An Old-Fashioned Girl
18. The Woman Who Did Not Dare
POLLY wrote enthusiastically, Ned answered satisfactorily, and after much
corresponding, talking, and planning, it was decided that Tom should go West. Never
mind what the business was; it suffices to say that it was a good beginning for a young
man like Tom, who, having been born and bred in the most conservative class of the
most conceited city in New England, needed just the healthy, hearty, social influences
of the West to widen his views and make a man of him.
Of course there was much lamentation among the women, but every one felt it was the
best thing for him; so while they sighed they sewed, packed visions of a brilliant future
away with his new pocket handkerchiefs, and rejoiced that the way was open before
him even in the act of bedewing his boots with tears. Sydney stood by him to the last,
"like a man and a brother" (which expression of Tom's gave Fanny infinite satisfaction),
and Will felt entirely consoled for Ned's disappointment at his refusal to go and join him,
since Tom was to take the place Ned had kept for him.
Fortunately every one was so busy with the necessary preparations that there was no
time for romance of any sort, and the four young people worked together as soberly and
sensibly as if all sorts of emotions were not bottled up in their respective hearts. But in
spite of the silence, the work, and the hurry, I think they came to know one another
better in that busy little space of time than in all the years that had gone before, for the
best and bravest in each was up and stirring, and the small house was as full of the
magnetism of love and friendship, self-sacrifice and enthusiasm, as the world outside
was full of spring sunshine and enchantment. Pity that the end should come so soon,
but the hour did its work and went its way, leaving a clearer atmosphere behind, though
the young folks did not see it then, for their eyes were dim because of the partings that
Tom was off to the West; Polly went home for the summer; Maud was taken to the
seaside with Belle; and Fanny left alone to wrestle with housekeeping, "help," and
heartache. If it had not been for two things, I fear she never would have stood a summer
in town, but Sydney often called, till his vacation came, and a voluminous
correspondence with Polly beguiled the long days. Tom wrote once a week to his
mother, but the letters were short and not very satisfactory, for men never do tell the
interesting little things that women best like to hear. Fanny forwarded her bits of news to
Polly. Polly sent back all the extracts from Ned's letters concerning Tom, and by putting
the two reports together, they gained the comfortable assurance that Tom was well, in
good spirits, hard at work, and intent on coming out strong in spite of all obstacles.
Polly had a quiet summer at home, resting and getting ready in mind and body for
another winter's work, for in the autumn she tried her plan again, to the satisfaction of
her pupils and the great joy of her friends. She never said much of herself in her letters,
and Fanny's first exclamation when they met again, was an anxious "Why, Polly, dear!
Have you been sick and never told me?"