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- Half a Dozen Girls - 4/45 -

Florence, with an eye to the truth of the situation.

"Never mind; we can make believe that the queen has sent them off, so as not to scare Pocahontas; that's what they call poetical license," said Polly. "Jean can see about that. There are lots of splendid things to wear, right here in this garret. Don't you suppose your mother would let us take them, Molly?"

"Yes, I know she will," replied Molly.

There was silence for a moment, while the girls considered the matter. Then Polly returned to her first charge.

"But it will take a good while to get ready to start this, so I'd like to suggest our doing something else, while we wait."

"Polly has something in her head," said Jean. "Tell us what 'tis, Poll,"

"Well, I'll tell you," said Polly, as she rose and began to walk up and down the floor. "Aunt Jane was scolding, the other day, because I hadn't read 'Pilgrim's Progress.' She said it was a living disgrace to me, and that I must do it, right off. Now, what if we have a reading club and do it together? Have any of you read it? I don't believe you ever have."

The girls admitted that they had not.

"That's just what I thought," said Polly triumphantly. "It's so stupid that I can't do it alone, for I read the first page yesterday, and I know. But we don't any of us want to be 'a living disgrace'; so what if we read aloud an hour every other afternoon? 'T wouldn't take us so very long, and," here she laughed frankly, "I don't suppose it would hurt us any."

"I don't know but we ought to," remarked Molly virtuously, while Jean added,--

"I've heard people say it was like measles. You'd better take it young, if you did at all."

"When shall we begin?" demanded Polly, fired with enthusiasm at the prospect.

"To-morrow," said Molly; "and you'd better come here to read, for we can be nice and quiet up here. Come to-morrow at three, and we'll read till four."

"Oh!" exclaimed Florence, suddenly springing up, as a small, dark body came flying in at the open window above her head, and went tumbling across the floor and down the stairs.

"What was that?" asked Molly, rolling off the bed.

"A green apple. I think," replied Polly, as she ran after it and seized it. "Yes; here it is."

"That's Alan's doing," said Molly sternly, "I do wish he'd ever let us alone."

"I don't," said Polly, coming to his defence; "he's ever so much fun. I get tired of all girls."

"Thank you, ma'am," said Jean quickly, bowing low, in answer to the compliment.

But Polly missed the bow, for her curly head was out of the window, and she was laughing down at a slender, light-haired lad who was just taking fresh aim at the open window.

"Come up here, Alan!" she called.

"Oh, don't, Polly!" remonstrated Molly from within. "He'll laugh at us, and spoil all our fun."

"No, he won't," answered Polly valiantly; then, more loudly, "What did you say, Alan?"

"What are you girls about up there?" he inquired.

"Come up and see." And she drew in her head just in time to escape a second missile.

"All right; I'll come if you'll promise to play something, and not spend all your time gabbling." And Alan vanished through the side door. A minute or two afterwards, his shoes were heard clattering up the attic stairs.

The four girls, whom he found sitting in a row on the edge of the bed, were such good friends of him and of each other, that the five were commonly spoken of as "the V," or, sometimes, as "the quintette." Alan Hapgood, who was regarded as the point of the V, was a wide-awake, irrepressible youth of twelve, who had a large share in the doings of his older sister and her friends. They did their best to spoil him by their unlimited admiration; but, to be sure, the temptation to do so was a strong one, for Alan was a lovable fellow, always merry and good-natured, generous and accommodating to his friends, and quick to plan and execute the pranks which added the spice of mischief to the doings of the V. In person he was tall for his age, and slight, with thick, yellow hair, that lay in a smooth, soft line across his forehead, large gray eyes, and a generous mouth, full of strong, white teeth which were usually in sight, for Alan was nearly always laughing,--not a handsome boy, exactly, for his features were quite irregular, but a splendid one, whom one would instinctively select as a gentleman's son, and an intelligent, manly lad.

His sister Molly, two years older, was an attractive, bright girl, whose only beauty lay in her smooth, heavy braids of brown hair. She and Polly had been constant companions from their babyhood, had quarrelled and "made up," had quarrelled and made up again, three hundred and sixty-five days a year for the last thirteen years, and at the end of that time they were closer friends than ever. Two girls more unlike it would have been hard to find, for Molly was as quiet and deliberate as Polly was impetuous; but nevertheless, in spite of their continual disagreements, they were inseparable. They were in the same class in school and in Sunday- school, they had the same friends, and read the same books, and had a share in the same mischief. They even carried this trait so far as to both come down with mumps on the same day, when their unwonted absence from school was the source of much speculation among their friends, who fondly pictured them as indulging in some frolic, until the melancholy truth was known.

Next to Alan, Jean Dwight was the boy of the V, a strong, hearty, happy young woman of fourteen, who succeeded in getting a great deal of enjoyment out of this humdrum, work-a-day world. Her rosy cheeks glowed and her brown eyes shone with health; for Jean was as full of life as a young colt, and vented her superfluous energy in climbing trees, walking fences, and running races, until Aunt Jane and her followers raised their hands and eyes in well-bred horror. But Jean's unselfish devotion to her mother, her real refinement, her quick understanding, and her sound common sense did much to atone for her hoydenish ways, and gave promise of the fine womanhood which lay before her. At first it had been a matter of some surprise, in the aristocratic old town, that Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Hapgood, representatives of "our first families," as they were universally acknowledged to be, could allow their children to be so intimate with Jean Dwight, whose father was only a carpenter, and whose mother took in sewing. However, any comments were promptly silenced when Mrs. Adams had been heard to say, one day, that she was always glad to have Polly with such a womanly girl as Jean Dwight, so free from any nonsensical, grown-up airs. From that time onward Jean's position was an established fact.

Florence Lang was the acknowledged beauty of the V, a dainty maiden of thirteen, with fluffy, yellow hair, great blue eyes, and a pink and white skin which might have made a French doll sigh with envy. The only daughter of a luxurious home, she was always beautifully dressed, always quiet in her manners. No matter how excited and demoralized the rest of the V might become, Florence never failed to come out of the frolic as gentle and unspotted as she went in, greatly to the disgust and envy of Polly, whose clothes had a tendency to get mysteriously torn, whose shoes appeared to go in search of dust, and whose short, curly hair had a perfect genius for getting into a state of wild disorder. It was not that Florence seemed to take any more care of herself than the others, but she was naturally one of those favored beings to whom no particle of dust could cling, who could use none but the choicest language. Such gentle children have admirers enough; it is the luckless, quick-tempered Pollies, the warm-hearted, harum- scarum Jeans, who need a champion.

If Molly and Polly had never disagreed, the quintette would have been only a trio; for, when they were at peace, they were all in all to each other. But in times of strife Molly was devoted to Florence Lang, while Polly took refuge with Jean Dwight. In this way the V was formed; and though the closest intimacy was between Molly and Polly, the four girls were firm friends, and there were few days when they were not to be found together, usually either at the Hapgood house, or at Polly's, where their visit was never quite satisfactory unless Mrs. Adams was in the midst of the group. Alan, too, was often with them, for a tendency to rheumatism, which occasionally developed into a severe attack of the disease, kept him in rather delicate health, and prevented his entering into the athletic sports which are the usual amusement for lads of his age. But though he was thus, of necessity, thrown much with his sister and her girl friends, Alan was far from belonging to that uninteresting species of humanity, the girl-boy; instead of that, he was a genuine, rollicking boy, with never a trace of the prig about him.

"Well, what was it you wanted of me?" Alan asked, as soon as his head reached the level of the attic floor.

"We didn't want you; you came," retorted Molly, with the frankness of a sister.

"No such thing; you called me,--at least, Polly did." And Alan marched across the floor to seat himself beside his champion, sure that there he would find a welcome.

He was not mistaken, for Polly remarked protectingly,--

"I did call you, Alan, for we want to have some fun, this horrid day, and we need you to stir us up."

"All right; how shall I go to work?" inquired Alan cheerfully. "Shall I dance a breakdown, or will you play tag?"

Half a Dozen Girls - 4/45

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