A DOUBTFUL SUCCESS.
Polly Poppleton was Mrs. Poppleton's daughter—that goes without saying. Mrs. Poppleton kept a small but very select boarding-house in the college town where Frank Fleming had spent the four years immediately preceding his arrival at the mature age of 22. He had boarded at Mrs. Poppleton's during the last year, and had fallen deeply, desperately in love with Polly. Perhaps I had better qualify the last statement, for Frank's love was not of that all-consuming ardor which would impel him to brave the substantial disadvantages of parental disapproval. His father was rich, but he himself had nothing but a rich father. Frank knew quite well that his father wanted him to marry Kate Buell, the daughter of a former partner in business, and a young lady of wealth and high social standing. But Polly's charms had proved irresistible, and the young lovers were in a terrible quandary as to how the old gentleman could be brought around to a proper conception of the matter.
"Yes, dearest," said Frank, when he went away at the close of his senior year, "that is the only thing that stands between us and happiness. But I will be true, and it will be strange if I don't bring the old gentleman around within three months."
Fortune seemed to favor them. The elder Mr. Fleming was an enthusiastic student of botany, and at the time of Frank's return from college was engaged in the preparation of a book on "The Propagation of Hybrids."
"What kind of a library have you got down there at the college?" he asked of Frank one day at dinner. "Is there anything on botany?"
"We've got one of the best libraries in the country," said Frank, "and it's especially strong in botany. As for our collection of specimens, it is the fullest of the kind within five hundred miles, to say nothing of Professor Calyx's private collection, which has a world-wide reputation."
"Yes, I've read of it," said the old gentleman.
"By the way," continued Frank, as a brilliant idea struck him, "why wouldn't it be a nice thing for you to run down there and spend a few weeks before you go to the seaside. The authorities will be only too glad to give you the run of the library and museum; there's an excellent boarding-house there, and Mrs. Poppleton will take the best care of you, especially when she knows you are my father."
"I don't know but that would be a good idea," said his father as he sipped his coffee. The more he thought of it the better he liked it, and the very next week saw him comfortably lodged in Mrs. Poppleton's best bed-room, and busily engaged in looking for rare books and choice specimens which would assist him in the preparation of his great work.
As soon as Frank had known of his father's definite intention to visit the college he had written Polly the following letter:
"MY DEAR POLLY—The old gentleman is coming down to spend a couple of weeks in rummaging through the library, and he intends to stop at your house. Did ever good luck offer such an opportunity to distressed lovers? You are not the girl I take you for if you don't have the old gentleman just where we want him before he comes away. I am sure he can't stay in the same house with you two weeks without learning to like you. Now, Polly, if you love me, do your level best to get into the old gentleman's good graces. Perhaps it may assist you a little to know beforehand that he is very fond of Thackeray and that he considers Howells and Henry James mere drivellers and their books irrefragable proof of the decline of literature in the present generation. Of music, he admires only Beethoven; his favorite dessert is rice pudding, and he wants hot water to shave with every morning. By humoring these little idiosyncrasies, you may succeed in winning his friendship and thus pave the way to our early union. Your loving"FRANK."
Polly exerted herself to carry out Frank's instructions. She bought a second-hand copy of Beethoven's sonatas, which showed signs of use, and practiced diligently for several days before the old gentleman arrived. Polly was somewhat surprised when he came, and to find him so well-preserved and young-looking a man.
"Is it possible that you are Mr. Frank's father?" she asked, after a few days' acquaintance had nerved her to sufficient boldness. "You look more like his elder brother."
"Yes," replied Mr. Fleming, with an air of self-complacency which he could not entirely conceal, "there is only about twenty years between us. I married very young, and my wife was taken away from me while Frank was yet a child," he added, with a sigh.
"How sad!" sighed Polly in sympathy, and Mr. Fleming immediately set her down as a girl of discernment and fine feeling.
"I heard you playing Beethoven," he remarked one day after he had come in from the library. "Are you fond of Beethoven?"
"Oh, I adore him," replied Polly with enthusiasm, "I think him the greatest of composers."
The next day as Mr. Fleming was going out he passed Polly, sitting on the porch absorbed in the second volume of "Pendennis."
"Do you admire Thackeray?" he inquired.
"Oh, I just dote on Thackeray," she replied. "He is the only novelist I take a genuine pleasure in reading." This was not strictly true, as a stock of paper-covered volumes recently consigned to the attic could have testified. But what woman is always ingenuous? Does not our social system in many ways encourage mendacity?
"I think the books of these modern writers—Howells and Henry James and writers of that stamp—are miserable drivel," she continued with emphasis. "The good writers are all dead, and the future of literature looks very, very dark."
"Well, I declare," said the old gentleman to himself, as he continued his walk, "she's the most intelligent woman I've met since my wife died, and as good looking as she is intelligent. I have a great mind, but what's the use?" he concluded with a sigh.
At the end of the two weeks which Mr. Fleming had intended to devote to the examination of the college library and museum he found it convenient to remain a little longer. He began to find Polly's company very agreeable. The Beethoven collection was played from cover to cover, and Polly made up in enthusiasm what she lacked in skill. Thackeray's works were discussed at length; Polly proving very familiar with them, indeed, as she had read them all, from the "Yellow-plush Papers" to "Henry Esmond," since the receipt of Frank's letter. Mr. Fleming enjoyed this intellectual communion with a kindred spirit, and often found himself thinking how easy it would be to shape her mind and character into comparative harmony with his own. Then, again, he became aware that it was Polly who looked so closely after his personal comfort; who left the pitcher of hot water at his door every morning; who compounded the delicious rice puddings which he enjoyed so much. His tea was always of just the proper strength, and contained the exact number of lumps of sugar which he liked. In short, he had never been so well taken care of in his life. He was discerning enough to attribute it all to Polly, for Mrs. Poppleton, fat and forty-five, was not the woman to exert herself unduly, even to please a favorite boarder.
Polly had begun to like Mr. Fleming, at first for his son's sake, but very soon for his own sake. She began to look forward to the meetings at the table and the evening conversation with a more eager anticipation than was exactly called for in a more prospective daughter-in-law. Polly Poppleton (let me whisper to the reader in strict confidence) was no chicken. She had been the belle of a college town for several years, and would never see 25 again, although she was petite and youthful in appearance. Frank Fleming was not the first student who had left her, swearing eternal constancy, only to keep up a spasmodic correspondence which died an early death. She knew, too, that the elder Fleming was rich, and that Frank was entirely dependent upon his father; and while I would not accuse Polly of mercenary motives, it must be admitted that from the period of her callow girlhood she had never encouraged a suitor without prospects.
The events of the last week of the month during which the old gentleman boarded at Mrs. Poppleton's may be read between the lines of the following letter, which was written in answer to one of Frank's ardent epistles, in which he made anxious inquiries as to the success of the plot against the old gentleman:
"Dear Mr. Fleming: Your kind letter is received, and I feel a little embarrassed as to how to answer it. In reply to your question I would say that I have become pretty well acquainted with your father, and I think I have won his friendship. But I am convinced that he would never consent to your marriage with me. This being the case, I think it best to release you from your engagement, and I beg of you to use as you see proper the freedom which is henceforth yours. I hope you may find some fairer, better, and richer young woman, who will make you happier than I would have done, and while I can never be your wife, I hope you will not believe me insincere when I say that I will try to be a mother to you, for I am to be married to your father to-morrow morning. With kindest regards, I remain yours sincerely,"POLLY POPPLETON."
To say that Frank was surprised at the receipt of the letter would but faintly express his feelings. But he is a sensible young fellow, and had nothing further to say. He went out West on on a hunting expedition, and upon his return took up the study of the law. On his admission to the bar he married Kate Buell. They live on Boodle avenue, and Frank is on the best of terms with his stepmother.