Note: This story is set one year after Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and three years before Five Little Peppers Midway.
Mr. Josiah Tuttle paused a moment, pushed up his pinch-nez, and took a deep breath. He had already spoken to Mr. and Mrs. Whitney, and to Mrs. Pepper, and they had been perfectly understanding of his news.
He was not, however, so confident of the reaction of Mr. Horatio King. His imperious employer was not often happy at changes to his household.
Mr. Tuttle had been employed a few years ago as tutor to teach young Percy and Van Whitney. He had not to teach Jasper King, their young uncle, who was in attendance at the prestigious Pembroke Academy. But Van and Percy had been deemed too young at the time to attend the school.
And then last year, he had been taken aback at the addition to his class of the Pepper children, who had come to join the household. At first he had been doubtful. He never before had taught a girl, and Polly was an unknown quantity to him. And her brothers, Joel and David, had barely the rudiments of reading and writing, and were woefully behind their ages in their knowledge. Ben was a solid student, but he too, was behind in the learning he should have had.
It had come as a pleasant surprise to discover that far from disrupting his classes, Polly proved to be a helpful addition. Percy and Van were frequently given to disgraceful squabbling among themselves, which poor little Mr. Tuttle had often found himself helpless to stop. But a look of disapproval from Polly's brown eyes often stopped Percy and Van in mid-sentence.
Ben caught up quickly enough that he was found a place in Jasper's class at the Pembroke School. David had proved an eager scholar, and had rapidly caught up to and surpassed the Whitney boys, so glad was he for the chance to learn and to do his "Mamsie" proud. Joel was not a good scholar, and was often active and restless, but his sister and brother would remind him that he needed to "do the Little Brown House proud", and the boy would buckle down.
All in all, Mr. Josiah Tuttle had enjoyed his time in the King family's employ. But change must come, and it was his duty to inform Mr. King of his decision. He gulped audibly, and brought his knuckles to rap upon the forbidding oak door of Mr. King's study.
Bidden to enter, he gathered his courage.
"Why, Mr. Tuttle!" exclaimed Mr. King, that old gentleman looking up in surprise, his aristocratic brows arching upwards. "Is there a problem with any of my young people?"
"No, sir, Mr. King." Mr. Tuttle gulped once more, and then rushed on with his news. "I must tell you that it is necessary for me to tender my resignation." He blew out a breath, and waited for the storm to descend.
"Your resignation! My good man! I thought that you liked these children!"
"Nevertheless, Mr. King, I must do so. I shall be going away."
"Going away! Why, what business have you to go away, and to leave us in disarray like this! What could make you decide so suddenly to `go away'?" Mr. King's face was alarmingly red, and his voice had risen to a shout.
Mr. Tuttle quailed inside, but he held his ground, for he knew that he was in the right. "Mr. King, you know that I am to take a wife soon." For Mr. Tuttle had a long-standing betrothal to the quiet little lady who played the organ at his church.
"Of course I knew! And how in the blazes do you expect to support a wife if you give up your position? I shall most certainly increase your salary..."
"It is not that at all, Mr. King. The truth is, that I have received an offer to become the headmaster at a little mission school out West. After the wedding my wife and I shall be going out there to teach the Indian children."
"A mission school! Good heavens!" Mr. King stood up. "Why, what business have you to go off to teach a lot of Indians and leave my grandchildren without so much as..."
Perhaps Mr. King would have gone on to say many more unpleasant things, but suddenly a small voice interrupted. Mr. Tuttle had left the door ajar when he had entered.
"Grandpapa, are you all right?" It was Phronsie, and her brown eyes were wide in her little face as she surveyed the scene before her. Hesitantly, she stepped to Mr. King's side, and took his hand. "Oh, Grandpapa, please do not look so! I am afraid you will be sick!" and she patted his arm reassuringly.
"Phronsie! You cannot imagine what a dreadful thing this man is going to do!"
Phronsie looked up at Mr. Tuttle. She quite liked him, for he always had a kind word for her whenever she had occasion to visit the little schoolroom upstairs, though she was yet too young to be one of his scholars.
Mr. Tuttle gazed down at her upturned face with hope, and wisely kept his silence.
"Grandpapa, I do not think that Mr. Tuttle could do anything so very dreadful. He's a nice man, he is!"
"Why Phronsie! He proposes to leave us--to leave us and go off to some mission and teach a bunch of Indian children!"
But Phronsie's reaction was not at all what her grandpapa expected. "Oh, Grandpapa, but that's so nice! Just think of all the poor Indian children! A missionary!" And her eyes shone, for she had often heard of the wonderful work that missionaries did in far away places, and it made her heart glad to think that someone she knew could be such an exotic creature.
And so the matter ended well, after all, and Mr. Tuttle's acquaintances were all quite astounded at the attendance at his wedding of the famous King household. And the new little missionaries were started on their way with a generous subscription that had brought tears to their eyes.
But still, the departure of their teacher did leave the King household in disarray, for now new arrangements must be made for all the little scholars who no longer had a teacher.
Arrangements were made to send the boys away to a school, Dr. Mark's famous academy, for this late in the year, there were no places available at Ben and Jasper's school. And after a long talk with the Whitneys and with Mr. King, Mrs. Pepper felt that it would be the making of Joel and Davy, to teach them self-reliance, and to not depend upon their older brother and sister so much.
Now the only thing left was to decide what to do with Polly.
Mr. King spoke with Mrs. Pepper, and then went down to Jasper's school, to speak to the headmaster, Dr. Presbrey.
"Dr. Presbrey , I know that many of your scholars have sisters! Have you any recommendations as to a good school for young Polly?"
"Why, I know just the place, Mr. King! A good many of the sisters of our students go to the Salisbury School for Girls. It is quite nearby, and has an excellent reputation. I do not know if they have any places available, but I would be glad to give a letter of recommendation to Miss Salisbury, the headmistress."
So it was that a few days later an important conversation was being held by the headmistress of the Salisbury School and her sister, Miss Anstice Salisbury, who was her assistant.
"We have two applicants for the one opening we have." Miss Salisbury took a sip of her tea, and waited for her sister to speak.
"Two applicants? Oh sister! Who are they?"
"One of them is Miss Lucinda Warren, the niece of Mrs. John Emerson. The other is a Miss Mary Pepper, the protégé of Mr. Horatio King."
"What a difficult decision that will be, sister! It would not do to offend Mr. King, who is a very powerful man, and is of one of the chief families in the city! Yet Mrs. Emerson is a leader of society--her niece would be quite a prize!"
"Yet I am not pleased with Miss Warren. She came with her aunt to see me. She did not speak, but sat just out of her aunt's sight, slouched in her chair in a most unladylike way. She cast her eyes up to the ceiling, and gave an insolent appearance of boredom that did not bode well for her as a scholar in our school. I fear that if we were to admit her as a pupil, we would be forced to constantly reprimand her. If she had to be disciplined or expelled, it would be worse than if she had never been admitted at all!"
"Oh dear! You are quite right! That would be a calamity! Yet what do we know of this Miss Pepper? For we do not know Mr. King's family! He has only a son of school age, and grandsons. I have not heard about this Miss Pepper--is she a relative of his?" Miss Anstice was dismayed, for she had often seen the elegant Mrs. Emerson about the town, and the thought of her niece at their school had been delightful. But she knew her older sister was right; a poor scholar who had an intractable attitude could spoil their school's excellent reputation.
"No. She and her family came last year to live in his household. I believe they are connections of Mr. King's son-in-law, but I know very little of them." She sat back in her chair. "However, I will know more by this afternoon, for Mr. King is bringing the young lady here for an interview at two o' clock."
And in the great house of Mr. King, Polly was rushing about. She was all nerves over her coming interview. What if the headmistress did not like her! Oh what would she do if she could not be taken into the school! She stood before her wardrobe in a quandary, suddenly at a loss in her indecision.
"Polly?" came a beloved voice at the door.
"Oh, Mamsie! Do come in!"
Mrs. Pepper entered Polly's room and Polly drew in a deep sigh of relief! "Mamsie, what shall I do? Should I wear my blue frock or my brown one?"
She looked at her mother with her brown eyes, a tiny furrow in her brow. "I should really like to wear the blue, for it is a favorite of Grandpapa King! But perhaps a headmistress might think the brown one to be better, for it is plainer, and more like what a student would wear."
"I think, Polly, that you had better have the blue. This is a special meeting. The brown is more like the dresses you shall be wearing to classes if Miss Salisbury should accept you. And the blue will please your grandpapa."
"Oh thank you, Mamsie! For I did so want to have the blue today as well, only I thought it might be better not!" And she flew at her mother to embrace her tightly.
"There now, Polly!" She drew back and smiled at her daughter. "Let Mamsie help you get ready!"
"Yes, please, Mamsie! I seem to be all thumbs, I am so worried! What if she does not accept me?"
Mrs. Pepper gave her a stern look. "Then that shall be her choice, and I expect you to bear it bravely, my dear, with no tears or railing. But if you are your own sweet self, Polly, I really do not see why she should not be proud to have you in her school. You are a hard worker, and Mamsie is very pleased with all you have done!"
"I only just wish to be a credit to you, Mamsie, and to the Little Brown House!"
"And so you are," said her mother, as she fastened the little buttons up the back of the blue frock. "And now listen! I hear Mr. King calling for you!"
In the small parlor she used for such interviews, Miss Salisbury looked keenly at the aristocratic old gentleman who sat before her with such perfect confidence. He had introduced himself and Miss Pepper, whom he called "Polly", in a stately manner. Then he had handed her two letters, and seating himself in the armchair opposite her own, the little girl he had brought with him had come to stand respectfully by his side. The child was rosy-cheeked and alert, with tidy brown hair and clear brown eyes, and she gazed about the parlor with every evidence of intelligent interest. Miss Salisbury sat down, and began to peruse the two letters. One of them was from the child's tutor, who explained the circumstances of his leaving, and praising his student's abilities, proclaiming her fit to join other girls of her own age in learning. The other caused her to raise an eyebrow, for it was from Dr. Presbrey of the Pembroke School, saying that he had recommended her school to Mr. King, and indicating that it would be a good addition to the Salisbury School if she were to accept Miss Pepper. "For I do believe that she, like her brother Benjamin, would prove to be an earnest and hard-working pupil." She nodded thoughtfully as she read, for often enough the two schools reciprocated in sending scholars to one another. It had been but a few weeks since Miss Salisbury had recommended the brother of one of her own former pupils apply to Pembroke.
She looked up. "Miss Pepper, in the letter of application I received, your name was given as 'Mary', yet Mr. King addresses you as 'Polly'. Can you explain that to me?"
The child looked slightly startled at being addressed, but cast a glance at the stately old gentleman at her side, and then said politely, "My mother's name is also Mary, Miss Salisbury, and so it was thought best to call me Polly. I have always been called so."
"Your tutor tells me in his letter that you also take lessons upon the piano. Who is your teacher?"
The little face brightened, and seemed to nearly glow. "Oh," she exclaimed, "it is Monsieur Tourtelotte! He is such a dear man!"
Ah, thought Miss Salisbury. She loves music; for Miss Salisbury knew Monsieur Tourtelotte of old, and she also knew that any student of his who did not love music and apply herself to lessons would never refer to that irascible little Frenchman as 'dear'! For he was a stern taskmaster, but was fond of any pupil who worked hard and loved what she was doing.
"Tell me, Polly," she asked. "What is your dearest hope when you grow up?"
"Oh Miss Salisbury! I should like above all things to be a music-teacher, and to repay my dear Grandpapa King for all his kindnesses!" And her face was wreathed in such a smile of delight at the thought that Miss Salisbury could not bring herself to doubt the heartfelt reply.
The headmistress looked once more at Mr. King. While she would not have cared to offend the powerful and wealthy old man, if she had found Polly unsuitable, she would have done so. But this child seemed to be one who would bring credit to the school.
"Very well, Mr. King. I shall accept Polly Pepper as a scholar in the Salisbury School. She may begin to attend classes next Monday." She stood, as did Mr. King, who offered her his hand, which she shook firmly.
"I believe, Miss Salisbury, that you shall be very glad that you have accepted Polly."
And now, oh what a whirl of activity there was at the King mansion! For the Whitney boys and Joel and Davy had to get ready to go away. Percy and Van's father, Cousin Mason, was to escort the boys on the train to Dr. Mark's school. And such a list of things had to be purchased to take with them: suits of clothing for classes and for play, tennis rackets and books and other things boys delight in, but all to such specifications as the school allowed! And Mr. King decided that Polly needed new frocks as well, to start her classes in. And for Polly there were books to buy also, from a list provided by Miss Salisbury.
And on Friday, the whole of the King household piled into the coach driven by Thomas the coachman, and followed by a trap filled with the boys' trunks and other gear, and off they went to the railroad station. Davy was very pale, and he sat by Phronsie, who held onto his hand tightly. Joel was talking about what fun they would have, playing tennis and football and baseball, his black eyes snapping with excitement, as he pranced about the station platform.
But when they heard the conductor cry out "All aboard!" he suddenly turned with a howl and ran to his mother.
"Oh Mamsie! I can't do it! I don't want to leave you and Polly and Phronsie and--oh whickets!" and he grabbed his mother fast.
She drew back. "Joel Pepper! Such language! Why, do I hear a boy of mine saying 'can't'? Look at Davy!"
Joel sniffed hard, and cast a look at his younger brother, who looked very frightened to see Joel giving way. "I'm sorry, Mamsie! But I will miss all of you something dreadful!"
Mrs. Pepper's own eyes were moist, but she did not allow her tears to fall. "Josie, we will miss all of you as well. But if you apply yourself to your work and make new friends, why sooner than you think, it will be time for you to come home for a holiday! Now, be Mamsie's little man!" She looked earnestly into his black eyes, until she saw the understanding dawn there, and he drew an arm across his tearful face and nodded.
And so he flew off, back to the train, where Cousin Mason waited with anxious eyes, as Joel and Davy joined him and Percy and Van. And then quicker than quick, the great steam locomotive was pulling away. They could see Joel and Davy's white faces pressed against the window, and Ben held Phronsie up and she waved until the line of cars was quite out of sight.
On the Monday morning, several of the girls of the Salisbury School were gathered on the steps.
"I know we are getting a new pupil today!" said Clem Forsythe excitedly. "I wonder who it will be? I hope she won't be as tiresome as our last new pupil." She cast a scornful look at another girl who stood alone near the door, her tall figure seemingly indifferent.
"Well," said Silvia Horne, "I shall not exert myself to be agreeable to her, for she has taken the place of my friend Lucinda!" She tossed her curls for emphasis, and then began to play with the silver bracelets that dangled about her wrist.
"Why, whatever do you mean?" asked one of the other girls.
"My mother's friend Mrs. Emerson--you know, the Mrs. John Emerson--told her that Miss Salisbury turned her niece Lucinda down to make room for this other new girl!"
"Silvia! You don't say so!" Sally Moore said in horrified tones.
"I do indeed! I do say so! My mother thinks it is because Miss Salisbury must have been afraid to offend Mr. King. He's taken up with these Peppers that no one had ever heard of before!" Sylvia shook her bracelets for emphasis.
They had not noticed the taller girl approach them, and so were surprised to hear her give a sniff, and say "For shame, Silvia Horne! Our Miss Salisbury is not afraid of anything!"
Silvia jumped, she was so startled. "You should not creep up on people like that, Alexia Rhys! And we were not speaking to you anyway!"
"Well, I am speaking to you!" the tall girl said emphatically. "I suppose I have the right to speak whenever I wish!"
Clem Forsythe looked uncertain. She did not like Alexia, who was a girl of very decided opinions, and yet in this she thought she agreed. She could not imagine their Miss Salisbury admitting any pupil because she was frightened of her family! It made her very cross to be forced to agree with Alexia of all people!
Just then the girls heard a most unwelcome voice. It was Miss Anstice!
"Girls! It is most inappropriate for you to be standing about on the school steps! Come inside to assembly at once!" She clapped her hands, and then gestured to the door, standing there until the reluctant students had entered. Then she followed behind.
Polly was very nervous as she sat in a chair on the platform. Mr. King had escorted her to the school early that morning, and now she waited for Miss Salisbury to introduce her. She looked out across the room, at the upturned faces of all the girls. "Oh," she thought. "I am so glad Mamsie told me to wear the brown frock this morning!" for she felt very queer to be stared at by so many at one time. Some of them looked at her curiously, and on some of the faces, she thought she saw scorn. A few were not looking at her, but were whispering to one another behind their hands. However, when Miss Salisbury stepped forth, all the attention went instantly to the headmistress.
Miss Salisbury gave the opening invocation, and then made a few announcements about their classes. Finally, she gestured to her side. "We have a new pupil with us today, Miss Polly Pepper. I know that my Salisbury Girls will all do their best to make her feel welcome."
Polly stood up, her face very red. But she remembered Mamsie and the Little Brown House, and gave a brave smile.
Miss Salisbury dismissed the girls to their classes. Polly was to be in Miss Wilcox's class, with the other girls of her age. She was relieved to discover that she was quite caught up with the other students in her knowledge, and that she would not disgrace her time learning from Mamsie and from Mr. Tuttle. When the girls were dismissed for the day, Polly gathered her books, with her careful notes of the lessons she must get when she arrived at home, and turned to leave with the others. But she noticed that all of the other girls had already left, in little clusters, laughing and talking among themselves, and she could not help but have a sorry little feeling in her heart that she had no friends to speak to her. With a sigh, she went out of the room and into the corridor, where she saw another girl of her class walking in the same direction. She had noticed the tall girl, whom the teacher had addressed as "Alexia" earlier in the day.
Just then, Alexia dropped one of her books. "Oh, no, " she exclaimed. She stopped to bend over and pick it up, and then lost her hold on her other books. "Oh bother!" she said in exasperation, as they all tumbled to the floor with a thud.
Polly hurried up to her. "Oh, let me help!" and soon she had helped Alexia to pick up her books.
"Oh, thank you, Polly Pepper!" said the other girl. "I thought you might be a nice sort! And now I know you are!"
Polly blushed. "I am sure any of the others would have helped if they had seen," she said modestly.
"I am sure that they would not, for they do not like me, no not one little bit!" Alexia tossed her light braids for emphasis.
"Oh dear!" was all Polly could think to say. The other girl did not seem to be distressed by her proclamation, indeed, she seemed almost proud of the fact.
When they exited the building, Alexia gave Polly a grin, and a thanks, and hurried off. Polly scarcely noticed, for there were Jasper and Ben, waiting for her! She hurried down the steps to greet them.
Another cluster of girls who had been lingering to talk, watched as Polly flew to her brother and Jasper with a laugh of joy. "Oh my!" said Silvia Horne. "Just see the new girl! Who are those boys? They are very nice looking!"
Sally Moore gave a chuckle. "One of them is her brother, and the other one is Jasper King, who might as well be her brother! My cousin Clare goes to school with them at Pembroke. He says when Ben and Jasper talk, it is always 'Polly this' and 'Polly that'!" And the girls watched Polly walk off between Ben and Jasper, and thought perhaps it would not be so bad a thing to make her acquaintance after all.
And so Polly ended her first day with a glad heart, and was pleased to tell Mamsie all about it, about the other girls and about her teachers and her classes. "But, oh Mamsie! What do you think about Alexia saying the other girls don't like her?"
"I cannot say, Polly, never having met any of those girls myself yet. But I think that I can trust you to make up your own mind, and not to allow yourself to be unduly influenced for good or for ill by the opinions of other people." She dropped a little kiss on top of Polly's brown head as she tucked her up. "Be your own sweet self, Polly, and you will make friends before you know it."
"Thank you, Mamsie!" and Polly gave a little yawn and turned over to sleep.
The next morning, Polly was very surprised to see that several of the girls who had ignored her the day before came to greet her as she approached the school. "Why, hello, Polly Pepper!" cried Clem Forsythe, hurrying up to her, and followed quickly by Sally Moore, Silvia Horne, and a few others. "How do you like our school?"
"Why, I like it quite well! I think that I will learn a lot here! And I am so excited to meet other girls! I have never had any girl friends!"
This statement was so amazing that it stopped the other girls in their tracks. "What? Never?"
Polly shook her head decidedly. "No, never! When we lived in the Little Brown House, before we met dear Grandpapa King, there were only my brothers, Ben, Joel and Davy, and my little sister Phronsie! And since we came here, there are our Whitney cousins, Percy, Van and little Dickie. I have not had the chance to meet other girls before!" As the other girls were stunned to hear this, Polly turned. "Oh, look! Here comes Alexia!" and she turned to meet her new acquaintance.
Alexia was quite surprised when Polly took her arm and led her off to the other girls, who were too distracted to be disagreeable. Only Silvia gave a bit of a sniff, but she followed the rest as they entered the school. This Polly might be a good person to know after all, even if she did take up with that insufferable Alexia Rhys!
All through the day, in between classes, the other girls bombarded Polly with questions about her family, and about the King household, and even about the Little Brown House. None of them seemed to notice that somehow Alexia had also gotten drawn into their circle. And so the week went, as Polly began to learn the new routine of school and lessons. Thursday morning, as she prepared to dash out of the house, to walk part of the way with Jasper and Ben, she heard her name called. "Polly! My child, come here for a moment!" It was Mr. King.
Polly turned with a brilliant smile and darted to his side. "Yes, Grandpapa! What is it?"
"I was wondering if you would care to invite some of your classmates to supper tomorrow night? I think it would be splendid to meet your new friends!"
"Oh, Grandpapa!" Polly gave him a hug. "That's just wonderful of you! I shall ask them today!"
Oh, the hubbub among the girls when they received Polly's invitation! There were twelve girls in Polly's class, and she invited all of them, much to their surprise. Among themselves they could not stop chattering about what they would wear, and what it might be like up at the magnificent King mansion! Miss Wilcox had to be much sterner with her pupils than usual, for they did not seem to be able to pay attention in the usual way. And when the girls went home to tell their parents of the invitations, there was much excitement there as well.
As Mrs. Moore, Sally's mother, said to her friend Mrs. Forsythe, who was Clem's mother, "That Mr. King has never been so hospitable before to my knowledge! Imagine him inviting that whole bunch of chattering girls up to his stately home! For I tell you, I dearly love Sally and her friends, but they would drive me to distraction if I had them all at one time!"
And Mrs. Forsythe could not but agree.
The next afternoon, as the girls swarmed out of the school, there were two of the King coaches, waiting there to convey the girls up to Polly's home. Thomas the coachman handed Polly into the coach, and what a scramble there was to sit with her! Polly looked with dismay at the girls, who had begun to quarrel among themselves. Oh, what was she to do! She saw Alexia, standing back out of the fray, her expression resigned. Polly put forth her head. "I want Alexia, please, and Clem and Sally and Lucy and Silvia!" The other girls drew back in disappointment while the chosen few were handed into the coach--Alexia first, to her delight, as she cast a look of triumph at the others, and possessed herself of the seat on Polly's left hand, for Polly sat next to the window on her right.
"See! I have Polly Pepper now!" crowed Alexia.
As Thomas drove off, the girls fell silent, those near the windows seeking to look out as much as they could. Very quickly, for the distance was not far, the coach turned into the great gates of the King estate, and went up the cobbled drive past the stately trees and wide green lawn. It pulled up before the great door of the huge house, followed by the other coach as well. The girls were silent in awe as they were helped out of the coach--for though some of them came from families of wealth and position, none of them had seen this home before. It was quite imposing, even by the standards of Society.
Polly led the girls inside, and there in the wide marble-floored hall waited her Mamsie, with Phronsie clinging to her hand. "Oh Mamsie!" said Polly, and gave her mother a brief embrace. Then she stood back and one by one, led each girl up to be introduced to her mother and her sister. Mrs. Pepper took each girl by the hand, and looked into each little face searchingly, for these were the friends that would have influence over her daughter's years to come. As she gazed on each child, she thought to herself, "This one is easily swayed by surroundings" or "that one seems to be clever" or "this one thinks too much about clothes and parties". And when she met Alexia's gaze, she thought "Here is a child who could be full of mischief, but has a bright and loyal spirit."
And Phronsie gave each girl a hug in turn, and said "Oh I am so glad that Polly has brought you here!" And the girls were all quite taken with Phronsie's striking yellow hair and big brown eyes, and each of them heartily wished she had such a cunning little sister for her very own!
Polly led them first to her own room, to divest themselves of their wraps and hats, and then they followed her down to the parlor, where they looked about in curiosity.
Sally went over to the piano. "Oh Polly," she said, "it's lovely! Do you play?"
"Why, yes I do," she said, "do you?"
"I do," said Sally, "or at least I try to play. My teacher is often cross with me, for I fear I do not practice as I ought."
"Oh," said Polly, "I can never get enough of practicing. Who is your teacher?"
"It's a Frenchman, Monsieur Tourtelotte," was the unexpected reply.
"Sally Moore!" exclaimed Polly. "Why, he is my very own teacher as well!" They spoke together of some of the exercises their teacher had given them, and then sat down together to attempt a piece he had set them both. Polly did not mention it was one she had mastered many months ago, while Sally was only just now beginning to learn it. The two of them played together, with Polly patiently correcting Sally's errors. Then Sally sat back and said "Oh, I'm all thumbs today! You play for us, Polly!" And so Polly began to play a jolly tune, and the next she knew, Clem and Alexia had begun an impromptu little dance, while the other girls clapped to keep the time.
"Why what a jolly scene!" said a booming voice.
"Oh, Grandpapa!" Polly exclaimed, and flew from her seat at the piano to Mr. King's side. "Here are my friends from school!"
"So I see!"
And now the girls endured another round of introductions, this time to the imposing Mr. King. They were at first shy of him, but he smiled at them warmly and soon they lost their fear of him. And no sooner had Polly completed presenting her friends to him, than they were joined by Jasper and Ben. Most of the girls were not nearly so shy of them, especially Jasper, as some of them knew him through their brothers or cousins who were classmates of his. The conversation grew more general, as Mr. King seated himself, and then he persuaded Polly and Jasper to give them a duet upon the piano which they had been practicing. The time flew by, and before they knew it, the jolly group was being called in to supper.
And oh! the grand dining room was lit by candles. The long table was covered with snowy linen, and the plates and silver gleamed. The girls were soon shown to their places and then the food was brought in: platters of crispy fried chicken, mounds of buttery mashed potatoes, great heaps of fluffy biscuits, gravy and peas and salads, and for dessert a beautiful cake!
"Oh my," said Alexia as the meal was finished. She gave a satisfied pat to her middle. "This was so much better than I would have had at the boarding house tonight! Why, they were going to have old fish cakes for supper there tonight!" For Alexia lived with her aunt in a small boarding house a few streets away from the school.
Now some of the girls had parents come to collect them afterwards. The few who were left made their thanks to Mr. King for the invitation, and then went back into the coach.
"Mamsie, may I go along as Thomas takes them home?" asked Polly. Permission given, she climbed back in as well. The girls who were left were Sally, Amy Garrett, Rose Harding, Fanny Benning and Alexia. Sally lived quite close, and Amy, Fanny and Rose were boarders at the school, so all of them were delivered first, and it was only Polly and Alexia left in the coach as they turned towards the boarding house where Alexia lived with her aunt. Soon enough, the coach stopped there, and it was time for Alexia to depart.
"Oh Polly! I've had such a splendid time! I would never have thought I would have such an invitation!"
"Oh but Alexia," said Polly, taking the other girl's hand, "you were the first friend I made at the Salisbury School! I am so glad that you are my friend!"
"Polly Pepper!" Alexia squeezed her hand back. "You are my first friend, too! You shall always be my very dearest friend!" And then it was time for her to step out of the coach. She stood on the walk in front of the boarding house steps, and waved frantically as Polly rode away.
Polly waved back until the coach turned a corner, and then she sat back with a satisfied sigh. How delightful it was to have friends!