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Polly Played for Keeps

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 18, 2012

Just a pleasant short story today, to lighten the mood after our last serial.

From the Relief Society Magazine, June, 1951 –

Polly Played for Keeps

By Sylvia Probst Young

From his chair at the supper table Pa surveyed us with his usual good-natured smile which came to rest on Polly, as Pa’s smiles always did, for Polly is the apple of Pa’s eye. Who could doubt that Polly, with her dancing eyes and freckled nose, would be the family favorite, for Polly, you see, is our only sister, and boys – there are a half dozen of us.

“Well, Sis,” Pa said (we’ve always called her Sis), “how does it seem to be in high school? they tell me there’s a new schoolmarm over there.”

Polly beamed, and the freckles across her nose shone in the lamplight. It seemed quite impossible that she should be starting high school, this red-headed, mischievous, tree-climbing little sister.

“Oh, Pa,” she exclaimed, “she’s our teacher for English. Her name’s Kate Morton, and she’s just beautiful, and more fun.”

Ma, her fork in mid-air, looked up with interest. No doubt she had heard all about Miss Morton when Polly got home, but it was still news, for a new high school teacher was something Hillcreek hadn’t had for a couple of years.

“She sounds interesting,” was Sid’s quick comment. “Guess I’ll have to meet this schoolmarm.”

“What about Johnnie?” put in Leon. “He’s the old man around here. I had her spotted for Johnnie soon as I saw her.”

“Oh, you did?” I answered. “Well, Leon boy, being twenty-two doesn’t exactly put me in the old man class, and I’m in no hurry for a wife. But we’ll see. One never knows.”

“No, one never knows,” said Pa. “But it seems to me both Sid and Johnnie should start giving marriage some serious thought.” Then he winked at Polly and started talking about picking the transparent apples, so nothing more was said about Miss Morton. But I remembered Polly’s glowing account of her, and I resolved that I’d have to meet this Miss Morton as soon as the opportunity came my way, and it wasn’t long in coming. For the next Saturday night was the harvest dance at Winkle’s ranch, and I had the pleasure of meeting Kate Morton there and discovering that everything Polly had said about her was true.

I was a little late getting to the dance that night because I had helped Pa doctor a sick calf, but when I came into the ranch parlor I spotted the new teacher first thing, and she was dancing with Sid. You could tell she was no local product. She was too fair and fragile looking for that … sorta reminded me of the Dresden china doll on Ma’s what-not shelf.

I gave Sid the high sign, but he ignored me completely. However, when the music stopped, he brought her around. (Sid’s a good guy.)

“Miss Morton,” he said, “I’d like you to meet my big brother here. This is Johnnie Sullivan. He’s been dying to meet you.”

I felt my face burning, and I could have choked Sid, but Kate Morton was smiling in an understanding sort of way.

“How do you do, Johnnie Sullivan,” she said, “and how many Sullivans are there?”

“Well, there’s quite a tribe of us in these parts,” I told her, my composure regained. “And may this Sullivan have the pleasure of the next dance with you?”

She was a perfect dancer, and the fact that she was the new schoolmarm made her the belle of the ball. In spite of that fact, I managed to have her for a dancing partner three times, and she promised to ride over to Diamond Lake with me next Saturday afternoon.

As soon as dinner was over on Saturday, I went out and cranked up the new Ford and rode over to Pypers’. That’s where Miss Morton was staying. Old Jonathan Pyper was in his rocker on the front porch, and he greeted me with a sly smile.

“I expected to see one of you Sullivan boys over here about now or sooner. Well, Miss Kate ’pears to be as fine a gal as ever I see. Sit down, Feller, she’ll be out in no time.”

And then she came. Her blond locks were tied up with a blue velvet band, and she was wearing some kind of silk dress as golden as her hair.

“Hello,” she smiled. “Isn’t it a perfectly lovely afternoon for a ride?”

Mrs. Pyper, round and jolly, was standing in the doorway as we started to go. “Johnnie be careful with that gas machine,” she teased. “Think you should have brought old Nell and the buggy, don’t you?”

I helped Miss Morton into the car, then climbed in and took the wheel. A lazy breeze stirred in the trees along the road, and the air was filled with the smell of apples and wood smoke.

“It’s beautiful up here,” Miss Morton said. “I know I’m going to like this town very much.”

We talked about everything from schoolboys to politicians, and by the time we got back to Hillcreek we were firm friends. She was calling me Johnnie and I was calling her Kate, and she had promised to go to the dance with me next Saturday night.

Ma was putting our Saturday night lunch on the table when I got home, and the minute I opened the door the whole gang started in on me:

“How’s Kate, Johnnie?”

“Got another date, Johnnie?”

“How’s your heartbeat, Johnnie?”

And Bill, who was studying Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, threw out his arms dramatically and recited from Lancelot and Elaine, substituting Kate:

Kate the fair, Kate the lovable,
Kate, the lily maid of Astolat …

From then on I seemed to have the inside track with Miss Kate Morton. I never really asked her to go steady, but I always managed to be the boy who took her to church functions, school dances, or anything else. That is, until she decided I was taking her too much for granted, and then she took matters into her own hands.

I had been seeing her about twice a week from October until February, when I decided it was about time I told her what my heart had been telling me for several months. As I walked over to Pypers’ that February evening, it suddenly occurred to me that Valentine’s Day was only a couple of days away, and I hadn’t asked Kate to go to the dance. Of course I figured she would understand, and everything would be all right. After all, hadn’t I been her beau for quite a while?

It was Mrs. Pyper who came to the door, and she looked like the cat who swallowed the canary. “Kate isn’t here,” she said. “My nephew Clarence came up for a few days, and she went to the movies with him. You know Clarence, Johnnie.”

Did I know Clarence? Clarence was the typical dude, a Lord Fauntleroy grown tall, who didn’t know on which side to milk a cow. Yes, I knew Clarence, and it made my blood boil.

At three-thirty next day I was up at the school, and after the kids had all come out, I went in to see Kate. I didn’t dream we were going to quarrel, but we did. And looking back on it now, I’m sure it was all my fault because Clarence had always rubbed my fur in the wrong direction. I couldn’t stand to think of him taking Kate, especially not to the Valentine dance, and that, I found out, was exactly whom she was going with.

“Johnnie,” Kate said, and her blue eyes were a little icy, “I’m getting just a little tired of being taken for granted. Today is February thirteenth, and you hadn’t mentioned the dance until now.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry as the dickens,” I told her, “but I’ve been your steady since last October.”

“And so that gives you the right to expect me to be waiting whenever you chance to come. As a matter of fact, Johnnie, I don’t remember your ever asking me to go steady.”

“I should have, and I meant to, and I promise never to take you for granted again. Now how about telling Clarence you have a date for the dance?”

“I can’t do that, Johnnie. He’s Mrs. Pyper’s nephew, and I’m living at Pypers’. Besides, I couldn’t do that anyway.

I guess I got really mad then, and said a lot of things I didn’t really mean, but so did she. When I left the schoolhouse that night I felt like the world had come to an end, for Kate and I had come to the parting of the ways, and I had planned on asking her to marry me.

I went to the dance alone, and I didn’t miss one dance. I acted like I was having the time of my life, but that was only acting. All the time I was looking at Kate. Once I about decided to go ask her for a dance and try to patch things up, but I didn’t. Stubborn fool that I was, I kept remembering her saying, “if that’s the way you feel, Johnnie, don’t bother to come around anymore.”

Of course my family learned about it. They didn’t say much, but I think they thought I was a mule, especially Polly.

“I think it’s so silly,” she told me more than once, “for people like you and Miss Morton not to make up.”

“But suppose she doesn’t want to, what then?”

“You know very well she wants to, but she’s waiting for you. It’s a man’s place.”

“Aren’t you a bit young to know all those things?” I teased.

“Maybe I am.” She tossed her red locks. “But if I were you, Johnnie Sullivan, I wouldn’t mope away my life because I was too stubborn to make the first move.”

“Now don’t feel sorry for me, little Sis. Haven’t I been dating Mary Hammond ever since?”

“Sure, but she isn’t Kate Morton, Johnnie.”

“Too bad Beth Ritchy’s got my heart right now, or I’d give you a run,” Sid put in.

Well, call it mulishness or what you will, the winter wore on, and I continued dating Mary Hammond and wishing she were Kate. Polly, it seemed, made a special effort to go into detail about her English class at supper every night. But it looked like school would close, and Kate would leave for the summer or get herself engaged to Clarence Newbold. The thought of it almost drove me crazy, but then I would persist in remembering that she had told me not to come back. If she really wanted to see me she could drop a hint. so I suffered in silence until that eventful April day when a wonderful thing happened.

I had been plowing in the south field, and I had just finished the upper flat, when I looked up and saw Polly coming toward me.

“Hi, Johnnie,” she called, and she seemed excited about something.

I stopped the horses and waited while she stumbled through the plowed furrows.

“Johnnie, I’ve got a message for you.”

“A what?”

“A message, from Miss Kate Morton.”

“What did you say?”

“Johnnie Sullivan, are you listening or not?”

“Yes – yes, of course I am! did you say Kate Morton sent me a message? Well, what did she say? Don’t just stand there!”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. She said, ‘Polly, will you do me a favor? Will you tell Johnnie that I’d like very much to see him. It’s very important. Ask him if he will meet me tonight about eight o’clock by the Hillcreek bridge?’”

“Did she say that? Are you sure, Polly?”

“Didn’t I just tell you so?”

“Yes, you did. Gosh, I guess she does want to see me again after all.”

I finished that plowing in record time, and left the milking and night chores for the others.

“Got a big date,” I told Ma, as I was washing up in the kitchen. “Kate Morton sent word with Polly that she’d like to see me.”

“Well, I’m glad of that. If she had waited for you she’d have waited till doom’s day. You’re as stubborn as your old Grandpa Sullivan, I’d say.”

A spring moon was peeking over Mount Baldy, and the night was filled with the perfume of apple blossoms. As I walked toward the creek it seemed to me there had never been such a night. I waited on the bridge for a moment, looking down at the starlight shadows, and then I saw her coming. It was like seeing the fairy queen coming across the field.

“Hello, Johnnie,” she called, and then she was on the bridge beside me.

For a moment there was an awkward silence, then I found my tongue.

“Kate,” I began in a clumsy sort of way. “I don’t know how to tell you how downright miserable I’ve been all this while wanting to see you. So much I’ve wanted to tell you. I wonder if you can ever forgive me for being such a stubborn fool. If you hadn’t asked me to meet you up here tonight, I guess you’d have gone away and …”

“Johnnie,” she interrupted, “Johnnie, what did you say? I didn’t ask you to meet me here. Polly brought me a message from you. She said you asked her to tell me that you’d like to see me, and that I should meet you up here. Didn’t you tell Polly that, Johnnie?”

“But Polly told me, Kate. She brought a message from you to me.”

Then it was Polly. For a moment we were both knocked speechless, as the truth dawned. And the next moment we were both laughing, and everything was all right.

“Kate!” I caught her hands in mine. “I think I have the most wonderful, meddling little sister in the world. She knows that I love you, and there’s no one in the world like you, as far as she is concerned. All winter long she’s been telling me how stubborn and pigheaded I am. But I kept remembering your telling me not to come around any more.”

“Oh, Johnnie, you don’t know how I’ve wanted you to come. I only said that because I was angry. Didn’t you know that? I’ve been perfectly miserable, too, and I think Clarence Newbold is nothing but a bore.”

“And Johnnie Sullivan, what do you think of him?”

She gave her head a cocky toss and the mischief gleamed in her eyes. “Oh, he’s passing fair.”

“Fair enough to put up with for the rest of your life?”

“That might be.”

So that’s the way it was, but that’s been years ago. And what about Polly? Well, Polly has always had all the credit, and, though she has been married for years herself, she likes to remind me now and then that, if she hadn’t taken matters in her own hands, I might never have known the wonderful life I’ve had with my little schoolmarm.



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