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- Half a Dozen Girls - 6/45 -

days over such stuff." And she pointed disdainfully at the book, a square, clumsy volume, bound in dingy black cloth covers.

Polly looked rather hurt.

"I know all that, girls," she began; "but an hour a day, and only every other day, too, isn't very much to spend on it."

"It's an hour too much, though, Polly," said Molly decisively. "This garret is so warm; wait till cooler weather, and then we'll try again. We shouldn't have time to finish it, anyway, before Jean had the play ready for us. How is it getting along, Jean?"

"Awfully!" confessed Jean. "Whenever I sit down to write, my head is as empty as an egg is, after you've blown it."

"Now, you girls let me plan for you," said Alan, moved to pity by Polly's downcast face. "You let your old book go till fall, and then start again, but only read half an hour a day. That's all your brains can take in, and I'll try to be on hand to explain it to you. How does that suit, Poll?"

"I suppose it will have to do," sighed Polly. "I hate to give up, now we've started; but if you won't read, you won't."

"Very true," remarked Jean, while Florence added,--

"Now, tell us truly, Polly, do you know what the man is talking about half the time?"

"No, I don't know as I do," admitted Polly.

"Then what do you want to read it for?" pursued Florence, determined to come to an understanding.

"Oh, it sounds sort of good, you know," said Polly vaguely; "just as if we ought to like it. 'Most everybody does read it, and I didn't know but, if we kept at it long enough, it might teach us a little something."

"Who wants to be taught? And besides, I'd rather have something a little fresher than this," said Jean, making no secret of her heresy.

"Polly! Polly!" called a voice from below.

Polly sprang up from the floor, where she had seated herself.

"That's mamma; what can she want?" she exclaimed, running to the window and putting her head out.

Down in the street sat Mrs. Adams in their low, two-seated carriage, while Job stood nodding sleepily in the sun, as he waited for the signal to proceed.

"Don't you girls want to go for a little drive?" she called, as her daughter's head came in sight.

In an instant three other heads appeared, and she was saluted with three voices,--

"How lovely!"

"What fun!"

"We'll be down in a minute."

The minute was a short one; for the girls snatched their hats in passing through the hall, and quickly surrounded the carriage, in a gay, laughing group. Alan came sauntering down the stairs after them, and stood leaning in the doorway, watching them settle themselves preparatory to starting. Something in the lad's position struck Mrs. Adams, and she beckoned to him.

"Come too, Alan; that is, if you can stand it with so many girls."

"May I? Is there room?"

He ran out to the carriage, then stopped, hesitating, as he saw Polly touch her mother's arm, and shake her head silently.

"I don't believe I'll go," he said, drawing back.

"Why not?" asked Mrs. Adams, in surprise.

"I don't think Polly wants me to," answered the boy frankly. "I don't want to be in the way." And he turned back to the house.

"'Tisn't that, mamma," said Polly, blushing at being caught. "I'd like to have Alan go, well enough, only I was afraid it would be too much for Job to take so many of us."

"In that case, you might have offered to be the one to give up," said her mother, in a low tone, which, though very gentle, still brought a deeper flush to Polly's face. Then she added to Alan, "Nonsense, my boy! You are thin as a rail, and don't weigh anything to speak of. Get in here this minute, and if Job gets tired, I'll make you all walk home."

Alan mounted to the front seat, where he made himself comfortable, with a boyish disregard of Florence's fresh pink gingham gown; Mrs. Adams shook the lines persuasively; Job waked and began to trudge along with an air of sombre patience which would have done credit to the scriptural original of his name.

"I am glad you are all of you used to Job," said Mrs. Adams smilingly, as they moved slowly down the main street and across the railroad track. "He really has been a valuable horse in his day, and there was a time when nothing could go by him,--why, what is the matter?" And she looked around at the girls on the back seat, as they burst into an irreverent laugh.

"Nothing, mamma," said Polly, leaning forward with her elbows on the back of the seat in front of her; "only we thought we'd heard you say something about it before."

"Let's drop them out, if they're so saucy," suggested Alan. "Don't you want me to drive, Mrs. Adams?"

"Thank you, Alan; but I don't dare trust you, when you are no more used to him, for he stumbles so. Go on, Job!" she added, with an inviting chirrup, as she leaned forward and rattled the whip up and down in its socket, to remind Job of its existence.

But Job was familiar with that operation, and from long experience he had learned its lack of significance. Accordingly, he only tilted one ear back towards his mistress, and went on at his former jog.

It was one of the finest days of the summer, one of the days when the season seems to have reached its height and appears to be standing still, for a moment, in the full enjoyment of its own beauty. A shower early in the day had washed away the dust, and every leaf and blossom by the roadside stood up in all the glad pride of its clean face, and turned its eyes disdainfully upward, away from the brown earth below. The girls chattered and laughed while they rode through the town, past the cemetery, where Mrs. Adams had some difficulty in overcoming Job's desire to turn in, across the long white bridge over the river, and through the quiet little village on its eastern bank. Then they turned southward, where the road lay over the level meadows, now past a great corn- field, now by the side of a piece of grass land dotted thickly with large yellow daisies. At their right was the broad blue river, shining like metal in the sun; before them rose the two mountains that watch over the old town, one beautiful in its irregular outlines, the other impressive in its bold dignity. No one who has lived near these hills can ever forget their spell. Though long years may have passed before his return, yet his first glance is always towards the bare, rugged cliffs, the wooded sides, and the white summit houses of these twin guardians of the quiet valley town.

"I believe I am perfectly happy," said Florence, with a sigh of content, as she leaned back and surveyed the meadows.

"I should be, if I could have some of those daisies," said Polly, pointing to a great bunch of them close by.

"Want 'em? All right, here goes!" And before Mrs. Adams could bring Job to a halt, Alan was out over the wheel.

"Don't stop; I can catch up with you," he called. "It's too hard work to get Job under way again."

He was as good as his word; for he hastily pulled up the flowers by the roots, came running after the carriage, and tossed them into Polly's lap.

"There! Now aren't you glad you brought me?" he exclaimed triumphantly, as he scrambled up the back of the carriage, like a monkey, and worked his way along to the front seat again. "You're a daisy, yourself, Alan," answered Polly, leaning out over the wheel to break off the roots. "These are lovely. Want some, girls?"

"It's going to rain to-morrow, I just know," said Molly, disregarding the daisies. "If it does, it will spoil our picnic, and that will be a shame."

"Oh, it won't rain," said Jean. "What makes you think so, Molly?"

"It always does," said Molly wisely, "when the hills look such a lovely dark blue. I heard somebody say so, ever so long ago, and I never knew it to fail."

"I don't believe in signs," remarked Polly vindictively, with her mouth full of daisy stems. "It's all just as it happens, only some people have a sign for everything. For my part, I'll wait till I see the rain coming, before I believe in it."

"That's Polly all over," said Alan. "She won't take anything on trust; she has to see it first."

"How did the reading come on to-day?" inquired Mrs. Adams, leaning back in her seat, and letting Job ramble from side to side of the road, at his will.

"Not very well," said Florence, seeing that none of the others started to reply.

Half a Dozen Girls - 6/45

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