The Sweet One for Polly

by Louisa M. Alcott

POLLY had expected to be very happy in getting ready for the party; but when the time came she was disappointed, for somehow that naughty thing called envy took possession of her, and spoiled her pleasure.

Before she left home she thought her new white muslin dress, with its fresh blue ribbons, the most elegant and proper costume she could have; but now, when she saw Fanny’s pink silk, with a white tarlatan tunic, and innumerable puffings, bows, and streamers, her own simple little toilet lost all its charms in her eyes, and looked very babyish and old-fashioned.

Even Maud was much better dressed than herself, and looked very splendid in her cherry-colored and white suit, with a sash so big she could hardly carry it, and little white boots with red buttons.

They both had necklaces and bracelets, ear-rings and brooches; but Polly had no ornament except the plain locket on a bit of blue velvet. Her sash was only a wide ribbon, tied in a simple bow, and nothing but a blue snood in the pretty brown curls. Her only comfort was the knowledge that the modest tucker drawn up round the plump shoulders was real lace, and that her bronze boots cost nine dollars.

Poor Polly, with all her efforts to be contented, and not to mind looking unlike other people, found it hard work to keep her face bright and her voice happy that night. No one dreamed what was going on under the muslin frock, till grandma’s wise old eyes spied out the little shadow on Polly’s spirits, and guessed the cause of it. When dressed, the three girls went up to show themselves to the elders who were in grandma’s room, where Tom was being helped into an agonizingly stiff collar.

Maud pranced like a small peacock, and Fan made a splendid courtesy, as every one turned to survey them; but Polly stood still, and her eyes went from face to face with an anxious, wistful air, which seemed to say, “I know I’m not right; but I hope I don’t look very bad.”

Grandma read the look in a minute; and when Fanny said, with a satisfied smile, “How do we look?” she answered, drawing Polly toward her so kindly, “Very like the fashion-plates you got the patterns of your dresses from. But this little costume suits me best.”

“Do you really think I look nice?” and Polly’s face brightened, for she valued the old lady’s opinion very much.

“Yes, my dear; you look just as I like to see a child of your age look. What particularly pleases me is, that you have kept your promise to your mother, and haven’t let any one persuade you to wear borrowed finery. Young things like you don’t need any ornaments but those you wear to-night,—youth, health, intelligence, and modesty.”

As she spoke, grandma gave a tender kiss that made Polly glow like a rose, and for a minute she forgot that there were such things in the world as pink silks and coral ear-rings.

Tom handing a bouquet to Polly

“THE SWEET ONE FOR POLLY.”

She only said, “Thank you, ma’am,”  and heartily returned the kiss; but the words did her good, and her plain dress looked charming all of a sudden.

“Polly’s so pretty, it don’t matter what she wears,” observed Tom, surveying her over his collar with an air of calm approval.

“She hasn’t got any bwetelles to her dwess, and I have,” said Maud, settling her ruffled bands over her shoulders, which looked like cherry-colored wings on a stout little cherub.

“I did wish she’d just wear my blue set, ribbon is so very plain; but, as Tom says, it don’t much matter;” and Fanny gave an effective touch to the blue bow above Polly’s left temple.

“She might wear flowers; they always suit young girls,” said Mrs. Shaw, privately thinking that her own daughters looked much the best yet, and conscious that blooming Polly had the most attractive face.

“Bless me! I forgot my posies in admiring the belles! Hand them out, Tom;” and Mr. Shaw nodded toward an interesting-looking box that stood on the table.

Seizing them wrong side up, Tom produced three little bouquets, all different in color, size, and construction.

“Why, papa, how very kind of you!” cried Fanny, who had not dared to receive even a geranium leaf since the late scrape.

“Your father used to be a very gallant young gentleman once upon a time,” said Mrs. Shaw, with a simper and sigh.

“Ah, Tom, it’s a good sign when you find time to think of giving pleasure to your little girls.”

And grandma patted her son’s bald head as if he wasn’t more than eighteen.

Thomas, Jr., had given a somewhat scornful sniff at first; but when grandma praised his father, the young man thought better of the matter, and regarded the flowers with more respect as he asked, “Which is for which?”

“Guess,” said Mr. Shaw, pleased that his unusual demonstration had produced such an effect.

The largest was a regular hot-house bouquet of tea-rosebuds, scentless heath, and smilax; the second was just a handful of sweet-peas and mignonette, with a few cheerful pansies and one fragrant little rose in the middle; the third, a small posy of scarlet verbenas, white feverfew, and green leaves.

“Not hard to guess. The smart one for Fan, the sweet one for Polly, and the gay one for Pug. Now, then, catch hold, girls;” and Tom proceeded to deliver the nosegays with as much grace as could be expected from a youth in a new suit of clothes and very tight boots.

“That finishes you off just right, and is a very pretty attention of papa. Now run down, for the bell has rung; and remember not to dance too often, Fan; be as quiet as you can, Tom; and, Maud, don’t eat too much supper. Grandma will attend to things, for my poor nerves won’t allow me to come down.”

With that Mrs. Shaw dismissed them, and the four descended to receive the first visitors.