith," returned Alan, as he pulled off his coat in the hall. "I left them in a corner of the dining-room."
"I'll get them." And Polly vanished.
"You see," Alan went on, as she reappeared. "We know our parts well enough, I suppose; but I wanted to get used to seeing you in full rig, before the time came. I was afraid, if you suddenly appeared to me, I should laugh and spoil our best scene."
"Don't you dare do that!" returned Polly sternly. "If you laugh, I'll let Jean cut off your head, and not try to save you. But it's a good idea to have a chance to go through it, while we are all alone by ourselves. Our parts are best of all, and I want to do them as well as we can for Jean's sake, she has taken so much pains to write it up."
"Yes," added the captain ungratefully, "and I'd like to have you try over that rushing out and tumbling down on top of me. The last time you did it, you. nearly knocked the breath out of my body. You'd better go a little slower, Poll, or you'll kill me as surely as Jean would,--and I don't know but what her way would be about as comfortable as yours."
"We've plenty of time and the house to ourselves," said Polly meekly; "so we can try it over and over, till I get it right."
"What a prospect!" groaned Alan. "When we get through, you'll have to take me to the hospital and put me in with those youngsters, where I was to-day."
"All right," returned Polly, laughing; "but if I ever do kill you, don't expect me to tell of it. Now let's come up into mamma's room and dress in front of her long mirror."
The dressing was a prolonged and hilarious operation, for each in turn helped the other to don his costume, stopping now and then to burst out laughing at the results of their labors. Alan, it is true, made a very attractive young captain, though, with a fine disregard for dates, he was attired in the moth-eaten, faded uniform with tarnished brass buttons and epaulettes which one of his ancestors had worn during the Revolutionary War. But the ancestor had been several sizes larger than his nineteenth century descendant, and the uniform lay in generous folds over the back and shoulders, and was turned up at wrist and ankle, while the great cocked hat, pushed back to show the yellow hair in front, rested on the boy's shoulders behind. However, a truer, tenderer, more valiant heart never beat in old-time captain, than was throbbing in Alan's breast that day, when he held forlorn little Dicky Morris on his knee.
But Polly! In arranging her costume, the girls had let their individual tastes have full sway, and beyond the general notion that Indians like bright color, they had paid no attention to the traditional ideas of dress among the noble red men. Pocahontas, as she is usually pictured in her quill-embroidered tunic and dull, heavy mantle, would have laughed outright at the appearance of this vision of silk and satin, of purple and scarlet and vivid green, which was solemnly parading up and down the room, in all the enjoyment of her finery.
"'Tis splendid, isn't it, Alan?" she asked, turning, with a purely feminine delight, to survey her long red satin train as it swept about her feet.
Alan looked at her doubtfully.
"Why, yes; it's very splendid, Poll, but somehow it doesn't look much like an Indian. I didn't know they wore satin trails a mile long."
Polly's brow clouded.
"But princesses do, Alan, and I'm a princess, just as much as I'm an Indian. It's such fun to wear this. Don't you suppose it will do?"
"Yes, perhaps," said Alan, with an heroic disregard of the truth. "It isn't just like the pictures; but you look first-rate in it, honestly, Poll. Now let me fix your head."
Polly beamed under his praise, and dropped into a chair where she sat passive until he had fastened on the lofty coronet of feathers which would have formed an honorable decoration for the brow of a Sioux brave. A little red chalk supplied the complexion, and a few
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