FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND THEIR FRIENDS
By MARGARET SIDNEY
AUTHOR OF "FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS ABROAD," "A LITTLE MAID OF CONCORD TOWN," "SALLY, MRS. TUBBS," ETC.
Illustrated by Eugenie M. Wireman
To my daughter Margaret, who to her friends embodies "Polly Pepper" in her girlhood, I dedicate most lovingly this book.
There were so many interesting friends of the Five Little Peppers, whose lives were only the faintest of outlines in the series ending when Phronsie was grown up, that a volume devoted to this outer circle has been written to meet the persistent demand.
Herein the author records many happenings that long ago Ben and Polly, Joel and David told her. And even Phronsie whispered some of it confidentially into the listening ear. "Tell about Rachel, please," she begged; and Margaret Sidney promised to write it all down some day.
And that day seems to have arrived in which it all should be recorded and the promise fulfilled. For the Five Little Peppers loved their friends very dearly, and were loyal and true to them. And hand in hand, the circle widening ever, they lived and loved as this history records.
I. A FIVE-O'CLOCK TEA
III. CLEM FORSYTHE
IV. MISS TAYLOR'S WORKING BEE
V. "SHE'S MY LITTLE GIRL"
VI. GRANDMA BASCOM
VII. THE DISAPPOINTMENT
VIII. THE GARDEN PARTY
IX. THE TEN-DOLLAR BILL
X. TROUBLE FOR JOEL
XII. DOINGS AT THE PARSONAGE
XIII. "SHE'S GOING TO STAY HERE FOREVER"
XIV. "CAN'T GO," SAID JOEL
XV. UP IN ALEXIA'S PRETTY ROOM
XVI. THE ACCIDENT
XVII. JOEL'S ADVENTURE
XVIII. THE COMFORT COMMITTEE
XIX. JOEL'S NEW FRIEND
XX. THE COOKING CLUB
XXI. OF MANY THINGS IN GENERAL
XXII. RACHEL'S VISIT TO MISS PARROTT
XXIII. THE OLD PARROTT HOMESTEAD
XXIV. RACHEL'S FUTURE
XXV. JACK PARISH
XXVI. MR. HAMILTON DYCE A TRUE FRIEND
XXVII. A PIECE OF GOOD NEWS
XXVIII. THE LITTLE STONE CUPBOARD
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING, PHRONSIE, SITTING DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STAIRS?"
"BUT THIS IS TEN DOLLARS," SAID JOEL
"ON, LARRY," SAID MISS TAYLOR GENTLY, BENDING OVER HIM
"YES, SIR," CALLED JOEL BACK, FROM THE ALCOVE
THE UNLUCKY OAR WAS SEIZED BY THE TRIUMPHANT CREW
"I USED TO PLAY WITH IT," SHE SAID SOFTLY
HE STOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LITTLE SHOP
A FIVE-O'CLOCK TEA
"I wish," said Phronsie slowly, "that you'd come in, little girl."
"Can't." The girl at the gate peered through the iron railings, pressing her nose quite flat, to give the sharp, restless, black eyes the best chance.
"Please do," begged Phronsie, coming up quite close; "I very much wish you would."
"Can't," repeated the girl on the outside. "Cop won't let me."
"Who?" asked Phronsie, much puzzled and beginning to look frightened.
"Perlice." The girl nodded briefly, taking her face away from the iron railings enough to accomplish that ceremony. Then she plastered her nose up against its support again, and stared at Phronsie with all her might.
"Oh," said Phronsie, with a little laugh that chased away her fright," there isn't any big policeman here. This is Grandpapa's garden."
"'Tain't, it's the perliceman's; everything's the perliceman's," contradicted the girl, snapping one set of grimy fingers defiantly.
"Oh, no," said Phronsie, softly but very decidedly, "this is my dear Grandpapa's home, and the big policeman can't get in here, ever."
"Oh, you ninny!" The girl staring at her through the railings stopped a minute to laugh, covering both hands over her mouth to smother the sound. "The perlice can go everywheres they want to. I guess some of 'em's in heaven now, spyin' round."
Phronsie dropped the doll she was carrying close to her bosom, to concentrate all her gaze up toward the sky, in wide-eyed amazement that allowed her no opportunity to carry on the conversation.
"An' I couldn't no more get into this 'ere garden than I could into heaven," the girl on the outside said at last, to bring back the blue eyes to earth, "so don't you think it, you. But, oh, my, don't I wish I could, though!"
There was so much longing in the voice that Phronsie brought her gaze down from the policemen in their heavenly work to the eyes staring at her. And she clasped her hands together tightly, and hurried up to lay her face against the big iron gate and close to that of the girl.
"He won't hurt you, the big policeman won't," she whispered softly. "I'll take hold of your hand, and tell him how it is, if he gets in. Come."
"Can't," the girl was going to say, but her gaze rested upon the doll lying on the grass where it fell from Phronsie's hand. "Lawks! may I just have one good squint at that?" she burst out.
"You may hold it," said Phronsie, bobbing her head till her yellow hair fell over her flushed cheeks.
The gate flew open suddenly, nearly overthrowing her; and the girl, mostly all legs and arms, dashed through, picking up the doll to squeeze it to her neck so tightly that Phronsie rushed up, quite alarmed.
"Oh, don't," she cried, "you'll frighten her. I'll tell her how it is, and then she'll like you."
"I'll make her like me," said the girl, with savage thrusts at the doll, and kissing it all over.
"Oh, my, ain't you sweet!" and she cuddled it fiercely in her scrawny neck, her tangled black hair falling around its face.
"Oh, dear!" wailed Phronsie, standing quite still, "she's my child, and she's dreadfully frightened. Oh, please, little girl, don't do so."
"She's been your child forever, and I've never had a child." The girl raised her black head to look sternly at Phronsie. "I'll give her back; but she's mine now."
"Haven't you ever had a child?" asked Phronsie, suddenly, two or three tears trailing off her round cheeks to drop in the grass, and she drew a long breath and winked very fast to keep the others back.
"Not a smitch of one," declared the other girl decidedly, "an' I'm a-goin' to hold this one, and pretend I'm its mother."
Phronsie drew a long breath, and drew slowly near.
"You may," she said at last.
The new mother didn't hear, being hungrily engaged in smoothing her child's cheeks against her own dirty ones, first one side of the face and then the other, and twitching down the dainty pink gown, gone awry during the hugging process, and alternately scolding and patting the little figure. This done, she administered a smart slap, plunged over to the nearest tree, and set the doll with a thud on the grass to rest against its trunk.
"Sit up like a lady," she commanded.
"Oh, don't!" cried Phronsie, quite horror-stricken, and running over on distressed feet. "She's my child," she gasped.
"No, she's mine, an' I'm teachin' her manners. I ain't through pretendin' yet," said the girl. She put out a long arm and held Phronsie back.
"But you struck her." Phronsie lifted a pale face, and her blue eyes flashed very much as Polly's brown ones did on occasion.
The new mother whirled around and stared at her.
"Why, I had to, just the same as you're licked when you're bad," she said, in astonishment.
"What's 'licked'?" asked Phronsie, overcome with curiosity, yet keeping her eyes on her child, bolt upright against the tree.
"Why, whipped," said the girl, "just the same as you are when you're bad."
Phronsie drew a long breath.
"I've never been whipped," she said slowly.
"Oh, my Lord!" The girl tumbled down to the grass and rolled over and over, coming up suddenly to sit straight, wipe her tangled black hair out of her eyes, and stare at Phronsie. "Well, you are a reg'lar freak, you are," was all she could say.
"What's a 'freak'?" asked Phronsie, actually turning her back on her child to give all her attention to this absorbing conversation, with its most attractive vocabulary.
"It's—oh, Jumbo!" and over she flopped again, to roll and laugh. "Well, there!" and she jumped to her feet so quickly she nearly overthrew Phronsie, who had drawn closer, unable to miss a bit of this very strange proceeding. "Now I'm through pretending an' I haven't got any child, an' you may have her back." She wrung her grimy hands together, and turned her back on the object of so much attention. "Take her, quick; she's yours."
Phronsie hurried over to the doll, sitting up in pink loveliness against the tree, knelt down on the grass, and patted her with gentle hand, and smoothed down her curls. A curious sound broke in upon her work, and she looked up and listened. "I must go back," she whispered to her child, and in a minute she was running around the figure of the girl, to stare into her face.
"Ow—get out!" cried the girl crossly, and she whirled off, pulling up her ragged dress to her face.
"I thought I heard you cry," said Phronsie in a troubled voice, and following her in distress.
"Phoo!" cried the girl, snapping her fingers in derision, and spinning around on the tips of her toes, "'twas the cat."
"No," said Phronsie decidedly, and shaking her head, "it couldn't be the cat, because she doesn't hardly ever cry, and besides she isn't here"—and she looked all around—"don't you see she isn't?"
"Well, then, 'twas that bird," said the girl, pointing up to a high branch. "Ain't you green, not to think of him!"
"I don't think it was the bird," said Phronsie slowly, and peering up anxiously, "and he doesn't cry again, so I 'most know he couldn't have cried then."
"Well, he will, if you wait long enough," said the girl defiantly.
"Chee, chee, chee," sang the bird, with delicious little trills, and shaking them out so fast his small throat seemed about to burst with its efforts.
"There, you see he couldn't cry," began Phronsie, in a burst of delight;" you see, little girl," and she hopped up and down in glee.
"He's got the 'sterics, an' he'll cry next, like enough," said the girl.
"What's 'the 'sterics'?" asked Phronsie, coming out of her glee, and drawing nearer. "Oh, I see some tears," and she looked soberly up into the thin, dirty face, and forgot all about her question.
"No, you don't, either." The girl twitched away angrily. "There ain't never no tears you could see on me; 'twas the cat or the bird. Ain't you green, though! You're green as that grass there," and she spun round and round, snapping her fingers all the while.
Phronsie stood quite still and regarded her sorrowfully.
"Don't you believe I cried!" screamed the girl, dashing up to her, to snap her fingers in Phronsie's face; "say you don't this minute."
"But I think you did," said Phronsie. "Oh. I'm very sure you did, and you may hold my child again, if you only won't cry any more," and she clasped her hands tightly together. The other girl started and ran toward the big iron gate.
"Oh, don't!" Phronsie called after her, and ran to overtake the flying feet. "Please stay with me. I like you; don't go."
The girl threw her head back as if something hurt her throat, then leaned her face against the iron railings and stuck her fingers in her ears.
"Don't! lemme alone! go 'way, can't you!" She wriggled off from Phronsie's fingers. "I'll lick you if you don't lemme be!"
"I wish you'd play with me," said Phronsie, having hard work to keep out of the way of the flapping shoes all down at the heel, "and you may have Clorinda for your very own child as long as you stay—you may really."
"Ow! see here!" Up came the girl's face, and with a defiant sweep of her grimy hands she brushed both cheeks. "Do you mean that, honest true, black and blue?"
"Yes," said Phronsie, very much relieved to see the effect of her invitation, "I do mean it, little girl. Come, and I'll tell Clorinda all how it is."
"I'm goin' outside to walk up and down a bit. Bring on your doll."
"But you must come here," said Phronsie, moving off slowly backward over the grass. "Come, little girl"—holding out her hand.
"Now I know you didn't mean it," said the girl scornfully. "You wouldn't let me touch that nasty old doll of yours again for nothin' you wouldn't," she shrilled at her.
"Oh, yes, I would," declared Phronsie, in great distress; "see, I'm going to get her now," and she turned around and hurried over the grass to pick Clorinda off from her resting-place and run back. "There, see, little girl," she cried breathlessly, thrusting the doll into the dirty hands; "take her now and we'll go and play."
For answer, the girl clutched the doll and sped wildly off through the gateway.
"Oh!" cried Phronsie, running after with pink cheeks and outstretched arms, "give me back my child; stop, little girl."
But there wras no stop to the long, thin figure flying down the path on the other side of the tall hedge. It was a back passage, and few pedestrians used the path; in fact, there were none on it this afternoon, so the children had it all to themselves. And on they went, Phronsie, with but one thought—to rescue her child from the depths of woe such as being carried off by a strange mother would produce—blindly plunging after.
At last the girl with the doll stopped suddenly, flung herself up against a stone fence, and drew a long breath.
"Well, what you goin' to do about it?" she cried defiantly, clutching the doll with a savage grip.
Phronsie, too far gone for words, sank panting down to the curbstone, to watch her with wild eyes.
"You said I might take her," the girl blurted out. "I hain't took nothin' but what you give me. I want to play with her to my home. You come with me, and then you can take her back with you."
"I can't," said Phronsie, in a faint little voice. Her cheeks were very red, and she wiped her hot face on her white apron. "You must give me Clorinda, and I must go home," and she held out a shaking hand.
But the girl danced off, and Phronsie, without a thought beyond the rescue of her child, stumbled on after her, scarcely seeing one step before her for the tears that, despite all her efforts, now began to stream down her round cheeks.
At last, in trying to turn out for a baker's boy with a big basket, she caught her foot and fell, a tired little heap, flat in a mud puddle in the middle of the brick pavement.
"My eye!" cried the baker's boy, lifting her up. "Here, you girl, your sister's fell, ker-squash!"
At this, the flying girl in front whirled suddenly and came running back, and took in the situation at once.
"Come on, you lazy thing, you!" she exclaimed; then she burst into a laugh. "Oh, how you look!"
"Give me back—" panted Phronsie, rubbing away the tears with her muddy hands, regardless of her splashed clothes and dirty shoes.
"Keep still, can't you?" cried the girl, gripping her arm, as two or three pedestrians paused to stare at the two. "Come on, sister," and she seized Phronsie's hand, and bore her off. But on turning the corner, she stopped abruptly, and, still holding the doll closely, she dropped to one knee and wiped off the tears from the muddy little cheeks with a not ungentle hand. "You've got to be my sister," she said, in a gush, "else the hoodlums will tear you from neck to heels." And seizing Phronsie's hand again, she bore her off, dodging between rows of dwellings, that, if her companion could have seen, would have certainly proved to be quite novel. But Phronsie was by this time quite beyond noticing any of the details of her journey, and after turning a corner or two, she was hauled up several flights of rickety steps, strange to say without the usual accompaniment of staring eyes and comments of the various neighbors in the locality.
"There!" The girl, still clutching the doll, flung wide the rickety door. "My, ain't I glad to get here, though!" and she drew a long breath, releasing Phronsie's hand, who immediately slid to the floor in a collapsed little heap. "Well, this is my home—ain't it pretty, though!"
Phronsie, thus called on for a reply, tried very hard to answer, but the words wouldn't come.
"You needn't try," said the girl, slamming the door, "'tain't likely you can praise it enough," and she broke out into a hard, sarcastic laugh, which shrilled its way out of the one window, whose broken glass was adorned with nondescript fillings.
"See here now, you're all beat out," she exclaimed suddenly; then rushing across the room, she dragged up a broken chair, and jammed it against the door. "There now, we're by ourselves, an' you can rest."
"I must go home," said Phronsie faintly, and holding up her tired arms. "Give me my child; I must go home."
"Did you think I didn't know what was proper?" cried the girl scornfully, and tossing her head. "I'm going to have five-o'clock tea 'fore you go. There, I'm a lady, an' a swell one too, I'd have you know."
She ran over to the corner of the slatternly room, and set the doll on a bed, over which were tossed the clothes in a dirty heap, Phronsie following every movement with anxious eyes.
"Now she's my child, remember," she said, turning her sharp, black eyes on the small figure huddled up on the floor, "as long as she stays here."
Then she hurried about, twitching a box out here and there from a cupboard, whose broken door hung by one hinge.
"Here's my silver spoons—ain't they beautiful!" she cried, running up with a few two-tined forks and a bent and battered knife. These she placed, also the cracked cups, with great gusto, on the rickety table, propped for support against the wall, as one of its legs was gone entirely and another on the fair road to departure.
"'Tain't stylish to have yer table agin the wall," she broke out, "at a five-o'clock tea; I know, 'cause I've peeked in the windows up on the avenoo, an' I've seen your folks, too." She nodded over at Phronsie. "I know what I'll do." She tossed her head with its black, elfish locks, and darted off in triumph, dragging up from another corner a big box, first unceremoniously dumping out the various articles, such as dirty clothes, a tin pan or two, a skillet, an empty bottle—last of all, a nightcap, which she held aloft. "Gran's," she shouted; "it's been lost a mighty long time. Now I'm goin' to wear it to my five-o'clock tea. It's a picter hat, same's that lady had on to your house once—I seen her." She threw the old nightcap over her hair, tied the ragged strings with an air, and soon, by dint of pulling and hauling, had the table in the very center of the apartment, the box securely under its most delicate and unreliable portion.
"There—my! ain't we fine, though!" She surveyed her work with great delight, her hands on her hips. "Now, says I, for our ice cream an' cake, with white on top, an' choc'late."
She gave a flirt of her ragged gown and darted here and there with her elfish movements; and presently a cold potato, shivering in its skin, a slice or two of hard, moldy bread, and some turnips and carrots, uncooked, were set about the dirty table, with empty spools in between. "Them's the flowers," she explained, as she put the last-mentioned articles in their places. "Now it's all ready, except the choc'late." And waving an old tin coffeepot, whose nose was a thing of the past, she filled it at the faucet over the wooden sink, and put it down with a flourish at one end of the table. "Now we're ready, an' I'm the beautiful lady up to your house—I seen her, once when I was peekin' through the fence"—she nodded shrewdly, her little eyes snapping—"her an' your sister."
"Oh, I want Polly," broke out Phronsie, with such a wail, as she sat, a frozen little heap, not daring to stir, that the girl screamed out:
"Well, I'm goin' to take you to her, when I've given you my five-o'clock tea; that is, if you don't cry. An' I ain't goin' to be the beautiful lady up at your house; I'll be Mrs. somebody else. No, I'll be a Dukess—the Dukess of Marlbrer—I've seen her in the paper. Oh, you've got to have the best chair," and she dragged up the sole article of furniture of that name, minus its back, away from the door; then helping Phronsie up from the floor, she wiped off the tears on her pinafore, no longer white, and soon had her installed on it. "Now you're comp'ny." Thereupon she ran and fetched the doll from the bed, and put her on a small, old barrel, from which the articles were dumped out, and, with a box for her back, Clorinda was soon in great state on one side of the feast. The Dukess then slipped into her own seat, an inverted tub, somewhat low, to be sure, but still allowing the view of the festive cup to be seen. "She's my child, now. Will you have some choc'late?"—with a winning smile that ran all over her dirty face and wrinkled it up alarmingly.
"Oh, no, she's my child," protested Phronsie, the tears beginning again.
"I mean till I get through my five-o'clock tea," cried the girl; "can't you understand? Then she'll be yours, an' I'll take you home. Will you have choc'late?—you must, Lady—what's your name, anyway?" she demanded abruptly, bringing her black eyes to bear on Phronsie.
Phronsie could hardly stammer it out for the tears she was choking back.
"Oh, my eye, what a name!" laughed the Dukess, in derision. "Well, you can be Lady Funsie—Fornsie—whatever you call it. Now, will you have some choc'late? 'Taint perlite not to answer."
"I'd rather have some milk," said Phronsie faintly, "if you please."
"Oh, 'tain't no trouble," said the Dukess airily, quirking out her little finger with grace; and poising the tin coffeepot with an elegant air, she inverted it over a cracked cup, which, when generously full of water, she passed to her guest. "Help yourself to th' cakes. Lady Fonsie," she said graciously, "an' what beyewtiful weather we are havin'!"
Phronsie put forth a trembling hand, as it seemed to be expected of her, and took the cup of water, spilling about half of it, which ran off the table-edge and down her little brown gown, the Dukess greeting this mishap with a shout of laughter, checking it suddenly with a start and a dismayed glance in the direction of the broken window.
"It's time fer you to talk some," she said. "You should say, 'Yes, I think so, too.'"
"I think so, too," murmured Phronsie, viewing her cup of milk gravely.
"An' you must say, 'I think, Dukess, you have the most splendid milk.'"
"It isn't milk," said Phronsie gravely, and she turned serious eyes on the lady of quality opposite.
"Oh, yes, it is," said the Dukess, "an' you orter go on an' say, 'An' all them perfectly beyewtiful flowers, I never see any so fine!'"—pointing to the empty spools in between the eatables.
"But they aren't flowers," said Phronsie.
This occasioned so much discussion that there was no lack of conversation, and was the reason that steps over the stairway were not heard. The door was thrown open, and an old, stout, sodden woman, in a dirty, green shawl and battered bonnet stood transfixed with amazement in the entrance. She hadn't a pleasant eye beneath her straggling, white hair, and her first words were not altogether agreeable nor appropriate at five-o'clock tea.
"So this is the way," she said gruffly, "when I sends you out, Rag, to pick up somethin' you eat me out o' house an' home with brats you bring in"; for she hadn't seen through the dirt on Phronsie's face and clothes what manner of child was present.
The Dukess twitched off the nightcap, and sprang up, upsetting the tin coffeepot, which rolled away by itself, and put herself over by Phronsie, covering her from view. In passing, she had grasped the doll off from the barrel and hidden her in the folds of her tattered gown with a quick, sharp thrust.
"'Tain't nothin' 'f I do have some fun once in a while, Gran," she grumbled. She pinched Phronsie's arm. "Keep still." And while the old woman swayed across the room, for she wasn't quite free from the effects of a taste from a bottle under her arm, which she couldn't resist trying before she reached home, Phronsie and Rag were working their way over toward the door.
"Stop!" roared the old woman at them, in a fury, and she held up the nightcap. Involuntarily Rag paused, through sheer force of habit, and stood paralyzed, till her grandmother had come quite close.
"Hey, what have we got here?" She eyed Phronsie sharply. "Oh, well, you ain't acted so badly after all; maybe the pretty little lady has come to see me, hey?" and she seized Phronsie's small arm.
"Gran," cried Rag hoarsely, waking up from her unlucky paralysis, "let her go; only let her go, an' I'll—I'll do anythin' you want me to. I'll steal, an' pick an' fetch, and do anything Gran."
The old woman leered at her, and passed her hand to the beads on Phronsie's neck; and in doing so she let the little arm slip, that she might use both hands to undo the clasp the better. One second of time—but Rag, knowing quite well what could be done in it, seized Phronsie, rushed outside, slammed the door, and was down over the rickety stairs in a twinkling, through the dirty courtyard and alley—which luckily had few spectators, and those thought she was carrying a neighbor's child—around a corner, darting here and there, till presently she set Phronsie down, and drew a long breath,
"Oh, my eye!" she panted, "but wasn't that a close shave, though!"
"There now, here you are!" There was a little click in the girl's throat. Phronsie looked up.
"Yes, and your child, too." Clorinda and all her pink loveliness was thrust into her own little mother's arms, and the sharp, black eyes peered down upon the two. "I've brung you home, and you're on your own grassplot, same's you were." Still she stood in her tracks.
"I'm sorry I brung you to my house; but you've had a five-o'clock tea, and now you're home, an' got your child." Still she did not stir.
"Well, I've got to go. Say, don't you call no one, nor tell no one, till I've had time to shake my feet down street." She thrust out one flapping shoe, then the other, gave a scornful laugh, and brushed her hand across the sharp eyes. "Promise now, black and blue, 'I promise true, hope to die if I do'. Hurry up! Do you promise?" she cried sharply.
"Yes," said Phronsie, hugging Clorinda tightly.
"All right. Now for Gran!" She shut her teeth tightly and was off and through the big gateway.
"I've got my child," said Phronsie, putting up a sleepy hand to pat Clorinda's head, but it fell to her side, while her yellow hair slipped closer over her flushed cheek. She tried to say, "Clorinda, we've got home, and my foots are tired," swayed, held her child tighter to her bosom, and over she went in a heap, fast asleep before her head touched the soft grass.
Polly Pepper, hurrying home from Alexia's, ran in by the gateway, and down by a short cut over the grass, her feet keeping time to a merry air that had possessed her all the afternoon. "How fine," she cried to herself, "our garden party will be!—and we've gotten on splendidly with our fancy things this afternoon. It will be too perfectly elegant for—" the flying feet came to a standstill that nearly threw her over the sleeping figure, the doll tightly pressed to the dirty little pinafore and the flushed cheeks.
"Oh, my goodness me!" cried Polly, down on her knees. "Why, Phronsie, just look at your pinafore!" But Phronsie had no idea of looking at anything, and still slept on.
"Dear me!" exclaimed Polly, in consternation, "whatever in the world has she been doing! Well, I must get her up to the house."
"Hullo!" It was Jasper's voice. Polly flew up to her feet and hulloed back. He took a short cut, with a good many flying leaps, across the grass. "Oh, Polly, I've been looking for you!"
"Just see there." cried Polly, pointing tragically to the little heap.
"Well, dear me!" said Jasper. "Why, Polly"—as his eyes fell on the soiled pinafore and the little face where the tears had made muddy streaks.
"I know it," said Polly. "Did you ever in all this world, Jasper! What do you suppose she has been doing?"
"Oh, making mud pies, perhaps," said Jasper, unwilling to worry Polly; "don't look so, Polly. Here, we'll carry her to the house."
"Lady-chair," said Polly, the worry dropping out of her eyes at the fun of carrying Phronsie in. But Phronsie was beyond the charms of "lady-chair" or "pick-a-back," her yellow head bobbing so dismally when they lifted her up, that Jasper at last picked her up in his arms, and marched off with her.
"You bring the doll, Polly."
So Polly ran along by his side with Clorinda dangling by one arm.
Mother Fisher said never a word when she received her baby, but wisely soothed and washed and tucked her away in bed; and little Doctor Fisher, as soon as he got home, viewed her critically through his big spectacles, and said, "The child is all right. Let her sleep." Which she did, until every one of the household, creeping in and out, declared she could not possibly sleep any longer, and that they must wake her up. This last was from Polly.
"What do you suppose it is, Mamsie?" she asked, for about the fiftieth time, hanging over Phronsie's little bed.
"Nothing," said Mrs. Fisher, with firm lips. Polly must not be worried by unnecessary alarm, and really there seemed to be nothing amiss with Phronsie, who was sleeping peacefully, with calm little face and even breath. "It's the best thing for her to sleep till she's rested."
"But what could have tired her so?" said Polly, with a puzzled face.
"That's just what we can't find out now," said her mother, diving into her basket for another of Van's stockings. "Oh, here is the mate. When she wakes up, she'll tell us."
"Well, Joanna is going, isn't she, Mamsie?" asked Polly, deserting the little bed to fling herself down on the floor at Mrs. Fisher's feet, to watch the busy fingers.
"Yes, she is," said Mother Fisher decidedly.
"I'm so very glad of that," said Polly, with a sigh of relief, "because you know, Mamsie, she might go off again and leave Phronsie when she ought to be watching her."
"Say no more about it, Polly," said her mother, setting even, firm stitches, "for Mr. King is very angry with Joanna; and you needn't be afraid that Phronsie will ever be left again, until we do get just the right person to be with her. Now you better go out and forget it all, and busy yourself about something."
"I've got to practice," said Polly with a yawn, and stretching her arms. "I haven't done a bit this whole afternoon, and Monsieur comes tomorrow."
"Best fly at it, then," said Mrs. Fisher, smiling at her. So Polly, with a parting glance at the figure on the little bed, went downstairs and into the big drawing-room, wishing that Phronsie was there, as usual, where she dearly loved to stay, tucked up in a big damask-covered chair, one of her dolls in her arms, waiting patiently till the practice hour should be over.
But when Phronsie at last turned over, and said without a bit of warning, "I want something to eat, I do." with an extremely injured expression, Mother Fisher was so thankful that she had no time to question her, if, indeed, she had considered it wise to do so. And Sarah was called, and laughed with delight at the summons, and ran off to get the tray ready, Phronsie watching her with hungry eyes in which the dew of sleep still lingered. But old Mr. King was not so patient.
When he saw, as he soon did, his visits to the side of the little bed being as frequent as Polly's own, that Phronsie was really awake and sitting up, he could keep still no longer, but putting his arms around her, fumed out:
"Oh, that careless Joanna! Poor lamb! There, there! Grandpapa will take care of his little girl himself, after this."
"I'm hungry," announced Phronsie, looking up into his face. "Indeed I am, Grandpapa dear, very hungry."
"Oh, to think of it! Yes, Pet"—soothing her. "Where is that Sarah? Can't some one get this poor child a bit to eat?" he cried irascibly.
"Sarah will hurry just as fast as she can," said Mrs. Fisher, coming up with a dainty white gown over her arm. "Phronsie must be a good girl and wait patiently."
Phronsie wriggled her toes under the bedclothes.
"I wish you'd take me, Grandpapa dear," she said, holding up her arms.
"So I will—so I will, Pet!" cried old Mr. King, very much delighted; and lifting her up to rest her head on his shoulder, he walked up and down the room. "There, there, dear! Oh, why doesn't that Sarah hurry!"—when in walked that individual with a big tray, and on it everything that a hungry child could be supposed to desire. But Phronsie had no eyes for anything but the glass of milk.
"Oh, Grandpapa," she piped out at sight of it, "Sarah's got me some milk," and she gave a happy little crow.
"So she has," he laughed as gayly, "Well, now, we'll sit right down here and have some of these good things," and, Mrs. Fisher drawing up a big easy chair in front of the table where Sarah deposited the tray, he sat down, with Phronsie on his knee. "Now, child——"
"Oh, Grandpapa, may I have the milk?" she begged, holding out a trembling hand.
"Bless you, yes, child." He put the glass into her hand. "Take care, Phronsie, don't drink so fast."
"Honey will choke herself," cried Sarah, in alarm, holding up warning black fingers. "Oh, my! she's done drunk it mos' all up a'ready."
"There, there, Phronsie!" Grandpapa took hold of the glass.
"Phronsie," said Mother Fisher, and it was her hand that took the glass away from the eager lips. "You must eat a roll now, or a little bit of toast."
"But I want some more milk," said Phronsie, and her lips quivered.
"Not yet, Phronsie." Mother Fisher was cutting up the toast, and now held up a morsel on the spoon. "See how very nice it is."
"We'll play it is five-o'clock tea," said old Mr. King, at his wit's end to bring the smiles into her face. Phronsie turned and gave him one look, then buried her face in his waistcoat and cried as hard as she could.
"There, there!" The old gentleman got up to his feet and began to pace the floor again, his white hair bent over her face, his hand patting her back gently. "Don't cry, poor little lamb." And as a sudden thought struck him, "Just look at your mother, Phronsie; you are making her sick."
Up popped Phronsie's yellow head, the tears trailing off from the round cheeks till they fell on the floor. There stood Mother Fisher, quite still.
"I'm sorry, Mamsie," said Phronsie, and she put out a little hand, "I'll eat the toast." So down old Mr. King sat again, with her on his lap, and Mother Fisher cut up more toast, and Phronsie opened her mouth obediently, and after the first mouthful she smiled: "I like it, I do." And Mother Fisher smiled too, and said, "I knew you would, Phronsie." And Grandpapa laughed, he was so happy, and Sarah kept crying, "Bress de Lawd! yer maw knew best." And pretty soon Mrs. Fisher nodded to old Mr. King, and he said, "Now for the rest of the milk, Phronsie," and the glass was put into her happy hand.
And then more toast, and more laughing, for Grandpapa by that time told a funny story, and everything got so very merry that the gayety brought all the rest of the houseful of children up to see if Phronsie were really awake.
"Why didn't you tell us before?" cried Joel, in a dudgeon, revolving around the table. "She's been eating ever so long, and we thought she was asleep."
"That's the reason she's had a little peace," retorted the old gentleman.
"Catch them telling you, Joe!" said Percy Whitney, glad to pitch in with a word.
"Well, you didn't know it, either," said Joel, in great satisfaction. "Say, Phronsie, where were you all this morning?"
"Ugh!" cried Van, with a warning dig in his ribs.
"Let me alone," cried Joel, squaring around on him savagely.
"Look at Phronsie's face," said Percy, with a superior manner, as if no one needed to tell him when to speak.
Polly was on her knees cuddling up Phronsie's toes, and begging to feed her, when she felt her give a shiver, and try to hide her face on her neck.
"Don't, Joey," begged Polly. But Joel, not hearing her, and hating to be dictated to by Percy, cried out persistently:
"Say, Phron, what were you doing all the morning?"
Phronsie at this gave a loud sob. "Take me, Polly," was all she said. So Polly sat down on the floor, and Phronsie snuggled up closer into her neck, and was rocked back and forth to her heart's content, while Joel, perfectly aghast at the mischief he had done, was taken in tow by Mother Fisher, to sob out, his head in her lap, that he "didn't mean to, he didn't mean to."
"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed old Mr. King, in dismay, "this is a pretty state of things! Polly, my child"—he leaned over her—"can't you think up something to get us out of it?"
"I'm going to talk about the garden party," cried Polly, an inspiration seizing her. "Oh, Phronsie, now you must sit up; you can't think what plans we have for it." But Phronsie burrowed deeper in her nest.
"If you don't sit up, Phronsie," said Polly quite decidedly, "I shall have to put you off from my lap, and go out of the room."
"Oh, no, no, Polly!" cried Phronsie, clutching her around the neck.
"Yes, I shall, Phronsie," declared Polly, in her most decided fashion, "so you must sit right up, and hear all about it. Now, Jasper, you begin."
So Phronsie sat up and let Polly wipe her face; and then she folded her hands in her lap, while Jasper began:
"You see that we thought that we'd take the Wistaria arbor, Father, if you'd let us, for our post office. May we?"
"Yes, yes, certainly," said the old gentleman, who would have been quite willing to promise anything just then.
"Oh, that's no end jolly!" cried Jasper, throwing back his dark hair from his forehead with a quick thrust. "Now we can do splendidly. Polly, only think!" His eyes shone, and Polly screamed out, "Oh, Grandpapa, how lovely!" and the others joined in, not quite knowing what they were so happy about, until Joel popped up his head from his mother's lap to hear what all the noise was about over there.
"I'm going to be postmaster," he announced, wiping the tears off with the back of his hand, and plunging across the room.
"No, sir-ee!" declared Ben, seizing his jacket-end, "don't think it, Joe. Jasper is going to fill that important office."
"Yes, Jasper is," shouted Percy and Van together, delighted at anything that could keep Joel out. Davie stood perfectly still in the midst of the uproar.
"Why couldn't Joey be a letter carrier, to help give out the letters?" he said at last, in the midst of the noise. "Couldn't he, Ben?" and he ran to twitch that individual's sleeve.
"Couldn't he be the one to give out some of the letters, and help Jasper?" asked David anxiously.
"I don't know—yes, maybe"—as he saw David's face fall. "You best ask Jasper, he's to be the postmaster."
So David ran over and precipitated himself into the middle of the group, with his question; when immediately the rest began to clamor to help Jasper give out the letters, so the babel was worse than at first.
Phronsie by this time was begging with the others, while she sat straight in Polly's lap, with very red cheeks and wide eyes. Now she slipped out, and rushed up to Jasper.
"And I, too, Japser; I want to give out letters, too," she cried, dreadfully excited.
"So you shall, Pet," he cried, seizing her to toss her up in the air, the others all circling around them, Phronsie's happy little crows going up high above the general din.
"Well, I think if we are going to have such a fine post office, we'll have to work pretty hard to write the letters," said Polly, after they had sobered down a bit.
"Ugh!" cried Joel with a grimace, "I'm not going to write a single scrap of one."
"Indeed you are," retorted Polly; "everybody has absolutely got to write some letters. Why, we must have a bushel of them."
"Oh, Polly Pepper!" cried the others, "a bushel of letters!"
"And no one can have a letter who doesn't write some," announced Polly firmly—"the very idea! So we must all work like everything to get ready for the post office."
Phronsie sat on the stairs, halfway down the long flight. It was the same staircase on which Jasper had found her, with Polly waiting patiently on the lower step, when she first came to Grandpapa King's. Now she held Clorinda in her arms, tightly pressed to her bosom.
"I do wish," she said softly, "that I could see my poor little girl, I do."
Clorinda not replying, Phronsie smoothed down the pink gown.
"It wasn't very nice at that little girl's house"—and a troubled expression swept over her face—"but the little girl was nice, and she hadn't any child."
Clorinda's countenance expressed no sorrow, but stared up at her mother unblinkingly. Phronsie bent over and dropped a kiss on the red lips.
"Maybe she'll come again some day, if I watch by the big gate."
"My goodness me!" Polly, running along the upper hall, peered over the railing. "What are you doing, Phronsie, sitting down in the middle of the stairs?"
"I'm thinking," said Phronsie, looking up.
"Well, I should say!" cried Polly, running down to sit beside her. "Oh, Pet, I've an invite for you." She seized Phronsie's hand and cuddled it in both of her own. "It's perfectly splendid."
"What's an 'invite'?" asked Phronsie, coming slowly out of her thoughts, to peer into Polly's face.
"Oh, I forgot, Mamsie didn't want me to say that," said Polly, with a little blush. "Well, it's an invitation, Pet, and to Miss Mary Taylor's, to go with us girls this afternoon to work on our fancy things for the fair. Only think of that, Phronsie Pepper!" And Polly threw her arms around the small figure, and hugged her, to the imminent danger of both falling down the rest of the flight.
"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Polly, "we almost went over."
"Can I really go, Polly?" cried Phronsie, as soon as she could get her breath, "when you all take your bags and work on things?" She set Clorinda carefully down on the stair above, and stood up to look into Polly's face.
"Yes, child. Take care, you'll tumble over backward," warned Polly, with a restraining hand. "And oh, Phronsie! I'm going to make you a little silk bag, and you can take your pin-cushion to work on."
This was such a height of bliss that it quite overcame Phronsie, and she sat down on her stair again to think it over. To have a little silk bag to hang on her arm to carry her work in, just as Polly and the other girls did when they went to each other's houses with their fancy work, was more than she ever imagined was coming to her till she got as big as they were. And to put her "cushion-pin" in it, and go to Miss Mary Taylor's with them all, sent her into such a dream of delight that she sat quite still, her hands in her lap.
"Don't you like it, Pet?" cried Polly, disappointed at her silence.
Phronsie drew a long breath, then stood up and began to hop up and down on her stair.
"Oh, Polly," she cried, clapping her hands, "I'm going to have a little silk bag, I truly am, Polly, all my own—oh!"
"My goodness me, Phronsie!" cried Polly, seizing her arms, "you'll roll down and break your neck, most likely."
"And I'll take my cushion-pin"—Phronsie leaned over and put her face close to Polly's cheek—"and I'll sew on it for the poor children, I will," and she began to hop up and down again.
"Take care, and stop dancing," laughed Polly.
"And it shall be a pink bag," said Phronsie, dreadfully excited; "make it a pink bag, do, Polly."
"Oh, I don't know that I can do that," said Polly slowly, "because you know I took my piece of pink ribbon Auntie gave me, for that sachet case I'm making for the fair. But never mind, child"—as she saw a sorry little droop to Phronsie's mouth—"I'll find another somewhere, and it will be nice, even if it isn't pink."
"It will be nice," echoed Phronsie confidently, as long as Polly said so, and she clasped her hands.
"And come on, Pet, we'll go and find the ribbon and make the bag now, so as to be all ready." Polly flew up from her stair. "Pick up your doll, and give me your hand. Here we are!"—as they ran up to the top.
"I very much wish you wouldn't call her my doll," panted Phronsie, as they reached the last step; "she's my child, Polly."
"I know; I won't forget," laughed Polly. "Now, says I, Phronsie, for my piece-box!"
The invitation of Miss Mary Taylor to all the girls who were getting up the fair for the poor children's week, plunged them into such a state of excitement that those who had been lagging over their fancy work now spirited up on it, or ran down-street to get more materials and begin anew. One of these was Clem Forsythe.
"Oh, dear me!" cried Polly, looking up from the floor of her room, where Phronsie and she had thrown themselves, the piece-box of ribbons between them, "here comes Clem up the drive; now I 'most know she wants me to help her on that sofa-pillow," and she twitched a square of yellow silk into a tighter tangle. "How in the world did that spool get in here?" she exclaimed, in vexation.
"I'll get it out, let me," begged Phronsie, dropping a fascinating bunch of gay ribbons she was sorting in the hope of finding a pink one.
"Oh, you can't, child," cried Polly, her impatient fingers making sad work of the snarl. "There, I'll break the old thing, there's no other way"—as Clem ran over the stairs and into the room.
"Oh, I'm so glad to find you!" panted Clem. "Dear me! what are you doing?" And not waiting for an answer, she plunged on: "I stopped at Alexia's—thought you might be there. And she's just as mad as can be because I was coming over here for you. You see, her aunt has something for her to do this morning. I'm tickled to death that for once I got ahead of her. Whew! I'm so hot! I ran every step of the way." She threw herself down on the floor beside the two. "My, what a sight of ribbons, Polly Pepper!"
"I'm going to have a silk bag, Clem," confided Phronsie, dropping the little bunch of ribbons in her lap, to lean over to look into the tall girl's face, "and I'm going to take my cushion-pin in it."
"Are you, really?" said Clem. "Oh, Polly, you see, I want you to——"
"Yes, I am." Phronsie nodded her yellow head. "Polly is going to make it right now, she is."
"Is she? Oh, dear!" Clem gave a groan. "Oh, Polly, I did want you to——"
"You see, I promised her this," Polly was guilty of interrupting. "She's been invited to Miss Mary's this afternoon with us girls, and she wants a silk bag to carry her work in, too, the same as we big girls have, don't you, Pet?" Polly stopped long enough in the final tussle with the snarl to set a kiss on Phronsie's round cheek.
"Yes, I do, Polly," laughed Phronsie, with a wriggle of delight, "and I'm going to carry my cushion-pin in it, I am."
"So you see I can't help you on your sofa-pillow, Clem," said Polly hurriedly, feeling dreadfully ashamed to have to say no.
"Oh, I don't want any help on it," said Clem; "I finished that old thing, Polly."
"Finished your sofa-pillow, Clem!" Polly dropped her snarl in her lap. "Why, how could you?—and you hadn't the dog worked, except one leg, and none of the filling in."
"Oh, I don't mean I finished it in that way," said Clem carelessly. "I mean I'm done with it forever. I just hate that old dog, Polly, and so I gave the whole thing to our second girl, and she's going to work it for Christmas and send it to her mother."
"Dear me!" exclaimed Polly, "and now you won't give anything to the fair," and her mouth drooped sorrowfully.
"Oh, yes, I will, too," declared Clem cheerfully; "I'll give something ten times better than that old dog sitting up on a cushion. And nobody would have bought it when it was done, except my mother—I'd made her—so what's the use of finishing it? Anyway, I've given it to Bridget; and now I'm going to make the most elegant thing—you can't guess, Polly Pepper."
"What is it?" cried Polly, with sparkling eyes.
"Oh, that's telling," said Clem, in a tantalizing way. "You must guess."
"Polly," said Phronsie, with a gentle little twitch on her arm, "can you find any pink ribbon?"
"Yes, yes; I mean no, not yet," said Polly, in a preoccupied way, her eyes on Clem's face. "Oh, I can't guess; it might be anything, you know, Clem."
"But it isn't; I mean it's something," declared Clem, in great triumph. "Oh, do hurry, you're so slow, Polly; it's too elegant for anything!"
Polly leaned her face in her hands, and her elbows on her knees. "Mm, mm—oh, I know!" She brought up suddenly, nearly overthrowing Phronsie, who had bent anxiously over her. "Take care, Pet, I came near bumping your nose. It's a workbag."
"A workbag!" exclaimed Clem, in great scorn. "Well, I guess not, Polly Pepper. What I'm going to make is ever so much better than an old workbag. Guess again."
At the mention of the workbag, Phronsie had gently pulled Polly's arm. But Polly was too deep in thought to notice, and she wrinkled her brows, and bent her head again in her hands. What could it possibly be that Clem was to make?
"Well, I think it is a sachet bag, then," she said at last.
"An old sachet bag, when all the girls are making oceans of 'em! I should think you'd be perfectly ashamed, Polly Pepper, to sit there and guess such things. I'm going to make a most beautiful, embroidered handkerchief case, with little violets all——"
"Why, you can't, Clem Forsythe!" Polly flew to her feet, sending the ribbon box flying, and nearly oversetting Phronsie. "You ought not to do any such thing," she ran on passionately, a little red spot coming on either cheek, "when you know it'll be just like mine. It would be too mean for anything."
"It won't be just like it," said Clem, twisting uncomfortably, and not looking up into Polly's face, "for mine is to be a wreath, and yours is a bunch."
"But it'll be the same thing," cried Polly, too angry to think what she was saying, "and you're perfectly mean and hateful to copy mine."
"Polly," cried Phronsie, in a distressed little voice. She had gotten up to her feet, and now hurried over to hold Polly's gown. "Oh, don't, Polly, don't!"
"Go away," commanded Polly, angrily twitching her gown free; "you don't know what you are doing, Phronsie, to stop me. She's gone and chosen the very thing I thought of all by myself."
"I guess there are other violet handkerchief cases in the shops," said Clem coldly. She was getting over her uncomfortable fit, and now she sprang to her feet. "And I think you are mean and stingy, too, Polly Pepper"—she tossed her head high in the air—"to expect to keep all the best things to yourself, and we're all working ourselves most to death over this old fair. And I did come to ask you to go down-town with me to buy my materials. Mother's given me five dollars to spend just as I like—but I shan't ask you now, so there!" She gave her head another toss, and walked off toward the door.
Phronsie deserted Polly and ran on unsteady little feet after her.
"Polly isn't mean and stingy," she quavered; "she couldn't be."
Clem looked down at her, and little uncomfortable thrills ran all over her.
"Well, anyway, she's mad at me," she said, with great decision.
"Oh, no, Polly isn't mad," declared Phronsie. She clasped her hands, and swallowed very hard to keep the tears back, but two big drops escaped and rolled down her cheeks. When Clem saw those, she turned away.
"Well, anyway, I'm going down-street by myself," she said, without a backward glance at Polly, and off she went.
"And if she thinks I'm going with her, or care what she does, after this," cried Polly, magnificently, with her head in the air, "she'll make a mistake."
"Polly, Polly!" The tears were rolling fast now, and Phronsie could scarcely see to stumble back across the room to her side.
"And you don't know anything about it, child. To think of making a violet handkerchief case, and mine is almost done, and none of the girls would copy mine! And Jasper drew the flowers on purpose." She was going on so fast now that she couldn't stop herself.
"Mamsie wouldn't like it," wailed Phronsie, clear gone in distress now, and hiding her face in Polly's gown.
"Mamsie would say—" began Polly decidedly. Then she stopped suddenly. "Oh, what have I said!" she cried. "Oh, what can I do!" She clasped her hands tightly together. She was now in as much distress as Phronsie, and, seeing this, Phronsie came out of her tears at once.
"You might run after her," she said. "Oh, Polly, do."
"She won't speak to me," said Polly, with a little shiver, and covering her eyes. "Oh, dear, dear, how could I!"
"Yes, she will, I do believe," said Phronsie, putting down a terrible feeling at her throat. Not speak to Polly?—such a thing could never be! "Do run after her, Polly," she begged.
Polly took down her hands and went off with wavering steps to the door.
"I'll get your hat," cried Phronsie, running to the closet.
But Polly, once having decided to make the attempt at a reconciliation, was off, her brown braids flying back of her in the wind.
MISS TAYLOR'S WORKING BEE
Looking both sides of the road, not daring to think what she would say if she really did see Clem, Polly sped on. But not a glimpse of the tall girl's figure met her eyes, and at last she turned in at a gateway and ran up the little path to the door. Mrs. Forsythe saw her through the window that opened on the piazza.
"Why, Polly Pepper," she cried, "what a pity that Clem didn't find you! She went over to your house."
"Oh, I know, I know," panted Polly, with scarlet cheeks.
"Don't try to talk," said Mrs. Forsythe, "you are all out of breath. Come in, Polly."
"Oh, I can't. I mean I would like to see Clem," mumbled Polly, with an awful dread, now that she was on the point of finding her, of what she should say. It was all she could do to keep from running down the piazza steps and fleeing home as fast as she had come.
"Why, Clem isn't at home," said Mrs. Forsythe, in a puzzled way; "you know I told you she had gone over to your house. She wanted you to go down-town with her, to buy some materials to take over to Miss Mary's this afternoon and begin something new for the fair."
"Oh!" said Polly, in a faint voice, and hanging to the piazza railing.
"You see, she was all tired out over that sofa-pillow. I told her it was quite too ambitious a piece to do, and she was so discouraged I gave her some more money, and advised her to get something fresh. She had almost made up her mind to give up working for the fair altogether."
"Oh, dear me!" gasped Polly, quite overcome.
"Yes." Mrs. Forsythe leaned comfortably against the door-casing. It was such a comfort to tell her worries to Polly Pepper. "Clem said all the other girls were making such pretty things, and it was no use for her to try. She can't get up new ideas quickly, you know, and she was ashamed not to take in something nice, and so she said she didn't mean to do anything. I couldn't bear to have her give it up, for she ought to keep with you girls." Mrs. Forsythe's face fell into anxious lines. "She gets unhappy by herself, with no young people in the house and only my mother and me to brighten her up. So I talked with her a long while this morning, and at last got her to be willing to try again. Well, it's all right now, for she's started to find you, and go down-town to buy the things," and Mrs Forsythe smiled happily.
Polly sank to the piazza steps and buried her face in her hands.
"Why, my dear, are you ill?" Clem's mother deserted the door-casing and came quickly out. "Let me get you something."
"Oh, no, no!" Polly sprang to her feet and hurried down the steps. "I must go home," she said hoarsely; and not pausing to think, only to get to Mamsie, she sped away on the wings of the wind, not stopping until she had turned in at the little green wicket-gate where she wouldn't be likely to meet any one.
"Oh, dear, dear!"—and she hurried across the grass—"supposing Mamsie isn't at home! She was going out for Auntie. What shall I do?"
In her despair she raced over the greensward and plunged into the Wistaria arbor—to stand face to face with Clem!
Polly was too far gone in distress to say anything. Clem jerked up her head from the table, and raised a defiant pair of cheeks, wet and miserable. "Oh, dear, dear!" was all Polly could get out. But she stumbled in and put her arms around her neck, and down went the two heads together.
"I'm awfully sorry," blubbered Clem. "Oh, dear! I forgot my handkerchief."
"Take mine." Polly put a wet little wad into her hand. "Oh, Clem, if you don't let me go down-town with you and buy that handkerchief case!"
"Let you!" cried Clem. "You won't want to go with me, Polly. But I'm not going to work a handkerchief case."
"Oh, yes, you are," declared Polly positively. "If you don't, Clem Forsythe!"
"It was mean in me to choose it," said Clem, beginning to sniffle again, now that she had a handkerchief.
"Oh, no, no!" said Polly in alarm. "Now I know you won't forgive me when you say such things. For it was all my fault; I was stingy mean to want to keep it to myself."
"You aren't ever mean, Polly Pepper!" Clem hugged her so tightly by the neck that the neat little ruffle Mamsie sewed in that very morning was quite crushed. When she saw that, Clem was in worse distress than ever.
"See here! Why, Clem Forsythe!" Polly Pepper flew up to her feet so suddenly, that Clem started in amazement, and stared at her as well as she could with her eyes full of tears.
"Why, can't you see? Haven't we been two goosies—geese, I mean—not to think of it before!"
"What?" asked Clem helplessly.
"Why, you might make a violet glove case," said Polly, in a burst. Then she began to dance around the arbor. "Oh, Clem, how perfectly lovely!"
"I don't see," began Clem dismally, "and I don't know how to make a glove case."
"Why, make it just like my handkerchief case, only long," flung Polly over her shoulder, as she danced away.
"But I don't want to copy yours," protested Clem, "for it really would be mean."
"But this would make a set, yours and mine," said Polly breathlessly, and coming up to shake the downcast shoulders, "don't you see? Oh, you goosie! and I've been another, not to think of it before. And oh, such a set! Why, it would sell for a lot of money. And I'll ask Jasper to draw you the same kind of bunch of violets on your glove case, and we'll go right down-town, now. I can make Phronsie's bag when I get home. Come on!"
When Clem once had the idea in her mind, she got off from the bench, and Phronsie, watching anxiously from Polly's window for her return, saw the two girls hurrying across the lawn, their arms around each other and talking busily. And it wasn't but a moment or two, and she was flying over the grass to meet them. Polly had explained that the little ribbon bag was to be made just as soon as the materials for the new glove case were bought. Polly had run up for her hat, and to get her little purse, for she just remembered that her green silk for the violet stems was nearly out, and Phronsie had said good-bye and gone back to the house on happy feet, to tell Clorinda and watch at the window till Polly should come again.
And just after luncheon, for they must start early in order to have a good long afternoon at Miss Mary's, Polly and Phronsie set forth, the new little bag hanging from Phronsie's arm. Jasper went with them as far as the corner, where he turned off to go to Jack Rutherford's, for the boys were to meet there to write letters for the post office. They had promised to be there bright and early.
"Oh, Jasper, it was so good of you to draw that dear bunch of violets for Clem," said Polly for about the fiftieth time; "it was too sweet for anything."
"Too sweet for anything," hummed Phronsie, all her eyes on her bag, dangling as she walked.
"Take care, you came near falling on your nose, Phronsie." Jasper put out a warning hand.
"I think it's so nice there's a pink stripe in it, Polly," said Phronsie, patting her bag affectionately.
"Yes, isn't it, Pet!" cried Polly, glad she hadn't snipped up that very ribbon for little sachet bags. "And the green stripe, too, is pretty, Phronsie."
"It's pretty," cooed Phronsie, "and my cushion-pin is inside, Japser," she announced.
"Is it really?" said Jasper.
"Yes, it is really and truly, Japser, and I'm going to work on it," she added, with a very important air.
"You don't say so, Pet!" he cried. "Why, you are going to a working bee just the same as the big girls, aren't you?"
"I'm very big," said Phronsie, stepping so high she nearly fell into a mud-puddle. Whereat Jasper picked her up, bag and all, and marched off, laughing, not to set her down till they reached the corner.
"Well, good-bye. Take care now, Phronsie," and he gave her a kiss. "Good-bye, Polly, and good luck to your bee."
"And I do hope you'll have splendid success with the letters, Jasper," Polly craned her neck around the corner to say, the last thing. Then she took Phronsie's hand and hurried along to meet a throng of girls, all bound for Miss Mary's.
There on the big stone steps was Mr. Hamilton Dyce.
"I heard there was to be a bee here this afternoon," he said, looking down at them all with a smile, "so I thought I'd come."
"I'm coming," announced Phronsie, breaking away from Polly and holding up her bag; and she began to mount the steps.
"So I perceive," said Mr. Dyce, running down to meet her. "Well, Phronsie, I must tell you I came partly to see you."
"And I've got a cushion-pin inside," said Phronsie confidingly, as she toiled up.
"Have you, though?" cried Mr. Dyce. "Take care, don't go so fast. Let some of these girls race ahead of us; we'll take our time. How d'ye, Polly, and Alexia, and all the rest of you?"
"But I must hurry," said Phronsie, with a very pink face, as the bevy rushed by, "for I'm going to work on my cushion-pin."
"So you must. Well, then, here goes!" Mr. Dyce swung her up to his shoulder and went, two steps at a time, in through the crowd of girls, so that he arrived there first when the door was opened. There in the hall stood Miss Mary Taylor, as pretty as a pink.
"I heard there was to be a bee here this afternoon, and I've brought Phronsie; that's my welcome," he announced.
"See, I've got a bag," announced Phronsie from her perch, and holding it forth.
So the bag was admired, and the girls trooped in, going up into Miss Mary's pretty room to take off their things. And presently the big library, with the music-room adjoining, was filled with the gay young people, and the bustle and chatter began at once.
"I should think you'd be driven wild by them all wanting you at the same minute." Mr. Dyce, having that desire at this identical time, naturally felt a bit impatient, as Miss Mary went about inspecting the work, helping to pick out a stitch here and to set a new one there, admiring everyone's special bit of prettiness, and tossing a smile and a gay word in every chance moment between.
"Oh, no," said Miss Mary, with a little laugh, "they're most of them my Sunday-school scholars, you know."
"That's all the more reason that you ought not to be bothered with them week days," observed Mr. Dyce. "Now why can't you sit down here and amuse me?" He pushed up an easy-chair into a cosy-corner, then drew up an ottoman, on which he sat down.
"Oh, look at that Mr. Dyce," said Clem, quite in a flow of spirits, as she threaded her needle with a strand of violet silk; "he's going to keep Miss Mary off there all to himself. What did make him come this afternoon?"
"Well, he isn't going to have Miss Mary!" cried Alexia Rhys, twitching her pink worsted with an impatient hand. "Horrors! Now I've gone and gotten that into a precious snarl. The very idea! She's our Sunday-school teacher. Oh, Miss Mary!" she called suddenly.
Miss Taylor, just sitting down in the easy-chair, turned. "What is it, Alexia?"—while Mr. Dyce frowned. At which Alexia laughed over at him.
"Please show me about my work," she begged.
"You little tyrant!" called Mr. Dyce, as Miss Mary went over.
"Do I slip one stitch and then knit two?" asked Alexia innocently. Polly, next to her on a cricket, opened wide eyes.
"Yes," said Miss Mary, "just the same as you have been knitting all along, Alexia."
"Well, I couldn't think of anything else to ask," said Alexia coolly. Then she laid hold of Miss Mary's pretty, gray gown.
"Oh, don't go back to him," she implored. "Do stay with us girls, we're all your Sunday-school class—that is, most of us. Please stay with us, Miss Mary."
Miss Mary cast an imploring glance over at the gentleman, which he seemed to see, although apparently he wasn't looking.
"Phronsie, you and I will have to move over, I think"; for by this time he had her in his lap; and so he bundled her across the room unceremoniously.
"Oh, I've lost my needle!" cried Phronsie, peering out from his arms in great distress.
"Dear me!" exclaimed Mr. Dyce; so he set her down and dropped to all-fours to peer about for the shining little implement, Phronsie getting down on her knees to assist the search.
Alexia, seeing the trouble, deserted her knitting, and flew out of her chair to help look for it.
"You little tyrant!" exclaimed Mr. Dyce, as she added herself to the group, "to call Miss Mary over there! I should think it was quite bad enough to have you Sundays, Alexia."
"Miss Mary thinks a great deal of me," said Alexia composedly. "Dear me, what a plaguey little thing that needle is! Never mind, Phronsie, don't feel badly. I guess—oh, here it is, and sticking straight up."
"And all this would never have happened but for your calling Miss Mary away," observed Mr. Dyce, getting up straight again. "What a little nuisance you are, Alexia!" All of which she had heard from him so many times before that it failed to disturb her, so she went back to her seat in high spirits, Phronsie hopping over like a small rabbit to a little cricket at Polly's feet. At this there was a bustle among the girls.
"Sit next to me, Miss Mary," begged Silvia Horne, sweeping a chair clear.
"No, no," cried Amy Garrett, "she's coming here!"
"I call that nice," exclaimed Alexia decidedly, "when I asked her to come across the room! I'm going to sit next to her of course."
"You'd much better have stayed with me," laughed Mr. Hamilton Dyce, "since there'll be one long fight over you. Better come back."
But Miss Mary, protesting that the girls needed her, finally settled it by getting her chair into the middle of the group, which she made into a circle.
"There, now, we're all comfy together," she announced. "Now, Mr. Dyce, you must read us something."
"Oh, tell us a story," put in Alexia, who didn't relish listening to reading.
"Oh, yes, a story, a story," they one and all took it up. Even Phronsie laid down her big needle which she was patiently dragging back and forth, with a very long piece of red worsted following its trail across the face of her "cushion-pin" in a way to suit her own design, to beg for the story.
"Oh, Phronsie!" exclaimed Polly, for the first time catching sight of this, "you can't work with such a long thread. Let me cut off some of it, do."
"Oh, no, no," protested Phronsie, edging off in alarm.
"Why, it'll get all knotted up," said Polly, in concern; "you better let me take off a little—just a little, teenty bit, Phronsie."
"No, no," declared Phronsie decidedly, "I must hurry and get my cushion-pin done."
"She thinks she'll get it done faster with a great, long thread," giggled one of the girls over in the corner. Mr. Dyce turning to fix her with a stare, she subsided, ducking behind her neighbor's back.
"Phronsie, I must buy that cushion-pin at the fair," he announced. "I want such an one very much indeed."
Phronsie got off from the little cricket where he had placed her, and went straight over to him, to lay her hand with the "cushion-pin" in it on his knee. "Then I will sell it to you," she said gravely, "and the poor children can go into the country." Then she went back to her seat and took up her work once more.
Some of the girls laughed, but Alexia frowned furiously at them; and Mr. Dyce and Miss Mary apparently seeing no amusement in it, they all began to beg for the story again, till the clamor bade fair to stop the needles from doing their work.
"I guess you'll have to," Miss Mary smiled over at him from the center of the circle, while the color deepened on her cheek.
"I want a story told to me first," he said coolly, leaning back in his chair. "What is all this bee for, and this fair? I know just a hint about that, but let me have the whole story from beginning to end. Now then, some one tell me. I am very anxious to hear."
"You tell, Polly," cried Alexia, and "Let Polly Pepper tell, can't she, Miss Mary?" begged all the girls, every one saying the same thing. So Miss Mary said yes, and Polly laid down her violet handkerchief case in her lap, although she hated to stop working, and began:
"You see, Miss Mary said one day in Sunday-school——"
"Oh, Polly, not that!" said Miss Taylor, in dismay.
"Go on, Polly, and tell every word," said Mr. Hamilton Dyce. "I'm to be told the whole story; from the very beginning, now mind. You said, 'One day in Sunday-school.' Now go on."
"Yes," said Polly, her cheeks like a rose for fear her dear Miss Mary might not like it, "Miss Mary said we ought to be doing things, not always talking about them and learning how to be good; and she said there were so many poor children who were waiting for us to help them. And——"
"Polly, you don't need to tell that. He wants to know about the fair," Miss Taylor broke in suddenly.
"Oh, dear!" said poor Polly, blushing rosier than ever and moving her cricket so that she need not see Miss Mary's face, while Mr. Dyce, protesting that he was not to be cheated out of a single word of the narration, made her go back and tell over the last thing she said. This was so much worse that Miss Mary decided she would let the story go on at all hazards, so she leaned back in her chair resignedly, while Polly went on:
"Well, and so we said, 'Yes, Miss Mary, we'd like to' and what could we do, for we didn't know how to help poor children."
"And I said I didn't want to," broke in Alexia suddenly.
"But you did, Alexia!" cried Polly, whirling around on her cricket to regard her affectionately. "Oh, Mr. Dyce, she did help"—looking over at him anxiously.
"Oh, yes, I see," nodded that gentleman, "and she's working on some fandango for the fair just as hard as you other girls."
"Oh, this horrible old shawl!" said Alexia, regarding the worsted folds dangling from her needle with anything but favor. "Well, I didn't want it, and nobody will buy it, I know, but the other girls were all going to do things, so I had to."
"Well, go on, Polly," said Mr. Dyce, with a laugh. So Polly, quite satisfied that he really understood how Alexia was helping along the work for the poor children the same as the others, hurried on with the story.
"Well, so then Miss Mary proposed that we hold a fair, and Grandpapa said we might have it on his grounds; and Auntie Whitney said why not have a garden party, and sell tickets, for perhaps some people wouldn't care to buy things and——"
"And I'm going to put my cushion-pin on the table," piped Phronsie suddenly, her checks all aglow with excitement, and dropping her needle again.
"So you shall," cried Mr. Dyce, "only you must have a little card saying 'Sold' on it; for I am surely going to buy that pincushion, Phronsie."
And then Polly flew back to her work again, and Mr. Dyce told such a very funny story about some monkeys who were going to give a party in the woods to all the other animals, that Phronsie forgot all about her needle, and ran over to clamber up into his lap.
And then, oh, the needles flew; and Clem's green stems began to grow, and a tiny bud showed itself, and then a full-blown violet. And Alexia's pink shawl took ever so many rows, and all the work seemed to flourish like magic. And at last, Miss Mary looked up at the clock.
"Time to put up work, girls," she cried gayly. And then wasn't there a great bustle, every one trying to see which would get hers into her bag first! And then, oh, such a stretching of tired arms and feet!
"Oh, dear me! the prickles are all running up and down my legs," exclaimed Alexia.
"Hush, well, so are mine," declared Clem. "Oh, dear me—ow! I haven't sat still for so long—ever, I guess."
"Nor I," laughed another girl.
"Come." Miss Mary was telling Mr. Dyce to lead the way to the dining-room. So they all fell into line, and, when there, they forgot tired legs and arms in the delights of the little feast set out.
Miss Mary sat down by the small table and poured chocolate for them, a white-capped maid at her chair, Mr. Hamilton Dyce on the other side as grand helper. Then the girls settled down in pretty groups on the broad window-seats, and on the high-backed chairs, and gave themselves up to the supreme content of the hour.
And then Miss Mary proposed that they should wind up the afternoon with a dance, which was received with a shout of delight. So she led the way to the drawing-room and sat down before the grand piano.
"Can't one of you girls play?" asked Mr. Dyce, at that.
"Oh, no, no," said Miss Mary, "the girls must dance." So, without waiting for any words, she struck into a two-step.
"Oh, I'll play, I'll play." Polly Pepper ran out from the midst of the group.
"Polly, come back, you are going to dance with me," cried Alexia.
"No, you're always getting her first. She's going to dance with me," announced Clem.
Polly was already over at the piano, trying to be heard, but Miss Mary only laughed and shook her head.
"No use, Polly," said Mr. Dyce, and he put his arm around her, and away they went down the length of the drawing-room.
"Well, at least you haven't got this first dance," said Alexia.
"Nor you, either," retorted Clem. "So come on, let's dance together," and away they went, too.
And at last, when it was time to go home, Mr. Hamilton Dyce, who had absented himself after that first dance, drove up with a flourish to the door in his runabout.
"I've come for Phronsie Pepper," he said.
So Phronsie, half asleep, had her hat tied on, and kissed Miss Mary, and Polly lifted her up and guided her foot over the step, Mr. Dyce, the reins in one hand, helping her with the other.
"Good-bye," he called, his eyes on no one but Miss Mary.
"Oh, my bag, my bag!" cried Phronsie, in a wail of distress, and leaning forward suddenly.
"Take care, child; where are you going?" Mr. Dyce put forth a restraining hand and held her closely.
"My bag!" Phronsie looked back, the tears racing over her round cheeks.
"I'll bring it home," called Polly from the steps, where she was back among the knot of girls.
"My bag!" Phronsie continued to wail.
"Dear me!" cried Polly, "she must have it now." So she ran into the house to get it, where Phronsie had left it on her little cricket, Mr. Dyce meanwhile saying, "There, there, child, you shall have it," while he turned the little mare sharply about.
"We can't ever find the needle," said Alexia, rushing after Polly into the library, and getting down on her knees to prowl over the floor. "Misery me!"—with a jump—"I've found it already, sticking straight into me!"
So Phronsie's "cushion-pin" was thrust into the gay little pink-and-green-striped workbag, and Polly danced out with it and handed it up to her. Mr. Dyce cracked the whip, and this time they were fairly off.
"SHE'S MY LITTLE GIRL"
"Oh, I do wish, Polly," cried Phronsie, as they ran along the hollyhock path, "that my poor little girl could go to the country. Can't she, Polly?" she asked anxiously.
"Oh, yes, of course," assented Polly, her mind on the garden party, now only three days ahead. "Phronsie, how perfectly elegant those roses are going to be!"—pointing off to the old-fashioned varieties blooming riotously.
"Oh, Polly!" Phronsie stood still a moment in silent bliss, then hopped up and down the narrow path. "I'm so glad she can go! Oh, Polly, I'm so very glad!"
"Who?" cried Polly, in perplexity.
"My little girl, my poor little girl," said Phronsie, hopping away.
"Oh, of course." Polly gave a little laugh. "Well, there are lots of poor little girls who will go, Phronsie," she said, in great satisfaction, "because, you know, we're going to make a great deal of money, I expect. Why, Grandpapa has told Thomas to buy ever so many flowers. Just think, child, and the oceans we have here!" She waved her hands over to take in not only the old-fashioned garden where they stood, but the smart flower-beds beyond, the pride and joy of the gardeners. "Oh, yes, there will be ever so many children who will be happy in the country in the summer."
"And my poor little girl," persisted Phronsie gleefully, "she will be happy, Polly. Oh, let's go down to the big gate—p'raps she's there now —and tell her. Please, Polly." She seized Polly's hand m great excitement.
Polly sank to her knees in delight over a little bed of daisies.
"I do think these are the very sweetest things, Phronsie Pepper," she said. "See the cunning baby ones coming out."
"Please, Polly," begged Phronsie, clinging to her hand.
"Why, Phronsie!" Polly looked up in amazement. Not to pay attention to the baby daisies was certainly astonishing, when Phronsie was always so rapt over the new flowers. "What is it you want, child?"
"Please come down to the big gate, Polly," pleaded Phronsie, her lip quivering, for Polly was not usually so hard to understand.
"Yes, I will," said Polly, reluctantly tearing herself away from the fascinating daisies. "Now then, we'll go there right away; one, two, three, and away!"
"I guess—she'll—be—there," panted Phronsie, but she was running so fast to keep up with Polly's longer steps that her words died away on the air; and Polly, who dearly loved a race over the grass, was letting her mind travel to the delights of the garden party, and what it was going to accomplish, so she didn't hear.
At last there was the big gate.
"Dear me!" cried Polly, with a gay little laugh, "what a fine race! No wonder you wanted me to try it with you! Why, Pet, have I run too fast?" She looked with remorse at the flushed little face.
"No," gasped Phronsie, "but oh, Polly, will you sit down on the grass?"
"To be sure I will," said Polly very remorsefully, "you're all tired out. There, let's come over here," and she led her over to the very tree under which Phronsie had fallen asleep. "Here's where I found you the other day, Phronsie, when you were so tired. Heigh-ho!" And Polly threw herself down on the grass, and drew Phronsie into her lap.
"P'raps she'll come," said Phronsie, and the sorrowful look began to disappear as she cuddled in Polly's arms. "Don't you believe she will, Polly?" She put her face close to Polly's to peer anxiously into her brown eyes.
"Who, child?" asked Polly.
"The poor little girl—my poor little girl," exclaimed Phronsie.
"Oh, there isn't any little girl, at least any particular one," cried Polly. "We're going to send ever so many little girls into the country, Phronsie, but not any special one."
"Oh, yes, there is," contradicted Phronsie, her lip quivering again, and, despite all her efforts, the big tears began to course down her cheeks. "She's my little girl, and I like her. Please let her go, Polly. And maybe she'll come soon, if we only wait for her." It was a long speech, and by the time it was all out, Phronsie had laid her head in Polly's neck, and was sobbing as if her heart would break.
It was for this reason that Polly did not happen to look up across the grass to the big gate, so of course she couldn't be expected to see what took place there. And it was not until Phronsie had been persuaded to sit straight and have her tears wiped away, because Mamsie wouldn't like to have her cry, that any one guessed it at all. And in one instant Polly's lap was deserted, Phronsie was flying over the greensward, crying out:
"There she is—my poor little girl!"
It took but a moment for Polly's swift feet to follow, but none too soon, for the thin little face with the sharp, black eyes was withdrawn, and the flapping old shoes were beating a hasty retreat. But Polly was after her, and her hand was on her arm, and the first thing the stranger knew she was drawn within the big gateway, Phronsie circling around her with great satisfaction.
"She did come, Polly, she did."
"Lemme be. I warn't doin' nothin' but peekin'," said the girl, trying to wriggle away from Polly's grasp. But Polly held on.
"Don't be frightened; there isn't any one going to hurt you. What's your name, little girl?"
"She's my little girl," insisted Phronsie, trying to get hold of the thin little hand, which was less grimy than usual.
"What's your name?" asked Polly again.
"Rag," said the girl, in a burst.
"Rag? Oh, dear me!" said Polly.
"Lemme go. I hain't done no harm. Gran'll be wantin' me."
"Gran." The girl, at that, tried to fold up her arms in the remains of her sleeves. But Polly saw the long, red welts that were not pleasant to look at. She gave a little shiver, but held on firmly to the tattered ends.
"Oh, make her stay," cried Phronsie; "I want her to play with me. I'll let you take Clorinda again, and she shall be your child," she stood up on tiptoe to say.
"Can't," said the girl, making a desperate effort to twitch away. "Lemme go."
"No, you cannot go until you have told me who you are, and how you know my little sister."
Rag looked into the brown eyes of the little girl not so much older, drew a long breath, then burst out, "She's visited me to my house," and, putting on the most defiant expression possible, stood quite still.
"Visited you at your house!" echoed Polly. She nearly dropped the ragged sleeve.
"Yes, an' I give her a five-o'clock tea," said Rag proudly. "Any harm in that? An' I brung her home again, and she ain't hurt a bit. You lemme go, you girl, you!"
"You must come and see Grandpapa," said Polly firmly, a little white line around her mouth.
"I ain't a-goin'." Rag showed instant fight against any such idea.
"Then, if you don't," said Polly, gripping her arm, "I shall call the gardeners, and they will bring you up to the house."
"Oh, do come," cried Phronsie, who thought everything most delightfully conspiring to make her friend remain. "Dear Grandpapa will love you, little girl; come with Polly and me."
She took hold of her other arm, and Rag, seeing no way out of it and wholly bewildered, suffered herself to be led up to the grand mansion.
"Bless me; what have we here?" Old Mr. King, enjoying a morning constitutional on the big veranda, looked over his spectacles, which he had forgotten to remove as he had just thrown down the morning paper in a chair, and stared in amazement at the three children coming over the lawn.
"My poor little girl, Grandpapa," announced Phronsie, releasing the arm she clung to, and tumbling up over the steps, "and please make her stay, and I'm going to let her take Clorinda," and she plunged breathlessly into the old gentleman's arms.
"Hoity-toity, child!" exclaimed old Mr. King, holding her closely. "Well, what have we here?"—as Polly led Rag up on to the veranda.
"I don't know, Grandpapa," said Polly, still keeping tight hold of the arm in its tattered sleeve.
"It seems to be a little girl," said Grandpapa, peering at the stranger.
"Yes, it's my little girl," said Phronsie happily, "and she's come to play with me, Grandpapa."
"Oh, my goodness me!" exclaimed Mr. King, stepping backward and drawing Phronsie closer.
"I ain't come. She brung me," said the girl, pointing with a thumb over at Polly; "tain't my fault; she made me."
"Polly, what is all this?" asked the old gentleman perplexedly, staring at one and the other.
"I don't know, Grandpapa," said Polly, the little white line still around her mouth; "she says Phronsie has been at her house, and——"
"Phronsie been at her house!" thundered the old gentleman.
"Yes, she has. An' I give her a five-o'clock tea," cried Rag, in a burst, who, thinking that she was probably now going to be killed, began to take pleasure in telling all she knew. "Swell folks does; I seen 'em plenty of times on th' avenoo, an' here, too"—she nodded toward the long French windows—"an' I got as good a right, I guess. An' she let me take her doll, an' I like her. An' we had an orful good time till Gran came in, an' then we lit out, an' I brung her home. Now what you goin' to do about it?" She folded her thin arms as well as she could, for Polly was still holding to one, and glared defiantly out of her sharp, black eyes.
"Oh, Grandpapa, her arms!" Polly was pointing to the long, red welts.
Rag turned as if shot, and twitched the ragged sleeves down, tucking the free arm behind her back. "Lemme go, you girl: you hain't no right to see 'em, it's none o' your business," she screamed at Polly. Old Mr. King had sunk into a chair. Phronsie, in his lap, was so busy in putting her face close to his, and telling him that it was really her own poor little girl, that she had failed to see the arms and the disclosures they had made.
"Go and get your mother," he said, after a breathing space. "Oh, stay! I can't hold her"—with a gesture of disgust.
"An' you ain't a-goin' to tetch me," declared Rag proudly; "no, sir-ee!"
"Well, Phronsie, you jump down and go and get your mother," Mr. King whispered, smoothing her yellow hair with a trembling hand.
"I will—I will," she cried gleefully, hopping out of his lap.
"Oh, don't send her away." All the defiance dropped out of Rag's face and manner, and she whimpered miserably. "She's th' only nice one there is here. Don't let her go."
"She's coming right back, little girl," said old Mr. King kindly. He even smiled. But the girl had hung her head, so she didn't see it, and she blubbered on.
"I'll bring Mamsie to see my poor little girl," Phronsie kept saying to herself over and over, as she scuttled off, and in a very few minutes Mother Fisher was out on the veranda in obedience to old Mr. King's summons.
"It's beyond me"—the old gentleman waved his hand at Rag—"you'll have to unravel it, Mrs. Fisher. Here, Phronsie, get up in my lap." He strained her so tightly to him, as Phronsie hopped into her accustomed nest, that she looked up.
"Oh, Grandpapa!" she exclaimed.
"Did I hurt you, child?" he said, in a broken voice.
"A little, Grandpapa dear," she said.
"Well—oh, Lord bless me! I can't talk, child," he finished brokenly.
"Are you sick, Grandpapa?" she asked, sitting straight to look at him anxiously. "Does your head ache? I'll smooth it for you," and she began to pat his white hair.
"Oh, no, child, my head doesn't ache. There, sit still, dear, that's all I want." So Phronsie cuddled up within his arms, feeling quite sure that now Mamsie had her own poor little girl, everything would be all right.
"She's my nice little girl, and I like her," Phronsie was saying. "Yes, I do, very much indeed, Grandpapa."
"Yes, and I want her to stay here, Grandpapa. Please, may she?"
"Please, Grandpapa dear." Phronsie put up one hand and tucked it softly under his chin. He seized it and covered it with kisses.
"Oh, my lamb—that wicked, careless Joanna!"
"What's the matter, Grandpapa?" Phronsie brought up her head to look at him with troubled eyes.
"Nothing—nothing, child; there, cuddle down again. Your mother is talking to the little girl, and she will fix up things. Oh, bless me!"
"Mamsie will fix up things, won't she, Grandpapa?" cooed Phronsie, wriggling her toes happily.
"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, after a moment's silence only broken by a soft murmur of voices, for Mother Fisher had drawn her group to the further corner, "I don't think my little girl has got a very nice place to live in."
"Oh, Phronsie, child!" He strained her convulsively to his breast. "There, there, lamb, Oh, I didn't mean to! Grandpapa won't hurt his little pet for the world."
"You didn't hurt me this time," said Phronsie, "as much as you did before, Grandpapa dear."
"Oh, my child! Grandpapa wouldn't hurt a hair of your blessed head. Oh, that dreadful Joanna!"
"I like my own little girl very much indeed," said Phronsie, dismissing her own hurts to go on with her narrative. "Yes, I do, Grandpapa," she added decidedly, "but I don't like the place she lived in. And, Grandpapa"—here she drew a long breath—"there was an old lady came in, and I don't think she was a nice old lady, I don't, Grandpapa." Phronsie crept up a bit closer, if that were possible.
"What did she do, child?" He held his breath for the answer.
"She took hold of my arm," said Phronsie, a shiver seizing her at the remembrance, and she burrowed deeper within the protecting arms, "and she felt of my beads that Auntie gave me."
"What else?" He scarcely seemed to ask the question.
"And my own little girl pulled me away, and she carried me home, most of the way, and I like her." Phronsie brought herself up with an emphatic little nod, and smiled.