The Emancipation of Polly MacCrae
F. B. M. COLLIER
IT WAS only half past five, yet it was dark, for it was late November and cold with the damp biting chill of winter rain. The little county town of Birkenhead, just fifty miles north of Toronto, had turned on its street lights. The few people abroad shivered, turned up their collars, and stepped out briskly as "they came out of store or office. Now and again an odd motor closely-hooded against the weather pounded noisily along the highway, with such a clap-trap as bespoke frozen, lifeless joints and flopping chains. Yet despite the severity of nature, the spirit of Christmas was beginning to creep abroad. The spring in the step of pedestrians; the glimmer of cheer in the faces seen in the stores; the hopeful endurance of the voices that bewailed the grimness of skies and horizon—all seemed to be a gentle reflex of the pending festivities which no external hardship or misfortune could entirely obliterate.
Frost had set in the first of the month and had gripped field and furrow, Main street and private lawn, with an unrelenting iron grasp. There had been few snow flurries but icy east winds seemed to blow every day and all day long. Now and again a few hours’ sleet or frozen rain varied the penetrating inclemency of the season, but there was no rise in temperature, and many farmers had to chop or plough their turnips from the frozen earth.
Polly and Maria MacCrae lived together in a very roomy cottage on a side avenue near Main street.
Polly was forty-two and Maria thirty-eight.
Polly was a cripple. And to-day for the first time the self-feeder had been lit, for Maria wa taking the six o’clock train for the eity, and Cousin Sarah was to come over in an hour or so, and stay with Polly,
Polly and Maria were the only members of the family left together.
One brother had married a woman much older than himself, and settled happily in the West. Their mother had died ten years ago, the father five years previously, and Polly and Maria were trying to eke out a decorous existence on the interest money of $5,000 and that was why Maria had sternly adhered to the wood fire in the kitchen as
long as possible. The two were now having a cup of tea on the comer of the kitchen table. Polly was seated in her wooden armchair nearest the stove, and Maria, in ulster and hat, was carefully and primly finishing her simple meal before departure.
The clear light from the one small oil lamp fell full on the faces of both sisters. Maria was short and plump and ruddy-skinned, with a smiling, twinkling countenance that promised merriment and laughter, but that never fulfilled its promise. For Maria was a staunch Presbyterian, a trim, methodical housekeeper, a painstaking economist and manager, and pursued a modest, persistent, gentle course of sys-
tematic, prosaic duty from year’s end to year’s end. Polly was equally low-voiced, quiet and unassertive, and bent to the rigid routine of Maria’s leadership and control as indifferently as a docile child. Polly was short too, but slender of form, and her features were straight and well-formed, almost Grecian in their regularity. Her eyes were honest and frankly blue. Her hair, abundant and soft and nutty brown, was parted and plainly but becomingly knotted at the back. Her face was pale and very wistful. Everybody sympathized, and condoled with her, and murmured: “Poor thing—it’s awful to be a cripple.” And Polly always overheard, and pretended to be deaf, and showed her sensitiveness only in a smile that was a little more wistful.
Maria gathered up the dishes from the table, moved Polly back, gave her crutch and stick, and, whilst the latter painfully dragged her aching, twisted rheumatic thigh from her chair, and writhed and hobbled her tortuous way into the big easy chair prepared in front of the self-feeder in the dining-room. Maria washed the two cups and plates, her hands deftly stretched out so as to avoid soiling her street attire. She tidied chairs and mats, poked and replenished the dying fire, then carried the lamp in and placed it near Polly on the talile. When she gathered up her purse a queer sort of dramatic
silence fell upon the two as Maria stood pulling on her gloves.
“I’ll call in at Cousin Sarah’s as 1 pass, and tell her not to be long,” she said at last.
Polly looked up gently and casually, just in time to receive a farewell kiss.
“Oh, she need not hurry for an hour or
There was a moment’s pause. “Have you all you want?” Polly asked earnestly.
“Yes, I think so. Good-bye, Polly, and be careful.”
The back kitchen door closed decisively and she was gone.
Gone, and Polly realized with a guilty sense of relief that she had forgotten to turn down
the lamp, and shut out the drafts on the feeder. Or had she—the thought came wearily to the invalid in the chair— had she abated her usual frugal practice, at the thought of the other parting that was locming so grimly near?
THE actual compassing of this tragic break in the lives of the two sisters had come of recent date, by the subtle process of argument and persuasion, but the genesis of the whole matter ran back nearly thirty years. At that time the MacCraes had lived on a farm in Willowdale just outside Toronto. That was the happiest life Polly had ever known. But the neighbors were mostly Roman Catholic and Church of England, and Aunt Matilda MacDonald, their mother’s sister, whose husband was farming up near Birkenhead, had persuaded the MacCraes to rent their "farm, and try life in the more northern district, where the whole township was north of Ireland Presbyterian like themselves. The MacDonalds, however, were ambitious, and left the farm when their third child passed the entrance to the High School. And now the members of the family were scattered hither and thither in different cities and professions.
But the MacCraes had remained practically stationary. When Mrs. MacCrae died the farm had been sold, and a house and two acres bought on the outskirts of Birkenhead. There, a cow, pig, hens and a few fruit trees helped furnish a very plain but comfortable existence. Long before this time Polly had become a virtual invalid. Fifteen years before she had nursed Maria through a six months’ terrible illness. She had been run down, caught cold, and rheumatism or a sort of neuritis settled in her thigh. No doctor’s advice had been sought for several years and when sought went largely unheeded. And in five years Polly had become a cripple. When her father died she had become so much worse, and was such a helpless, aching, tortured invalid that cow, pig, hens and home were sold and a cottage right in town procured.
It was then the MacDonald girls, Jennie and Matilda, began appearing frequently on the scene. They had changed much since their frugal farm life days, and talked volubly and insistently of accommodations and clothes and “decent living.” It was Jennie who had first suggested sending Polly to the Home for Incurables in Toronto, where she would have “plenty of company, proper care and all necessary accommodations.” It was planned that Maria should go to Montreal and take a good position in an office. At first Polly thought the suggestion a oke, but soon she discovered that both her cousins were in earnest. Dimly she guessed that their idea was to remove their relatives, the MacCraes, of whom they were genuinely fond, from the dullness and uneventfulness of their life, that had of late years become touched with penury, added to which was the desire to lift them out of a life that the MacDonalds deemed beneath their dignity. When Polly fully realized the intent of the friends she had loved so devotedly, a sort of dumb, black numbness engulfed her, body and soul, for the greater part of a week.
Outwardly, she seemed only a tiny bit paler, a little more helpless, and smiled a little more wistfully. Then she regained her capacity to think, and further discovered that Maria was regarding the proposition with favor. A hopeless gloom clouded her spirit, and she seemed to endure life with a sort of reckless, unselfish indifference. To the cousins’ scheme she affected a calm, noncommittal acquiescence, and the entire decision and planning was left in Maria’s hands.
FOR two unwed sisters to live apart, one to be sent to the “Home for Incurables,” the other to work in an office, was to Polly unthinkable.
A queer estrangement of feeling had succeeded the conviction that Maria
actually was willing to consider the idea. Pride helped her conceal the nameless horror with which the prospect inspired her. She had never asserted herself all her life. She had always been obsessed by an abnormal sense of duty to family claims and parental authority. And so she had meekly sacrificed her entire individuality to home precepts and home fads. Even now that all things had been arranged for the break—her new position awaiting Maria at the New Year—the MacDonalds’ comprehensive interviews and negotiations with the hospital completed and nothing left save this trip of Maria’s for a personal inspection of the home and its desirability—even now when the great upheaval in both their lives was convincingly imminent, Polly-thrust all contemplation of the details from her mind.
It was two years since the suggestion had first been made, and though the calamity seemed almost an accomplished fact Polly still entertained the strange, unreasoning conviction that a miracle would prevent it. Some totally unforeseen development would intervene—she, herself, might die and this latter alternative she cherished with secret, serene satisfaction.
But to-raight she was alone, would have at least a whole hour to revel in home and the warm fire. She wondered if there would be lots of heat in the hospital, but was sure there wouldn't, for people said hot rooms were not sanitary. But, oh! how wonderful it would be to get up every morning for a whole week in winter, and feel your nose and hands, warm, and escape the gnawing, aching pain the cold caused in her thigh!
However, the newly-lighted coal stove gave out a splendid heat, and the damper was still in, and it would keep on being hot. For Polly had never dreamed of putting in the damper or turning up the light when left to her own devices. She had never violated Maria’s economical edicts when Maria wasn’t looking, no matter how she suffered by them. Now she would have the luxury of weaving in the warmth and light her yearly Christmas fancies, and keeping once more a tryst with memory, and harking back to the old Willowdale life when she had tasted the normal follies of childhood, and been so often close to joy and happiness.
THE MacCraes had never done anything to build up Christmas traditions in their family. The children had never hung up their stockings, nor revelled in gifts other than new bibles, new stockings, and perhaps a few
peanuts and mixed sweets. They had iiévéf raised turkeys and had always sold their geese in the fall, so they usually killed a chicken for Christmas if they had any superfluous cockerels. When they lived in Willowdale all the neighbors used to attend the Christmas raffles, where a few cents might procure both geese and turkeys for the Christmas dinner, to be duly supplemented by huge plum puddings.
Polly remembered well how Job Gow, the only child of Jacob Gow, the foundryman, who lived in the tiniest of clapboard shacks, and kept spotlessly clean, always hailed Christmas as a sort of fairy land of luxury. Once he had stolen a leg of turkey, and a slice of pudding for Polly to taste, and had been whipped next day for inordinate greediness.
All the children in Willowdale hung up their stockings, and got nuts and candies in the toes, a big orange in the heel, and all sorts of china shepherds and shepherdesses, woolly lambs, bright-covered picture books and tinsel crackers in the legs. Polly remembered how happy she had been when Job let her hold his china lamb one Christmas morning after he had been to church, and was waiting for the turkey to be put on the table.
Nearly all the Willowdale people had family gatherings. Tables were carried into one room, blocked and propped together, and table cloths cunningly arranged to create an impression of one long festal board. Around it the children sat on improvised benches, whilst chairs accommodated their elders, the skilled male carvers of the family being given the arm-chairs.
Often Polly had longed to see how their big dining-room would have looked with a table groaning under turkeys, pies and pudding, a roomful of guests, cedar wreaths and spruce round the walls and windows, and a little mistletoe over the door. Polly had always believed her vision would come true but it never had. Her parents had had a much larger and finer house than most of the villagers. For it was a big, white, spacious, roomy one-and-a-half-story structure nestling close to the Humber and generously shaded with ancient willows and great spreading basswood. They had plenty of bedrooms, parlor, living-room, and smoke house besides several kitchens. One of the latter boasted a huge brick fireplace, but never in Polly’s time had it boasted a log fire.
In those days Polly had only one companion, Sally Macintosh, whom her parents countenanced, Sally’s people being Methodists of approved puritanical type. But Sally, like Polly, had a strong predilection for her English Church neighbors and flagrantly argued and deceived her parents into letting her go to the English Church Sunday School, which she maintained was nearer and nicer, the singing better and the people jollier— and, anyway, everybody went there. Once or twice she had beguiled Polly into Christ Church on a week day to peep at the Christmas decorations, and Polly had peeped and stood entranced. The little crossshaped interior was so exquisitely beautiful with its chancel trimmings, its tiny transepts, its rood screen and generally inviting atmosphere. Job Gow was the alto soloist, in the choir then, and when they were alone, after great coaxing and persuasion, he had sung some of his Christmas music to Polly—“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" —“O, come, all ye faithful”—and his part in the Christmas anthem, “For unto us is born this day— this day in the City of David.” And Christmas never came around that the strains of that jubilant solo didn’t ring in her
When Polly lived in Willowdale she had, though sober and quiet, mingled with all the juveniles. She was al-
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The Emancipation of Polly MacCrae
Continued from page 17
ways one of the throng climbing the big school hill over the river before nine and one o’clock. She always coasted down that hill on the “hitched bobs” of the village children. Though she had no sled of herown Sally had one to share. It usually was Job Gow who fixed her up on his own iron sleigh at the rear of the procession, for he did the steering behind. Job was indeed her special cavalier. He and Sally were the only ones to whom Polly ever confided her own cherished, innermost thoughts and aspirations. Her family approved of Sally and allowed her to come to the house. With Sally she still kept up a regular correspondence. Three times annually they had written each other through all the years.
Ten years ago Sally had married Benny Mott, the son of the old village tavern keeper. But Benny was now a flourishing doctor in the nearby hamlet of Berwick just a half mile from Willowdale.
Polly hardly knew what had become of Job. Her mother had always prophesied he would be a shiftless ne’er do-well like his father. Old Jacob Gow always got drunk on pay night, and Job had confided to Polly the blissful secret that Dad never failed to give him a quarter when he was drunk, and the two children looked toward this event as rather a red letter day in the week. Polly knew that this mild indulgence in just one glass too much each pay night which Jacob had systematically observed all his life, and which he would probably continue till his death, was in the eyes of her family the very blackest depths of depravity and iniquity. But to Polly it had its benedictions, and once to Job she confided the revolutionary desire that her father would get drunk, too. But Job had hushed her with such a stern: “Stop. Never say that again. It’s wicked,” that she was too overawed to dare to ask why. But she pondered often the desirability of having at least one copper a month to spend.
Though Polly and Job were separated at the ages of thirteen and fifteen, they had travelled a long way on the road to comradeship. Job was devoted to wild animals and birds, to trees and flowers. He knew where the first wild strawberries were to be found, where to seek the rarest wild flowers, where to find the fattest mushrooms, where to locate the most fragrant playhouse in the woods, and where the bluebirds and sand swallows and partridges laid their eggs, and the exact day they would “hatch out.” Polly was ™e ™ly one in the village in sympathy with his shy but enthusiastic woodcraft hobbies.
MOW Job’s father wasn’t the only -1'i villager who got drunk, whilst some of the others even occasionally indulged in orthodox wife beating. Job’s father and mother were not the only poor, but they did seem to be the only family blissfully content, living from day to day, extracting the full meed of laughter from each hour as it passed, envying no man, injuring none and apparently unstirred by any misgiving as to the future.
Job, with his big, loose-jointed frame and rather good-looking face, though always kindly and hospitably treated in the MacCrae household, was nevertheless regarded in the same pitying way as one esteems a degenerate or a half-wit. The devastating intensity of his friendship for Polly was not even suspected, and their comradeship was considered by her father and mother as a condescending charity on the part of their daughter, consequently the real tragedy of its complete severance when they moved away was unguessed by any living soul save the two concerned.
Both children were too shy and timid to write, and Sally wasn’t especially interested in Job so she had never mentioned him but in the vaguest way. Only once had Polly visited Willowdale since childhood. That was seven years after leaving, when she was twenty. Her father sold his property, and at the last minute Polly had been sent to drive the thirty miles with him to Willowdale, for company.
It was purely a business trip. She could not write to warn any one that she was
They drove straight to the farm on the hill near the old school, where farmer Kelly, the new purchaser, lived, and Polly was allowed only half an hour to wander (low'll about the barn and fields whilst the elders were attending to business.To her intense amazement she came upon Job Gow, wh om Providence had ordained should he working with the Kellys that harvest. In their mutual surprise and embarrassment the eyes of lad and maid betrayed a glow and happiness that warmed the hearts of both. She was twenty and he was twenty-two, and each saw in the face of the other a radiance and a beauty hidden from the world of their acquaintances. So it happened that before they parted Job asked with frank, manly dignity:
“Polly, some day will you be my wife?”
And Polly had lifted her eyes with the serenity of the old friendship and answered “Yes.”
'T'HAT had been the beginning and end of their romance. Polly smiled now a little sadly as she remembered those few minutes of complete content accorded by Providence out of an arid desert of homely monotony. She rejoiced that no soul on earth had ever understood that youthful friendship which consequently had been left unmarred by coarse comments and ill-judged jokes.
Certainly Polly had a host of memories to bear her company, and it was almost regretfully that she heard Cousin Sarah’s foot upon the kitchen steps. However, her reverie once broken off, she gave herself up to the pleasure of the one kindly warmhearted relative who seemed to look upon her as a genuine woman and not the resigned saint to whom the many callers and visitors did respectful, decorous homage.
Cousin Sarah kept the fire aglow, and as she needed two lamps for her knitting, the little bedroom off the living room was warm and cosy when they retired.
To the same welcome warmth Polly awakened next morning. A driving sleet was lashing the window panes, and the frozen twigs and boughs of the trees outside were creaking and rattling a weird accompaniment to the rising wind. For two years now Polly had wakened each morning with a sense of impending catastrophe, and each morning she had fought off the sensation until memory assured her it was the “Home for Incurables.” But this morning it was different; she woke with a glow of happiness, and a blissful anticipation of something pleasant. The warm room couldn’t fully account for it, although it helped.
Then she remembered her hour’s tryst with memory the night before which had been so much more real and poignant than she suspected that it had followed her into the land of Nod where she had seen visions of school days and Willowdale. She lay a long time enjoying this novel sensation, rehearsing her dream and trying to analyze her new-found buoyancy. Little did she realize that all the strength of character so long suppressed, all the violated privileges of her womanhood were putting up one last great fight for recognition, and that the hour of her emancipation was at hand. Then with a calm decisive instinct that came so easily and naturally, for all that it defied all the outward seeming of her past thirty years, a definite purpose took shape in her brain. To carry it out she must write a letter. To do this she would have to get up. Her early appearance, painfully accomplished without help, defrauded cousin Sarah of the pleasure of taking breakfast in to her.
AVTTiTI considerable satisfaction Polly v r remembered that Cousin Sarah had, in parting with Maria, insisted that the
latter should stay in the city at least three days. Such a momentous decision demanded a thorough and careful investigation.
Polly had received the kindly hint with silent approval, and a secret hope that it might spell ultimate reprieve. But now she rejoiced, for there was time in the interval for her to write a letter and get a reply. Breakfast over at seven, she duly completed her letter and by a neighbor’s indulgence sent it off by the morning train. Next day, by return mail, a most satisfactory reply came back.
When Maria reached home the following night, which waí a Friday, Polly listened eagerly to all the city gossip and with extraordinary cheerfulness to Maria’s painfully detailed account of life in the “Home for Incurables.” There was indeed a queer, disappointed regret in Maria’s heart that her conscientious report should be received with such a tacit endorsement of submission and acquiescence. Then Polly gently and calmly offered her news for consideration :
“I am going down next Monday morning to visit Sally Mott for two weeks. That will make it easier for you to make final arrangements, and I want to see Willowdale and Berwick again before I go into the home.”
Maria sat up with a horrified gasp. To go on a visit! By train! Polly! Helpless, crippled Polly! To strangers! Why it would take a month’s planning to get her to Toronto! But Polly had it all thought out. She had $50 of her own in the hank; $25 would do for her visit. The question was settled. Poor, bewildered Maria was so aghast with apprehension and fear that she was unable even to argue.
The upshot of the controversy was that Polly was allowed to depart, and depart alone.
'T'HE conductor and Sally and the stationmaster helped the traveller to the platform at Berwick. Sally, aghast at her friend’s contemplated relegation to a public institution, in the goodness of her heart had besieged her husband with queries concerning the treatment and cure of rheumatism. Polly found herself snuggled into a motor, carefully cushioned and heated with bricks and hot water bottles. Then she was assigned to such comfortable, warm, airy quarters in such an up-to-date and pretty home that she felt she had dropped into fairyland. For Benny had blossomed into a prosperous practitioner, and Sally had known how to blossom into a social success.
For a while there was a jumble and confused mixture of conversation: “Do you remember the day we did so and so?” “Do you remember when we went to such a place?” and so on. After a while Sally settled down to a systematic account of each friend or acquantance, and in due time came the turn of Job Gow. Old Jacob Gow was dead—Polly knew that. Job wasn’t anything in particular, but in the gradual changes Sally failed to realize the gulf between the prosperous importance of Job as she now depicted him, and the insignificant, despised lad of their childhood.
“Job has bought the old MacCrae homestead,” said Sally. “We must go up there; Job has asked us. He paid some money down, and rented out all the land but five acres. He has a garden, and ships a lot to Toronto. He has a small greenhouse, too.
“You know, we never had much in the way of flowers or gardens but now, thanks to Job, everybody has them. Besides all that, he has blossomed into a clever taxidermist, and he gets birds and squirrels and deer heads to mount. Job, too, has the finest collection of birds’ eggs, stuffed wild fowl, and preserved butterflies in the country round. The old MacCrae parlor is now as good as a university museum.
“Job has a perfect mania for keeping track of old play days,” Sally rambled on. “He is always digging up some schoolmate’s history when he comes here. I tell him he is daft on the subject. I never have anything to tell him about anyone but you, and I always make the most of your letters when they come.”
Polly, remembering the promise she made him twenty-two years ago on top of the old school hill, wondered if Job really possessed a guile unsuspected by the world at large. He still sang in the choir, where he was chief baritone. Mr. Barnes, the
new rector, just out from England, was devoted to Job and his hobbies.
DOLLY fell asleep that night in a blissful -*• state of intoxicated joy, and dreamed all night of Job in a field of flowers and butterflies. Next morning she found herself caught in a vortex of Christmas talk, Christmas work and Christmas duties which revolved mainly around the feasts and celebrations of Christ Church. There was to be a choir practice at the Motts’ that evening: they had to have it twice a week to get ready for the Christmas music, and little Benny Mott, aged nine, led the choir procession morning and evening. The church was getting up a fairy play, “Beauty and the Beast,” for the Sunday School, and the little Motts were in that. The church was open every evening for the making of wreaths and banners for theChristmas decorations. Sally made it a practice to drop in some time each evening,, if possible. Very soon Polly found that her energetic hostess was planning to take her along to a church choir practice, to week night services and even to the wreath-making afterwards. She also expected to go to the rectory for an operetta practice and to Job Gow’s several times. Sally would have to make several tripsto the Gows for she and Mrs. Gow, Job’s mother, were responsible for the costumes for the fairy play.
That night the choir came to practise, and later the young rector and his wife dropped in. Job came early, and by the merest accident he and Polly had their greeting alone. Alter his eager, almost gruff exclamation, “Oh, Polly!” and her gentle, quivering rejoinder, “Job,” the man retired in a precipitate flight to a near-by window, and left the woman battling with a threatened attack of tears and hysteria.
The arrival of little Benny Mott relieved the tension, and soon Polly found her helpless, stiffened joints comfortably accommodated at the rear of the back parlor and herself an eager delighted onlooker at a Chistmas choir practice.
AFTER practice the rectory party, -5^Rev. Mr. Barnes and his wife, with Job and one or two others, lingered to discuss the decorations of the church. Everybody was extremely keen to achieve the maximum effect, and somebody suggested the quaint scrolls and banners made under the priesthood of the Rev. Mr. Hope, the rector in Polly’s childhood. But everybody demurred. Nobody knew how to make them.
Then Polly, who had been carried clean out of herself, and who now felt so genuinely a part of the conference, exclaimed:
“Why, I know how to make them! Don’t you remember, Job, the day we were playing 'in the churchyard when Mr. Hope caught us peeping in the vestry at him? He was making banners and scrolls. They were sky blue with white letters, and red with gold, and he took us in, and explained it all. And we worked with him all afternoon.
“ ‘Unto us a child is born' was one of them—in scarlet and gold. Oh, I can see it so plain!”
Polly’s face shone with the beauty of excited enthusiasm as she spoke. Mr. Barnes quickly interrupted the ardor of her reminiscence.
“Splendid! Just splendid! I know what you mean, I am going to the city to-morrow. I will get the material if you and Job will make them. You two will understand best. Will you, Job?” asked the artful rector as if Job would be almost too busy to grant the favor.
Job, wondering if this particular rector had been born in Heaven, consented graciously. So it was arranged. Wednesday Dr. Benny carried her out to the motor and dropped Polly and his wife at the Gows’ for a couple of hours whilst he made a call. Sally and Mrs. Gow were soon lost in a bewildering confusion of silver stars and tarletan, of cutting and stitching, and Job and Polly were left in the glorious solitude of the museum to their own devices.
Thursday it was decided they should begin the banners. The weather had moderated extraordinarily. -Job had cosy chairs and a coal fire in the museum, and so cleverly demonstrated his accommodation in tools, table, brushes and colors that Sally was beguiled into suggesting that he come down in the morning, and motor Polly to his home, instead of coming, as she had anticipated, to her home.
Friday evening Sally took Polly to evening service, the latter’s first experience of ritual worship, and they stayed afterwards to help with the wreathmaking. On an errand which took him to the rectory, Job discovered there was an operetta practice in hand, and suggested to Mr. Barnes that it was really a pity Polly could not be present. How could they get her over? Mr. Barnes questioned. Job, after a great show of puzzlement, suggested they cross hands, make a chair, and carry her over. They could get her to the vestry door, and then do it in the dark and nobody be any the wiser. Mr. Barnes scrutinized Job carefully, coolly, reproachfully, and Job had the grace to blush.
“Why not just carry her over yourself? You are strong enough.”
But Job shook his head.
“All right, Job,” Mr. Barnes agreed, eying his parishioner appraisingly. “You’re a bigger man than I took you to be. And you couid give lessons to Cupid himself.” The reverend gentleman strode off to the church, sought out Miss MacCrae, propounded the scheme as his own, and succeeded in engineering the little excursion precisely as Job had desired.
That night as the young cleric bade his chief baritone goodnight, he concluded:
“You were right, Job; yours, after all, was the superior method. And yet as a novice you outclassed me, in my exper-
“Guy, dear,” begged his wife, “what on earth are you talking about?”
“Job, dear, Job. He is a genius— a positive genius,” and Guy chuckled deliciously.
AND SO the days sped away, blissfully •¿Y and all too quickly. Into two weeks Polly was crowding all the joy and freedom of a lifetime. The entire change of environment carried her out of herself, and this novel taste of a new life went to her head like wine. Indeed, her extraordinary holiday was as glorious an event to her as a trip to Europe would be to many another. Often she lay awake, wondering how she had ever been inspired to write, to' ask Sally if she could come and stay with her just two days before going into the Home. She wondered still more at the good Providence that made Sally stipulate for two whole weeks or nothing.
But the most unnerving memory of all was how she had ever had the temerity to carry out the project. Surely she must have been possessed by an unknown spirit, with courage far transcending her own. The truth was that her acute recollections of Willowdale in that one lone hour at home had so wrought upon her imagination that a desire to look just once more upon the old home, the old trees and fields and river amounted to a species of madness. Her long-starved impulses, under pressure of her impending doom, had risen and clamored for satisfaction.
She had come expecting a couple of prisoned weeks in her room, and perhaps one or two peeps at the old house, and school, and sandbank. But that would be enough to stay the gnawing pain in her heart. She had asked for nothing, anticipated nothing—and lo! before her was spread a veritable riot of vivid, glorious life.
And while the two weeks fled on wings of gold to the hapless, crippled Polly, to Maria they dragged away on leaden feet. Then came the last days. Polly should be home by Tuesday, and Monday morning Cousin Sarah went over to see Maria about eleven o’clock, and found that cheery, composed imperturbable piece of immobility with her head buried in her arms on the dining-room table, crying audibly in a very tempest of uncontrollable hysteria.
Cousin Sarah’s first sensation was one of grim satisfaction. But as she paused to look on, it dawned upon her that there was agony in the long wails of misery.
“What in creation is the matter,” she demanded in quick apprehension. “Is Polly dead, or ill?”
“No,” came the gulping, quivering reply, and Maria, without abating the delirious abandon of her grief, pushed an open letter forward.
CousinSarah, now thoroughly alarmed, snatched it up, and began to read. As she read, her eyes bulged in startled amazement—but as she read on they softened and glistened suspiciously, and she sniffed audibly toward the end, as she fumbled for her forgotten glasses, blew upon them
absently, rubbed them on her apron,^and enquired sharply of Maria:
“Who’s Job Gow?”
“Oh,” wailed Maria, “a poor little ragamuffin, the son of a drunken foundry-
Cousin Sarah paused in adjusting^her spectacles, to treat Maria to a look of exasperated disgust.
Then she read the letter again.
“I am to be married to-morrow night at seven o’clock to Job Gow. I couldn’t bear to go into the 'Home for Incurables.’ I promised Job years ago to be his wife, but never before felt free to keep my promise. Now we will both have a home. You can sell the house, and all my share of the money and house will be yours. So that if ever you get tired of the office you will have plenty to keep you without working.
“I often wonder how you would ever endure a boarding house when pickling and preserving time came, especially crabapple season. You so love to make jelly and preserves, marmalade and crabapple butter.
“I am going to live in the old home where we were born. Job has planted a crab-apple tree, and he says it is loaded every year. So I hope you will want to come home by crab-apple time. Job and I are going straight to our own home, and will be alone until January. Mrs. Gow is going to stay at the Motts’ to help Sally with the Christmas work and the church entertainment.
“I will have a woman in to help occasionally, but they say Job is a good housekeeper. However, at Christmas we are going to have a big Christmas party in our old home. You have a week and a half to sell out and pack. Come to us before Christmas and stay till you are ready to go to Montreal. Our home will always be yours. You will always find a'corner.
“I never knew until two days ago that Job wanted a cripple for a wife and perhaps for the first time in my life I have not shirked deciding for myself. And I know you will be relieved to escape the responsibility of the change in our programme and I hadn’t the courage to face all the opposition and explanations necessary.
“Ever your loving Polly.”
Cousin Sarah re-read every syllable, and then sat back in her chair to digest the contents. There was no question about it but that Polly had given them something to digest. But as the full significance of the astounding surprise took possession of her a little thrill of pleasure ran up and down her spine, and she became her own masterful self again.
"What’s that other letter lying at your elbow?” she enquired abruptly.
“I do-don’t kn-know,” gulped Maria, “I fo-forgot a-a-about it. I opened— Polly’s first.”
/'’’OUSIN SARAH reached for the letter '—'and without any compunction tore it open, and began to read. Then she exclaimed: “Look here, Maria! Listen to this!” She proceeded to pass on its contents to the half-stupefied Maria. It was a splendid reassuring letter from the Rev. Mr. Barnes, telling her what a splendid citizen Job was, and adding some details of the wedding plans.
“It doesn’t leave you much excuse for apprehension,” said Cousin Sarah. “Job seems to be a model; anyway it seems to me that even a ragamuffin would be better than any infernal HOME”—and her longhottled-up ire threatened to get the better
“Oh, I never liked the idea of the
“Then, why on earth were you bundling Polly off there?” was the acid interruption.
“Well, the MacDonalds thought—”
“The MacDonalds, fiddlesticks! I suppose if they told you to cut off your toes you would do it.”
Two hours later Maria was in a bustle of excitement planning eagerly for a hurried departure from town, and displaying the prideful strut connected with the honor of having a wedding in the family.
At the end of the same day Polly was wed, and elaborately feasted in her own home. She and Job started their honeymoon in the old MacCrae homestead, where their chief occupation was to he the planning of Polly's long-desired Christmas dinner party and family gathering. Another of her dreams was to come true.