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- Peggy Stewart: Navy Girl at Home - 10/34 -
"Good boy," and a caress rewarded the reformed one.
Then Polly's enthusiasm broke forth.
How had she ever done it? Who had taught her to ride like that? Could she, Polly, ever hope to do so?
Peggy laughed gaily, and explained Shelby's methods as best she could, giving a little outline of her life on the estate which held a peculiar interest for Mrs. Harold, who read more between the lines than Peggy guessed, and who then and there resolved to know something more of this unusual girl to whose home they had been so curiously led. She had been thrown with young people all her life and loved them dearly, and here to her experienced eyes was a rare specimen of young girlhood and her heart warmed to her.
"I'd give anything to ride as you do," said Polly quite in despair of ever doing so.
"Why I can't remember when I haven't ridden. Shelby put me on a horse when Mammy Lucy declared I was too tiny to sit in a chair, and oh, how I love it and them. It is all so easy, so free--so--I don't quite know how to express it. But I must not take any more of your time talking about myself. Please excuse me for having talked so much. I wanted you to see Silver Star's paces but I did not plan to show them in just this way. But isn't he a dear? I don't know how I can let him go away from Severndale, but he as well as the others must. We sent Columbine only a few days ago. She has the sweetest disposition of any horse I have ever trained. It nearly broke my heart to send her off. They are all relatives. Shashai and Star are half-brothers. Shashai is my very own and I shall never sell him. Would you like to try Star, Miss Polly? I can get you a riding skirt. Shall you ride cross or side? He is trained for both."
"Not today, I think," answered Mrs. Harold for Polly. "We must make our arrangements for Star and then we will see about riding lessons. I wish you would undertake to teach Polly."
"Oh, would you really let me teach her?" cried Peggy enthusiastically.
"I think the obligation would be all on the other side," laughed Mrs. Harold. "It would be a privilege too great to claim."
"There would be no obligation whatever. I'd just love to," cried Peggy eagerly. "Why it would be perfectly lovely to have her come out here every day. Please walk back to the house and let us talk it over," Peggy's eyes were sparkling.
"Oh, Tanta, may I?"
"Slowly, Polly. My head is beginning to swim with so many ideas crowding into it," but Polly Howland knew from the tone that the day was as good as won.
A FRIENDSHIP BEGINS
As they walked back to the house the girls talked incessantly, Mrs. Harold listening intently but saying very little. She was drawing her own conclusions, which were usually pretty shrewd ones.
Commander Harold had for the past four years been stationed either at the Naval Academy, or on sea duty on board the Rhode Island when she made her famous cruise around the world. Mrs. Harold had remained at Wilmot Hall during the winter of 1907 and 1908, Polly's sister Constance spending it with her. Later Commander Harold had duty at the Academy, but recently with his new commission, for he had been a commander only a few months, he had been given one of the new cruisers and was at sea once more. They had no children, their only child having died many years before, but Mrs. Harold, loving young people as she did, was never without them near her. This winter her niece, Polly Howland, would remain with her and she was anxious to make the winter a happy one for the young girl. This she had a rare opportunity of doing, for her pretty sitting-room in Wilmot Hall was a gathering place for the young people of the entire neighborhood and the midshipmen in particular, who loved it dearly and were devoted to its mistress, loving her with the devotion of sons, and invariably calling her "the Little Mother," and her sitting-room "Middies' Haven." And a happier little rendezvous it would have been hard to find, for Mrs. Harold loved her big foster-sons dearly, strove in every way to make the place a home for them and to develop all that was best in their diverse characters.
It was to this home that Polly had come to pass the winter and now a new phase had developed, the outcome of what seemed to be chance, but it is to be questioned whether anything in this great world of ours is the outcome of chance. If so wisely ordered in some respects, why not in all?
So it is not surprising that Mrs. Harold watched and listened with rare sympathy and a keen intuition as the girls walked a little ahead of her, talking together as freely and frankly as though they had known each other for years instead of hours only.
"Couldn't you come out on the electric car every morning?" Peggy was asking. "If you could do that for about two weeks I am sure you would be able to ride BEAUTIFULLY at the end of them."
"Not in the morning, I'm afraid. You see I am an Annapolis co-ed," Polly answered laughing gaily at Peggy's mystified expression. "Yes I am, truly. You see I came down here to spend the winter with Aunt Janet because she is lonely when Uncle Glenn is away. But, of course, I can't just sit around and do nothing, or frolic all the time. Had I remained at home I should have been in my last year at high school, but Tanta doesn't want me to go to the one down here. Oh we've had the funniest discussions. First she thought she'd engage a governess for me, and we had almost settled on that when the funniest little thing changed it all. Isn't it queer how just a little thing will sometimes turn your plans all around?"
"What changed yours?" asked Peggy, more deeply interested in this new acquaintance and the new world she was introducing her into than she had ever been in anything in her life. "You'll laugh at me, I dare say, if I tell you, but I don't mind. Up at my own home in Montgentian, N. J., I had a boy chum. We have known each other since we were little tots and always played together. He is two years older than I am, but I was only a year behind him when he graduated from the high last spring. My goodness, how I worked to catch up, for I was ashamed to let him be so far ahead of me. I couldn't quite catch up, though, and he graduated a year ahead of me in spite of all I could do. Then he took a competitive examination for Annapolis and passed finely, entering the Academy last June. I was just tickled to death for we are just like brother and sister, we have been together so much. Then Tanta sent for me and I came back with her on September 30. One day we were over in the yard and the boys--men, I dare say I ought to call them, for some of them are tall as bean poles, only they have all been Aunt Janet's 'boys' ever since they entered the Academy--were teasing me, and telling me I couldn't work with Ralph any longer. I got mad then and said I guessed I COULD work with him if I saw fit, and I meant to, too. Oh, they laughed and jeered at me until I could have slapped every single one of them, but I then and there made up my mind to follow THIS year's academic course if I died in the attempt, and when we went home I talked it all over with Aunt Janet. She's such a dear, and always ready to listen to anything we young people have to tell her. So I really am a co-ed. Yes, I am; I knew you'd smile. I have an instructor, a retired captain, a friend of Aunt Janet's, who lives at Wilmot, and Aunt Janet has rented an extra room next mine for a schoolroom, and every morning at nine o'clock Captain Pennell and I settle down to real hard work. I have 'math' and mechanical drawing just exactly as Ralph has, and the same French, Spanish and English course, but what I love best of all is learning all about a boat and how to sail her, how to swim, and the gym work. And Captain Pennell is teaching me how to fence and to shoot with a rifle and a revolver. Oh, it is just heaps and heaps of fun. I didn't dream a girl could learn all those things, but Captain Pennell is such a dear and so interesting. He seems to have something new for each day. But HOW Aunt Janet's boys do run me and ask me when I'm coming out for cutter drill, or field artillery or any old thing they know I CAN'T do. But never mind. I know just exactly what all their old orders mean, and I am learning all about our splendid big ships and the guns and everything just as fast as ever I can. But, my goodness, I shall talk you to death. Mother says I never know when to stop once I get started. I beg your pardon," and Polly looked quite abashed as they drew near the piazza.
"Why I think it is all perfectly fascinating. How I'd love to do some of those things. I can shoot and swim and sail my boat, but I've never been in a gymnasium or done any of those interesting things. I wish Compadre could hear all about it. They wanted to send me away to a big finishing school this winter but I begged so hard for one more year's freedom that Daddy Neil consented, but I think he would love to have me know about the things you are learning."
"Oh, Tanta, couldn't we make some sort of a bargain? Couldn't Peggy come to us three days of the week and work with Captain Pennell and me, and then I come out three to learn to ride?"
Peggy's eyes shone as she listened. She had not realized how hungry she had been for young companionship until this sunny-souled young girl had dropped into her little world.
Mrs. Harold smiled sympathetically upon the enthusiastic pair.
"Perhaps we can make a mutually beneficial bargain," she said. "I think I shall accept Silver Star upon your recommendation, Miss Peggy, and what I have already seen. Then if you are willing to undertake it, Polly shall be taught to ride by you, and you in turn must come to us at Wilmot to join Captain Pennell's class of fencing, gym work or whatever else seems wise or you wish to. But who must decide the question, dear?"
How unconsciously she had dropped into the term of endearment with this young girl. It was so much a part of her nature to do so. Peggy's cheeks became rose-tinted with pleasure, and her eyes alight with happiness. Her smile was radiant as she slipped to Mrs. Harold's side saying: "Oh, if Compadre were only here to decide it right away. He is my guardian you know, and, of course, I must do as he wishes, but I hope--oh I HOPE, he will let me do this."
"And what is it you so wish to do, Filiola?" asked a gentle voice within the room.
Peggy gave a little cry of delight.
"Oh, Compadre, when did you come? We have just been talking about you," cried Peggy, flitting to the side of the tall, handsome old gentleman and slipping her arm about him as his encircled her shoulder, and he looked down upon her with a pair of benign dark eyes as he answered:
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