Fan tossed her the photograph, and went on rummaging for a certain note. She did not see Polly catch up the picture and look at it with hungry eyes, but she did hear something in the low tone in which Polly said, “It don’t do him justice,” and glancing over her shoulder, Fan’s quick eye caught a glimpse of the truth, though Polly was half turned away from her. Without stopping to think Fan dropped her letters, took Polly by the shoulders, and cried in a tone full of astonishment,—

“Polly, is it Tom?”

Poor Polly was so taken by surprise, that she had not a word to say. None were needed; her tell-tale face answered for her, as well as the impulse which made her hide her head in the sofa cushion, like a foolish ostrich when the hunters are after it.

“Oh, Polly, I am so glad! I never thought of it,—you are so good, and he’s such a wild boy,—I can’t believe it,— but it is so dear of you to care for him.”

“Couldn’t help it—tried not to—but it was so hard— you know, Fan, you know,” said a stifled voice from the depths of the very fuzzy cushion which Tom had once condemned.

The last words, and the appealing hand outstretched to her, told Fanny the secret of her friend’s tender sympathy for her own love troubles, and seemed so pathetic, that she took Polly in her arms, and cried over her, in the fond, foolish way girls have of doing when their hearts are full, and tears can say more than tongues. The silence never lasts long, however, for the feminine desire to “talk it over” usually gets the better of the deepest emotion. So presently the girls were hard at it, Polly very humble and downcast, Fanny excited, and overflowing with curiosity and delight.

“Really my sister! You dear thing, how heavenly that will be,” she cried.

“It never will be,” answered Polly, in a tone of calm despair.

“What will prevent it?”

“Maria Bailey,” was the tragic reply.

“What do you mean? Is she the Western girl? She shan’t have Tom; I’ll kill her first!”

“Too late, let me tell you—is that door shut, and Maud safe?”

Fanny reconnoitred, and returning listened breathlessly, while Polly poured into her ear the bitter secret which was preying on her soul.

“Hasn’t he mentioned Maria in his letters?”

“Once or twice, but sort of jokingly, and I thought it was only some little flirtation. He can’t have time for much of that fun, he’s so busy.”

“Ned writes good, gossipy letters,—I taught him how, —and he tells me all that’s going on. When he’d spoken of this girl several times (they board with her mother, you know), I asked about her, quite carelessly, and he told me she was pretty, good, and well-educated, and he thought Tom was rather smitten. That was a blow; for you see, Fan, since Trix broke the engagement, and it wasn’t wrong to think of Tom, I let myself hope, just a little, and was so happy! Now I must give it up, and now I see how much I hoped, and what a dreadful loss it’s going to be.”

Two great tears rolled down Polly’s cheeks, and Fanny wiped them away, feeling an intense desire to go West by the next train, wither Maria Bailey with a single look, and bring Tom back as a gift to Polly.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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