Nipped In the Bud

On the evening of Fan’s visit, Polly sat down before her fire with a resolute and thoughtful aspect. She pulled her hair down, turned her skirt back, put her feet on the fender, and took Puttel into her lap, all of which arrangement signified that something very important had got to be thought over and settled. Polly did not soliloquize aloud, as heroines on the stage and in books have a way of doing, but the conversation she held with herself was very much like this,—

“I’m afraid there is something in it. I’ve tried to think it’s nothing but vanity or imagination, yet I can’t help seeing a difference, and feeling as if I ought not to pretend that I don’t. I know it’s considered proper for girls to shut their eyes and let things come to a crisis, no matter how much mischief is done. But I don’t think it’s doing as we’d be done by, and it seems a great deal more honest to show a man that you don’t love him, before he has entirely lost his heart. The girls laughed at me when I said so, and they declared that it would be a very improper thing to do; but I’ve observed that they don’t hesitate to snub ‘ineligible parties’, as they call poor, very young, or unpopular men. It’s all right then; but when a nice person comes, it’s part of the fun to let him go on to the very end, whether the girls care for him or not. The more proposals, the more credit. Fan says Trix always asks when she comes home after the summer excursions, ‘How many birds have you bagged?’ as if men were partridges. What wicked creatures we are! some of us at least. I wonder why such a love of conquest was put into us? Mother says a great deal of it is owing to bad education nowadays, but some girls seem born for the express purpose of making trouble, and would manage to do it, if they lived in a howling wilderness. I’m afraid I’ve got a spice of it, and if I had the chance, should be as bad as any of them. I’ve tried it and liked it, and maybe this is the consequence of that night’s fun.”

Here Polly leaned back and looked up at the little mirror over the chimney-piece, which was hung so that it reflected the faces of those about the fire. In it Polly saw a pair of tell-tale eyes looking out from a tangle of bright brown hair, cheeks that flushed and dimpled suddenly, as the fresh mouth smiled with an expression of conscious power, half proud, half ashamed, and as pretty to see as the coquettish gesture with which she smoothed back her curls, and flourished a white hand. For a minute she regarded the pleasant picture, while visions of girlish romances and triumphs danced through her head; then she shook her hair all over her face, and pushed her chair out of range of the mirror, saying, with a droll mixture of self-reproach and self-approval in her tone,—

“Oh, Puttel, Puttel, what a fool I am!”

Puss appeared to endorse the sentiment by a loud purr and a graceful wave of her tail, and Polly returned to the subject from which these little vanities had beguiled her.

“Just suppose it is true, that he does ask me, and I say yes! What a stir it would make, and what fun it would be to see the faces of the girls when it came out! They all think a great deal of him because he is so hard to please, and almost any of them would feel immensely flattered if he liked them, whether they chose to marry him or not. Trix has tried for years to fascinate him, and he can’t bear her, and I’m so glad! What a spiteful thing I am. Well, I can’t help it, she does aggravate me so!” and Polly gave the cat such a tweak of the ear that Puttel bounced out of her lap in high dudgeon.

“It don’t do to think of her, and I won’t!” said Polly to herself, setting her lips with a grim look that was not at all becoming. “What an easy life I should have; plenty of money, quantities of friends, all sorts of pleasures, and no work, no poverty, no cold shoulders or patched boots. I could do so much for all at home,—how I should enjoy that!” and Polly let her thoughts revel in the luxurious future her fancy painted. It was a very bright picture, but something seemed amiss with it, for presently she sighed and shook her head, thinking sorrowfully, “Ah, but I don’t love him, and I’m afraid I never can as I ought. He’s very good, and generous, and wise, and would be kind, I know, but somehow I can’t imagine spending my life with him; I’m so afraid I should get tired of him, and then what should I do? Polly Sydney don’t sound well, and Mrs. Arthur Sydney don’t seem to fit me a bit. Wonder how it would seem to call him ‘Arthur’?” and Polly said it under her breath, with a look over her shoulder to be sure no one heard it. “It’s a pretty name, but rather too fine, and I shouldn’t dare to say ‘Syd’, as his sister does. I like short,

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