Infomotions, Inc.Five Little Peppers Midway / Sidney, Margaret, 1844-1924



Author: Sidney, Margaret, 1844-1924
Title: Five Little Peppers Midway
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): phronsie; polly; jasper; joel; chatterton; cousin eunice; asked phronsie; polly pepper; king; exclaimed polly
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 71,220 words (short) Grade range: 6-8 (grade school) Readability score: 75 (easy)
Identifier: etext5632
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Title: Five Little Peppers Midway

Author: Margaret Sidney

Release Date: May, 2004  [EBook #5632]
[Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule]
[This file was first posted on July 26, 2002]

Edition: 10

Language: English

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*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK, FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS MIDWAY ***




Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading
Team.



FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS MIDWAY

By MARGARET SIDNEY




              To
      MY LITTLE MARGARET
 Who Is Phronsie Pepper to All
         Who Know Her
This Book Is Lovingly Inscribed




CONTENTS

 1   Phronsie's Pie
 2   Cousin Eunice Chatterton
 3   The Rehearsal
 4   Welcome Home!
 5   After the Play
 6   The Little Brown House
 7   Old Times Again
 8   Some Badgertown Calls
 9   A Sudden Blow
10   The Party Separates
11   Poor Polly!
12   New Work for Polly
13   A Piece of News
14   Mamsie's Wedding
15   Mrs. Chatterton Has a New Plan
16   Where Is Phronsie?
17   Phronsie Is Found
18   The Girls Have Polly Again
19   Phronsie Is Well Again
20   The Secret
21   The Whitneys' Little Plan
22   Joel
23   Of Many Things
24   Away




I

PHRONSIE'S PIE


"Jefferson," said Phronsie, with a grave uplifting of her eyebrows, "I
think I will go down into the kitchen and bake a pie; a very little
pie, Jefferson."

"Bless you, Miss," replied the cook, showing his white teeth in glee,
"it is the making of the kitchen when you come it."

"Yes, Jefferson," said Phronsie slowly, "I think I will go down make
one. It must be very, very full of plums, you know," looking up at him
anxiously, "for Polly dearly loves plums."

"It shall be that plummy," said Jefferson convincingly, "that you'd
think you never saw such a one for richness. Oh, my! what a pie that
shall be!" exclaimed the cook, shutting up one eye to look through the
other in a spasm of delight at an imaginary pie; "so it's for Miss Mary,
is it?"

"Yes," said Phronsie, "it is. Oh, Jefferson, I'm so glad you like to
have me make one," she clasped her hands in silent rapture, and sat down
on the lowest stair to think it over a bit, Jefferson looking at her,
forgetful that the under cook was fuming in the deserted domains over
his delay to return. At last he said, bowing respectfully, "If you
please, Miss, it's about time to begin. Such a pie ain't done without a
deal of care, and we'd best have it a-baking as soon as may be."

"Yes," said Phronsie, getting off from her stair, and surrendering her
hand to his big black palm, "we ought to go right this very minute. But
I must get my apron on;" she stopped and looked down at her red dress.

"Oh! you can take one of my aprons," said the cook, "they're as fine,
and big, and white, and I'll just put you in one of 'em and tie you up
as snug; you'll come out as clean and sweet when we're through, as you
are now, Miss."

"Tie me up?" laughed Phronsie in glee. "Oh! how nice, Jefferson. Do you
know I love you very much, Jefferson, you're so very good to me?"

The big fellow drew a long breath. "No, Miss, I'm big and black, and
just fit to stay downstairs," he managed to say.

"But I love you better because you are black, Jefferson," insisted
Phronsie, "a great deal better. You are not like everybody else, but you
are just yourself," clinging to his hand.

"Well, Miss, I ain't just fit for a lily to touch and that's the truth,"
looking down at his palm that the small white hand grasped closely.
"It's clean, Miss," he added with pardonable pride, "but it's awful
black."

"I like it better black, Jefferson," said Phronsie again, "really and
truly I do, because then it's your very, very own," in a tone that
thrilled him much as if a queen had knighted him on the spot.

This important declaration over, the two set forth on their way toward
the kitchen, Phronsie clinging to his hand, and chatting merrily over
the particular pie in prospect, with varied remarks on pies in general,
that by and by would be ventured upon if this present one were a
success--and very soon tied up in one of the cook's whitest aprons she
was seated with due solemnity at the end of the baking table, the proper
utensils and materials in delightful confusion before her, and the lower
order of kitchen satellites revolving around her, and Jefferson the
lesser sphere.

"Now all go back to your work," said that functionary when he considered
the staring and muttered admiration had been indulged in long enough,
"and leave us."

"I want you," said his assistant, touching his elbow.

"Clear out," said Jefferson angrily, his face turned quite from
Phronsie.

But she caught the tone and immediately laid down the bit of dough she
was moulding.

"Do go," she begged, "and come back quickly," smiling up into his face.
"See, I'm going to pat and pat and pat, oh! ever so much before you come
back."

So Jefferson followed the under cook, the scullery boy went back to
cleaning the knives, Susan, the parlor maid who was going through the
kitchen with her dustpan and broom, hurried off with a backward glance
or two, and Phronsie was left quite alone to hum her way along in her
blissful culinary attempt.

"Bless me!" exclaimed a voice close to her small ear, as she was
attempting for the fifth time to roll out the paste quite as thin as she
had seen Jefferson do, "what is this? Bless my soul! it's Phronsie!"

Phronsie set down the heavy rolling-pin and turned in her chair with a
gleeful laugh.

"Dear, dear Grandpapa!" she cried, clasping her floury hands, "oh! I'm
so glad you've come to see me make a pie all by myself. It's for Polly,
and it's to be full of plums; Jefferson let me make it."

"Jefferson? And where is he, pray?" cried Mr. King irately. "Pretty
fellow, to bring you down to these apartments, and then go off and
forget you. Jefferson!" he called sharply, "here, where are you?"

"Oh, Grandpapa!" exclaimed Phronsie in dire distress, "I sent him;
Jefferson didn't want to go, Grandpapa dear, really and truly, he went
because I asked him."

"If you please, sir," began Jefferson, hurrying up, "I only stepped off
a bit to the cellar. Bassett sent down a lot of turnips, they ain't
first-rate, and"--

"All right," said Mr. King, cutting him short with a wave of his hand,
"if Miss Phronsie sent you off, it's all right; I don't want to hear any
more elaborate explanations."

"Little Miss hasn't been alone but a few minutes," said Jefferson in a
worried way.

"And see," said Phronsie, turning back to her efforts, while one hand
grasped the old gentleman's palm, "I've almost got it to look like
Jefferson's. Almost, haven't I?" she asked, regarding it anxiously.

"It will be the most beautiful pie," cried Mr. King, a hearty enthusiasm
succeeding his irritability, "that ever was baked. I wish you'd make me
one sometime, Phronsie."

"Do you?" she cried in a tremor of delight, "and will you really have it
on the table, and cut it with Aunt Whitney's big silver knife?"

"That I will," declared Mr. King solemnly.

"Then some day I'll come down here again, Jefferson," cried Phronsie in
a transport, "and bake one for my dear Grandpapa. That is, if this one
is good. Oh! you do suppose it will be good, don't you?" appealingly at
him.

"It shall," said Jefferson stoutly, and seizing the rolling-pin with
extreme determination. "You want a bit more butter worked in, here," a
dab with skillful fingers, and a little manipulation with the flour, a
roll now and then most deftly, and the paste was laid out before
Phronsie. "Now, Miss, you can put it in the dish."

"But is isn't my pie," said Phronsie, and, big girl as she felt herself
to be, she sat back in her chair, her lower lip quivering.

"Not your pie?" repeated the cook, bringing himself up straight to gaze
at her.

"No," said Phronsie, shaking her yellow head gravely, "it isn't my pie
now, Jefferson. You put in the things, and rolled it."

"Leave your fingers off from it, can't you?" cried Mr. King sharply.
"Goodness! this pie isn't to have a professional touch about it. Get
some more flour and stuff, whatever it is you make a pie of, and let her
begin again. There, I'll sit down and watch you; then there'll be some
chance of having things straight." So he drew up a chair to the side of
the table, first calling off Pete, the scullery boy, from his knives to
come and wipe it off for him, and Mrs. Tucker who was in kitchen dialect
"Tucker," to see that the boy did his work well.

"Lor' bless you, sir," said Tucker, bestowing a final polish with her
apron, "'twas like satin before, sir--not a wisp of dust."

"I don't want any observations from you," said the old gentleman,
depositing himself in the chair. "There, you can go back to your work,
Mrs. Tucker, and you too, Pete. Now I'll see that this pie is to your
liking, Phronsie."

But Phronsie still sat back in her chair, thoughtfully surveying
Jefferson.

"Grandpapa," she said at last slowly, "I think I'd rather have the first
pie, I really would, Grandpapa, may I?" She brought her yellow head
forward by a sudden movement, and looked deep into his keen eyes.

"Bless my soul! Rather have the first pie?" repeated the old gentleman
in astonishment, "why, I thought you wanted to make one all yourself."

"I think I'd rather do part of it," said Phronsie with great
deliberateness, "then Polly'll like it, and eat it, and I'll do yours,
Grandpapa dear, just as Jefferson fixed mine, all alone. Please let me."
She held him fast with her eyes, and waited for his answer.

"So you shall!" cried Mr. King in great satisfaction, "make mine all
alone. This one would better go as it is. Put away the flour and things,
Jefferson; Miss Phronsie doesn't want them."

Phronsie gave a relieved little sigh. "And, Jefferson, if you hadn't
showed me how, I couldn't ever in all this world make Grandpapa's. Now
give me the little plate, do."

"Here 'tis, Miss," said the cook, all his tremor over the blunder he had
made, disappearing, since, after all, things were quite satisfactory.
And the little plate forthcoming, Phronsie tucked away the paste
lovingly in its depths, and began the important work of concocting the
mixture with which the pie was to be filled, Mr. King sitting by with
the gravity of a statue, even to the deliberate placing of each plum.

"Where's Phronsie?" called a voice above in one of the upper halls.

"Oh! she's coming, Polly is!" cried Phronsie, deserting a plum thrust in
endwise in the middle of the pie, to throw her little sticky fingers
around Jefferson's neck; "oh! do take off my apron; and let me go.
She'll see my pie!"

"Stop!" cried Mr. King, getting up somewhat stiffly to his feet, "I'll
take off the apron myself. There, Phronsie, there you are. Whew! how hot
you keep your kitchen, Jefferson," and he wiped his face.

"Now we'll run," said Phronsie softly, "and not make a bit of noise,
Grandpapa dear, and, Jefferson, please put on my top to the pie, and
don't let it burn, and I'll come down very, very soon again, and bake
one all alone by myself for Grandpapa."

The old gentleman kept up very well with the soft patter of her feet
till they reached the foot of the staircase. "There, there, child," he
said, "there's not the least need of hurry now."

"But she will come down," said Phronsie, in gentle haste pulling at his
hand, "then if she should see it, Grandpapa!"

"To be sure; that would indeed be dreadful," said Mr. King, getting over
the stairs very creditably. "There, here we are now. Whew! it's terribly
warm in this house!"

But there was no danger from Polly; she was at this very instant, not
being able to find Phronsie, hurrying off toward the library in search
of Mrs. Whitney.

"We want to do the very loveliest thing!" she cried, rushing in, her
cheeks aflame. "Oh! pray excuse me." She stopped short, blushing
scarlet.

"Don't feel badly, Polly dear," said Mrs. Whitney, over in the dim
light, where the divan was drawn up in the east window, and she held out
her hand and smiled; the other lady whose tete-a-tete was thus summarily
disturbed was elderly and very tall and angular. She put up her eyeglass
at the intrusion and murmured "Ah?"

"This is Polly Pepper," said Mrs. Whitney, as Polly, feeling unusually
awkward and shy, stumbled across the library to get within the kind arms
awaiting her.

"One of the children that your kindness received in this house?" said
the tall lady, making good use of the eyeglass. The color mounted
steadily on Polly's already rosy cheek, at the scrutiny now going on
with the greatest freedom.

"One of the dear children who make this house a sunny place for us all."
said Mrs. Whitney distinctly.

"Ah? I see. You are extremely good to put it in that way." A low, well-
bred laugh followed this speech. Its sound irritated the young girl's
ear unspeakably, and the brown eyes flashed, and though there was really
no occasion to feel what was not addressed to her, Polly was quite sure
she utterly disliked the lady before her.

"My dear Mrs. Chatterton," said Mrs. Whitney in the gentlest of accents,
"you do not comprehend; it is not possible for you to understand how
very happy we all are here. The house is quite another place, I assure
you, from the abode you saw last before you went abroad."

Mrs. Chatterton gave another low, unpleasant laugh, and this time
shrugged her shoulders.

"Polly dear," said Mrs. Whitney with a smile, "say good-morning to Mrs.
Chatterton, and then run away. I will hear your wonderful plan by and
by. I shall be glad to, child," she was guilty of whispering in the
small ear.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Chatterton," said Polly slowly, the brown eyes
looking steadily into the traveled and somewhat seamed countenance
before her.

"Good-morning," and Polly found herself once more across the floor, and
safely out in the hall, the door closed between them.

"Who is she?" she cried in an indignant spasm to Jasper, who ran up, and
she lifted her eyes brimming over with something quite new to him. He
stopped aghast.

"Who?" he cried. "Oh, Polly! what has happened?"

"Mrs. Chatterton. And she looked at me--oh! I can't tell you how she
looked; as if I were a bug, or a hateful worm beneath her," cried Polly,
quite as much aghast at herself. "It makes me feel horridly, Jasper--you
can't think." Oh! that old"--He stopped, pulling himself up with quite
an effort. "Has she come back--what brought her, pray tell, so soon?"

"I don't know, I am sure," said Polly, laughing at his face. "I was only
in the room a moment, I think, but it seemed an age with that eyeglass,
and that hateful little laugh."

"Oh! she always sticks up that thing in her eye," said Jasper coolly,
"and she's everlastingly ventilating that laugh on everybody. She thinks
it high-bred and elegant, but it makes people want to kill her for it."
He looked and spoke annoyed. "To think you fell into her clutches!" he
added.

"Well, who is she?" cried Polly, smoothing down her ruffled feathers,
when she saw the effect of her news on him. "I should dearly love to
know."

"Cousin Algernon's wife," said Jasper briefly.

"And who is he?" cried Polly, again experiencing a shock that this
dreadful person was a relative to whom due respect must be shown.

"Oh! a cousin of father's," said Jasper. "He was nice, but he's dead."

"Oh!" said Polly.

"She's been abroad for a good half-dozen years, and why she doesn't stay
there when everybody supposed she was going to, astonishes me," said
Jasper, after a moment. "Well, it will not be for long, I presume, that
we shall have the honor; she'll be easily tired of America, and take
herself off again."

"She doesn't stay in this house, does she, Jasper?" cried Polly in a
tone of horror.

"No; that is, unless she chooses to, then we can't turn her off. She's a
relative, you know."

"Hasn't she any home?" asked Polly, "or any children?"

"Home? Yes, an estate down in Bedford County?-Dunraven Lodge; but it's
all shut up, and in the hands of agents who have been trying for the
half-dozen years she was abroad, to sell it for her. She may have come
back to settle down there again, there's no telling what she will do. In
the meantime, I fancy she'll make her headquarters here," he said
gloomily.

"Oh, Jasper!" exclaimed Polly, seizing his arm, feeling that here was
need of comfort indeed, "how very dreadful! Don't you suppose something
will happen to take her away?"

"I don't see what can," said Jasper, prolonging the gloom to feel the
comfort it brought. "You see she has nobody who wants her, to step in
and relieve us. She has two nephews, but oh! you ought to see them
fight!"

"Fight?" repeated Polly aghast.

"Yes; you can't dignify their skirmishes by any other name," said
Jasper, in disgust. "So you see our chances for keeping her as long as
she condescends to stay are really very good."

Polly clung to his arm in speechless dismay. Meanwhile conversation fast
and brisk was going on between the two shut up in the library.

"It is greatly to your discredit, Marian," said Mrs. Chatterton in a
high, cold voice, "that you didn't stop all this nonsense on your
father's part, before the thing got to such a pass as to install them in
this house."

"On the contrary," said Mrs. Whitney with a little laugh, "I did
everything I could to further the plan that father wisely made."

"Wisely!" cried Mrs. Chatterton in scorn. "Oh, you silly child! don't
you see what it will all tend to?"

"I see that it has made us all very happy for five years," said Mrs.
Whitney, preserving her composure, "so I presume the future doesn't hold
much to dread on that score."

"The future is all you have to dread," declared Mrs. Chatterton harshly.
"The present may be well enough; though I should think existence with
that low, underbred family here, would be a"?

"You may pause just where you are, Mrs. Chatterton," said Marian, still
with the gentlest of accents, but with a determination that made the
other look down at her in astonishment, "not another word shall you
utter in that strain, nor will I listen to it." And with fine temper
undisturbed in her blue eyes, she regarded her relative.

"Dear me, Marian! I begin to notice your age more now. You shouldn't fly
into such rages; they wear on one fearfully; and especially for a
stranger too, and against your own people--how can you?"

Mrs. Chatterton drew out a vinaigrette, then a fan from a silken bag,
with clasps that she was always glad to reflect were heirlooms. "It's
trying, I must confess," she declared, alternately applying the
invigorating salts and waving the combination of gauze and sandalwood,
"to come home to such a reception. But," and a heavy sigh, "I must bear
it."

"You ought to see father," cried Mrs. Whitney, rising. "I must go at
once and tell him of your arrival."

"Oh! I don't know that I care about seeing Cousin Horatio yet," said
Mrs. Chatterton carelessly. "He will probably fall into one of his
rages, and my nerves have been upset quite enough by you. I think I'll
go directly to my apartments." She rose also.

"Father must at once be informed of your arrival," repeated Marian
quietly. "I'll send him in to see you."

"And I shall go to my apartments," declared Mrs. Chatterton
determinedly.

"Hoity-toity!" exclaimed Mr. King's voice, and in he came, with
Phronsie, fresh from the kitchen, clinging to his hand.




II

COUSIN EUNICE CHATTERTON


Phronsie dropped one small hand by her side, and stood quite still
regarding the visitor.

"Oh, my goodness me," ejaculated Mrs. Chatterton, startled out of her
elegance, and not pausing to adjust the glass, but using her two good
eyes to the best advantage.

"Hoity-toity! So you are back again!" exclaimed Mr. King by way of
welcome. "Well, and if I may ask, what brought you now, Eunice?"

Mrs. Chatterton gathered herself up and smiled in a superior way.

"Never mind my reasons, Cousin Horatio. What a fine child you have
there;" now the glass came into play; "pray tell me all about her."

"You have well said," observed Mr. King, seating himself with the utmost
deliberateness, and drawing Phronsie to her accustomed place on his
knee, where she nestled, regardless of his immaculate linen and fine
waistcoat, "Phronsie Pepper is indeed a fine child; a very fine child,
Madam."

"Oh, my, and Oh, my!" cried Mrs. Chatterton, holding up her hands, "to
think that you can so demean yourself; why, she's actually mussing your
shirt-front with her dirty little hands!"

"Phronsie Pepper's hands are never dirty, Madam," said the old gentleman
gravely. "Sit still, child," as Phronsie in a state of alarm struggled
to slip down from his lap, thrusting the two members thus referred to,
well out before her.

Mrs. Chatterton burst into a loud laugh. "To think I have come to see
Horatio King in such a state! Jasper Horatio King!" she repeated
scornfully. "I heard about it through the Bascombs' letters, but I
wouldn't believe it till I used my eyes. It's positively dreadful!"

Mr. King put back his head and laughed also; so heartily, that Phronsie
ceased to struggle, and turned to regard him in silent astonishment; and
Mrs. Whitney, charmed that the rage usually produced by conversation
with Cousin Algernon's wife was not forthcoming, began to laugh, too, so
that the amusement of the tall lady was quenched in the general
hilarity.

"What you can find in my words to cause such an unseemly outburst, I
cannot see," she cried in a passion.

"I'm under the impression that you led off the amusement yourself," said
Mr. King, wiping his eyes. "Phronsie, it's all very funny, isn't it?"
looking down into the little wondering face.

"Is it really funny?" asked Phronsie. "Does the lady like it?"

"Not particularly, I suspect," said Mr. King carelessly.

"And that you can talk with that chit, ignoring me, your cousin's wife,
is insufferable." Mrs. Chatterton now arose speedily from the divan, and
shook out a flounce or two with great venom. "I had intended to make you
a visit. Now it is quite impossible."

"As you like," said the old gentleman, also rising, and placing Phronsie
on her feet, observing ostentatious care to keep her hand. "My house is
open to you, Eunice," with a wave of his disengaged hand in old-time
hospitality, "but of course you must suit yourself."

"It's rather hard upon a person of sensibility, to come home after a six
years' absence," said Cousin Eunice with a pathetic sniff, and once more
seeking her vinaigrette in the depths of the silken bag, "to meet only
coldness and derision. In fact, it is very hard."

"No doubt, no doubt," said the old gentleman hastily, "I can imagine
such a case, but it has nothing to do with you. Now, if you are going to
stay, Eunice, say so at once, and proceed to your room. If not, why you
must go, and understand it is no one's fault but your own."

He drew himself up and looked long and hard into the thin pale face
before him. Phronsie pulled at his hand.

"I want to ask the lady to stay, Grandpapa dear."

"She doesn't need urging," said old Mr. King quite distinctly, and not
moving a muscle.

"But, Grandpapa dear, she isn't glad about something."

"No more am I."

"Grandpapa," cried Phronsie, moving off a bit, though not deserting his
hand, and standing on her tiptoes, "I want her to stay, to see me.
Perhaps she hasn't any little girls."

"To see you?" cried Mr. King irately. "Say no more, child, say no more.
She's been abusing you right and left, like a pick-pocket."

"What is a pickpocket?" asked Phronsie, getting down from her tiptoes.

"Oh! a scoundrel who puts his hands into pockets; picks out what doesn't
belong to him, in fact."

Phronsie stood quite still, and shook her head gravely at the tall
figure. "That was not nice," she said soberly.

"Now do you want her to stay?" cried the old gentleman.

"Insufferable!" repeated Mrs. Chatterton between her teeth, "to mix me
up with that chit!"

"Yes, I do," said Phronsie decidedly, "I do, Grandpapa. Now I know she
hasn't any little girls--if she had little girls, she wouldn't say such
very unnice things; I want the poor lady to stay with me."

Mrs. Chatterton turned and went abruptly off to the door, hesitated, and
looked back.

"I see your household is in a very chaotic state, Cousin Horatio. Still
I will remain a few days," with extreme condescension, "on condition
that these Peppers are not thrust upon my attention."

"I make no conditions," said the old gentleman coolly. "If you stay, you
must accept my household as you find it."

"Come, Marian," said Mrs. Chatterton, holding out her hand to Mrs.
Whitney. "You may help me to my apartments if you like. I am quite
unstrung by all this," and she swept out without a backward glance.

"Has she gone?" cried Jasper, hurrying in with Polly running after.
"It's 'stay,' isn't it, father?" as he saw the old gentleman's face.

"Yes," said Mr. King grimly, "it is 'stay' indeed, Jasper."

"Well, now then, you've a piece of work on your hands about the biggest
you ever did yet, Polly Pepper!" cried Jasper, "to make things
comfortable in this house. I shall be just as cross as can be imagined,
to begin with."

"You cross!" cried Polly.

"Cross as a bear; Marian will fight against the prevailing ill wind, but
it will finally blow her down to a state of depression where her best
friend wouldn't recognize her, and"--

"You don't mention me, my boy," said Mr. King dryly.

Jasper looked into his father's eyes, and they both laughed.

"And if you, Polly Pepper, don't keep things bright, why, we shall all
go to the dogs," said the old gentleman, sobering down. "So mind you do,
and we'll try to bear Cousin Algernon's relict."

"I will," said Polly stoutly, though "relict" sounded very dreadful to
begin with.

"Give us your hand, then," said Jasper's father, putting out his palm.
"There!" releasing it, "now I'm much more comfortable about matters."

"And give me your hand, Polly," cried Jasper, his own brown hand flying
to meet hers. "There! and now I'm comfortable too! So it's a compact,
and a sure one!"

"And I want to give my hand," cried Phronsie, very much aggrieved.
"Here, Jasper."

"Bless my soul, so you must!" cried old Mr. King; "to think we didn't
ask you first. There--and there!"

"And, Phronsie darling," cried Polly in a rapture, "you must promise
with me, after you have with the others. I couldn't ever get along in
all this world without that."

So the ceremony of sealing the compact having been observed with great
gravity, Phronsie drew a long breath, and now felt that the "poor lady"
might come down at any time to find all things prepared for her.

"Now tell our plan," cried Jasper to Polly, "and put this disagreeable
business out of our heads. It's a fine one," he added to his father.

"Of course it is," cried the old gentleman.

"Well, you know Joel and Davie and Van and Percy are coming home from
school next week for the Christmas holidays," began Polly, trying to
still the wild beating of her heart.

"Bless me! so they are," said Mr. King. "How time flies, to be sure!
Well, go on, Polly."

"And we ought to do something to celebrate," said Polly, "at least don't
you think so?" she asked anxiously, looking up in his face.

"To be sure I do," cried the old gentleman heartily. "Well, what would
you do, Polly child, to show the youngsters we're proud of them, and
glad to get them back--hey?"

"We want to get up a little play," said Polly, "Jasper and I, and act
it."

"And have music," cried Jasper. "Polly shall play on the piano. The boys
will be so delighted to see how she has improved."

"And Jasper will play too," cried Polly eagerly. "Oh, Jasper! will you
play that concerto, the one you played when Mary Gibbs was here at tea
last week? Do, Jasper, do."

"That nearly floored me," said Jasper.

"No; you said it was Mary's watching you like a lynx--you know you did,"
said Polly, laughing merrily.

"Never mind," said the old gentleman. "What next, Polly? The play is all
right."

"I should think it was," cried Jasper. "It's the Three Dragons, and the
Princess Clotilde."

"Oh, my goodness," exclaimed Mr. King, "What a play for Christmas Eve!"

"Well, you'll say it's a splendid hit!" cried Jasper, "when you see it
from the private box we are going to give you."

"So you are intending to honor me, are you?" cried his father, vastly
pleased to find himself as ever, the central figure in their plans.
"Well, well, I dare say it will all be as fine as can be to welcome
these young scapegraces home. What next, Polly?"

"It must be kept a perfect surprise," cried Polly, clasping her hands
while the color flew over her face. "No one must even whisper it to each
other, the day before Christmas when the boys get here, for Joel is so
very dreadful whenever there is a secret."

"His capacity certainly is good," said Mr. King dryly. "We will all be
very careful."

"And Phronsie is to be Princess Clotilde," cried Jasper, seizing her
suddenly, to prance around the room, just like old times.

"Oh, Jasper! I'm eight years old," she cried, struggling to free
herself.

"Nonsense! What of it--you are the baby of this household. "But he set
her on her feet nevertheless, one hand still patting the soft yellow
waves over her brow. "Go on, Polly, do, and lay the whole magnificence
before father. He will be quite overcome."

"That would be disastrous," said Mr. King; "better save your effects
till the grand affair comes off."

"Jasper is to be one of the dragons," announced Polly, quite in her
element, "that is, the head dragon; Ben is to be another, and we haven't
quite decided whether to ask Archy Hurd or Clare to take the third one."

"Clare has the most 'go' in him," said Jasper critically.

"Then I think we'll decide now to ask him," said Polly, "don't you,
Jasper?"

"A dragon without 'go' in him would be most undesirable, I should fancy.
Well, what next do you propose to do, Polly?" asked Mr. King.

"Now that we know that you will allow us to have it," cried Polly in a
rapture, "why, we can think up splendid things. We've only the play
written so far, sir."

"Polly wrote the most," said Jasper.

"Oh, no, Jasper! I only put in the bits," said Polly. "He planned it?-
every single bit, Jasper did."

"Well, she thought up the dragons, and the cave, and"?-

"Oh! that was easy enough," said Polly, guilty of interrupting, "because
you see something has to carry off the Princess Clotilde."

"Oh, now! you are not going to frighten my little girl," cried Mr. King.
"I protest against the whole thing if you do," and he put out his hand.
"Come, Phronsie," when, as of old, she hurried to his side obediently.

"Oh! we are going to show her the boys, and how we dress them up just
like dragons," cried Polly, "and while they are prancing around and
slashing their tails at rehearsal, I'm going to keep saying, 'That's
nothing but Jasper and Ben and Clare, you know, Phronsie,' till I get
her accustomed to them. You won't be frightened, will you, pet, at those
dear, sweet old dragons?" she ended, and getting on her knees, she
looked imploringly into Phronsie's brown eyes.

"N--no," said Phronsie, slowly, "not if they are really Jasper and Ben
and Clare."

"They really will be," cried Polly, enchanted at her success, "Jasper
and Ben and Clare; and they will give you a ride, and show you a cave,
oh! and perfect quantities of things; you can't think how many!"

Phronsie clapped her hands and laughed aloud in glee.

"Oh! I don't care if they are true dragons, Polly, I don't," she cried,
dreadfully excited. "Make 'em real big live ones, do; do make them big,
and let me ride on their backs."

"These will be just as real," said Polly comfortingly, "that is, they'll
act real, only there will be boys inside of them. Oh! we'll have them
nice, dear, don't you fear."

"But I'd really rather have true ones," sighed Phronsie.




III

THE REHEARSAL


"Now, Phronsie," said Polly, on her knees before the Princess, who was
slowly evolving into "a thing of beauty," "do hold still just a minute,
dear. There," as she thrust in another pin, then turned her head
critically to view her work, "I do hope that is right."

Phronsie sighed. "May I just stretch a wee little bit, Polly," she asked
timidly, "before you pin it up? Just a very little bit?"

"To be sure you may," said Polly, looking into the flushed little face;
"I'll tell you, you may walk over to the window and back, once; that'll
rest you and give me a chance to see what is the matter with that back
drapery."

So Phronsie, well pleased, gathered up the embyro robe of the Princess
and moved off, a bewildering tangle of silver spangles and floating
lace, drawn over the skirt of one of Mrs. Whitney's white satin gowns.

"There ought to be a dash of royal purple somewhere," said Polly,
sitting on the floor to see her go, and resting her tired hands on her
knees. "Now where shall I get it, and where shall I put it when I do
have it?" She wrinkled up her eyebrows a moment, lost in thought over
the momentous problem. "Oh! I know," and she sprang up exultingly.
"Phronsie, won't this be perfectly lovely? we can take that piece of
tissue paper Auntie gave you, and I can cut out little knots and sashes.
It is so soft, that in the gaslight they will look like silk. How fine!"

"Can't I be a Princess unless you sew up that purple paper?" asked
Phronsie, pausing suddenly to look over her shoulder in dismay at Polly.

"Why, yes, you can be, of course," said Polly, "but you can't be as good
a one as if you had a dash of royal purple about you. What's a bit of
tissue paper to the glory of being a Princess?" she cried, with
sparkling eyes. "Dear me, I wish I could be one."

"Well, you may have it, Polly," said Phronsie with a sigh, "and then
afterwards I'll rip it all off and smooth it out, and it will be almost
as good as new."

"I think there won't be much left of it when the play is over," cried
Polly with a laugh; "why, the dragons are going to carry you off to
their cave, you know, and you are to be rescued by the knight, just
think, Phronsie! You can't expect to have such perfectly delightful
times, and come out with a quantity of tissue paper all safe. Something
has to be scarified to royalty, child."

Phronsie sighed again. But as Polly approved of royalty so highly, she
immediately lent herself to the anticipations of the pleasure before
her, smothering all lesser considerations.

"When you get your little silver cap on with one of Auntie's diamond
rings sewed in it, why, you'll be too magnificent for anything," said
Polly, now pulling and patting with fresh enthusiasm, since the "purple
dash" was forthcoming.

"Princesses don't wear silver caps with diamond rings sewed in them,"
observed Phronsie wisely.

"Of course not; they have diamonds by the bushel, and don't need to sew
rings in their caps to make them sparkle," said Polly, plaiting and
pinning rapidly, "but in dressing up for a play, we have to take a
poetic license. There, turn just one bit to the right, Phronsie dear."

"What's poetic license?" demanded Phronsie, wrenching her imagination
off from the bushel of diamonds to seize practical information.

"Oh! when a man writes verses and says things that aren't so," said
Polly, her mind on the many details before her.

"But he ought not to," cried Phronsie, with wide eyes, "say things that
are not so. I thought poets were always very good, Polly."

"Oh! well, people let him," said Polly, carelessly, "because he puts it
into poetry. It would never do in prose; that would be quite shocking."

"Oh!" said Phronsie, finding the conversation some alleviation to the
fitting-on process.

"Now this left side," said Polly, twisting her head to obtain a good
view of the point in question, "is just right; I couldn't do it any
better if I were to try a thousand times. Why won't this other one
behave, and fall into a pretty curve, I wonder?"

Phronsie yawned softly as the brown eyes were safely behind her.

"I shall gather it up anyway, so," and Polly crushed the refractory
folds recklessly in one hand; "that's the way Mary Gibbs's hat trimmings
look, and I'm sure they're a complete success. Oh! that's lovely," cried
Polly, at the effect. "Now, that's the treatment the whole drapery
needs," she added in the tone of an art connoisseur. "Oh!"

A rushing noise announced the approach of two or three boys, together
with the barking of Prince, as they all ran down the wide hall.

"O dear, dear!" exclaimed Polly, hurriedly pulling and pinning, "there
come the boys to rehearse. It can't be four o'clock," as the door opened
and three members of the cast entered.

"It's quarter-past four," said Jasper, laughing and pulling out his
watch; "we gave you an extra fifteen minutes, as you had such a lot to
do. Dear me! but you are fine, Phronsie. I make my obeisance to Princess
Clotilde!" and he bowed low to the little silver and white figure, as
did the other two boys, and then drew off to witness the final touches.

"It's a most dreadful thing," cried Polly, pushing back the brown waves
from her brow, as she also fell off to their point of view, "to get up a
princess. I had no idea it was such a piece of work."

"You have scored an immense success," said Jasper enthusiastically. "Oh,
Phronsie! you will make the hit of the season."

"You'll think it is even much nicer when it is done," said Polly, vastly
relieved that Jasper had given such a kind verdict. "It's to have a dash
of royal purple on that right side, and in one of the shoulder knots,
and to catch up her train."

"That will be very pretty, I don't doubt," said Jasper, trying to
resolve himself into the cold critic, "but it seems to me it is almost
perfect now, Polly."

"Oh! thank you so much," she cried, with blooming cheeks. "How do you
like it, Clare and Bensie?"

"I can't tell," said Ben, slowly regarding the Princess on all sides;
"it's so transforming."

"It's tiptop!" cried Clare. "It out-princesses any princess I've ever
imagined."

"Well, it's a perfect relief," said Polly, "to have you boys come in.
I've been working so over it that I was ready to say it was horrid. It's
too bad, isn't it, that Dick can't be here to-day to rehearse his part?"

"To be sure," exclaimed Jasper, looking around, "where is the Princess's
page?"

"He's gone to the dentist's," said Polly, making a wry face. "Auntie had
to make the appointment for this afternoon, and we couldn't put off the
rehearsal; Clare can't come any other time, you know."

Phronsie turned an anxious face to the window. "I hope he's not being
hurt very much," she said slowly.

"I don't believe he is," Polly made haste to answer most cheerfully, "it
was only one tooth, you know, Phronsie, to be filled. Auntie says Dr.
Porter told her the rest are all right."

But a cloud rested on the Princess's face. "One tooth is something," she
said.

"Just think how nice it will be when it is all over, and Dick comes
scampering in," cried Jasper, with great hilarity.

"Do climb up on the sofa, Phronsie," urged Polly, looking into the pale
little face, "you must sit down and rest a bit, you're so tired."

"I will read the prologue while she rests," said Jasper.

"So you can," said Polly. "Take care, child," in alarm, "you mustn't
curl up in the corner like that; princesses don't ever do so."

"Don't they?" said Phronsie, flying off from the lovely corner, to
straighten out again into the dignity required; "not when they are
little girls, Polly?"

"No, indeed," said Polly, with a rescuing hand among the silver spangles
and lace; they must never forget that they are princesses, Phronsie.
There now, you're all right."

"Oh!" said Phronsie, sitting quite stiffly, glad if she could not be
comfortable, she could be a princess.

"'Gentle ladies and brave sirs,'" began Jasper in a loud, impressive
tone, from the temporary stage, the large rug in front of the crackling
hearth fire.

Clare burst into a laugh. "See here now," cried Jasper, brandishing his
text at him, "if you embarrass me like that, you may leave, you old
dragon!"

"You ought to see your face," cried Clare. "Jap, you are anything but a
hit."

"You'll be yet," declared Jasper with a pretended growl, and another
flourish of the manuscript.

"Go on, do," implored Polly, "I think it is lovely. Clare, you really
ought to be ashamed," and she shook her brown head severely at him.

"If I don't quench such melodrama in the outset," said Clare, "he'll
ruin us all. Fair ladies and brave sirs," mimicking to perfection
Jasper's tones.

"Thank you for a hint," cried Jasper, pulling out his pencil. "I didn't
say 'fair'; that's better than 'gentle.' I wish critics would always be
so useful as to give one good idea. Heigho! here goes again:

          "'Fair ladies and brave sirs,
           The player's art is to amuse,
           Instruct, or to confuse
           By too much good advice,
           But poorly given:
           That no one follows, because, forsooth,
           'Tis thrown at him, neck and heels.
           The drama, pure and simple, is forgot
           In tugging in the moral'"?

"I thought you were going to alter 'tugging in' to something more
elegant," said Polly.

"Lugging in," suggested Clare, with another laugh.

"Morals are always tugged in by the head and shoulders," said Jasper.
"Why not say so?"

"We should have pretty much the whole anatomy of the human form divine,
if you had your way," cried Clare. "Listen!

"'Because, forsooth, 'tis thrown at him, neck and heels' and 'Tugging in
the moral, head and shoulders.' Now just add 'by the pricking of my
thumbs,' etc., and you have them all."

Jasper joined as well as Polly and Ben in the laugh at the prologue's
expense, but Phronsie sat erect winking hard, her royal hands folded
quite still in her lap.

"You're bound for a newspaper office, my boy," said Jasper at length.
"How you will cut into the coming poet, and maul the fledgling of the
prose writer! Well, I stand corrected.

          "'The drama pure and simple,
           Is forgot, in straining at the moral.'
          "Is that any better?" (To the audience.)

"Yes, I think it is," said Polly, "but I do believe it's time to talk
more elegantly, Jasper. It is due to the people in the private boxes,
you know."

"Oh! the boxes are to have things all right before the play is over;
never you fear, Polly," said Jasper.

          "'A poor presentment,
           You will say we give;
           But cry you mercy, Sirs, and'"?

"I don't like 'cry you mercy,'" announced Ben slowly, "because it
doesn't seem to mean anything."

"Oh! don't cut that out," exclaimed Polly, clasping her hands and
rushing up to Ben. "That's my pet phrase; you mustn't touch that,
Bensie."

"But it doesn't mean anything," reiterated Ben in a puzzled way.

"Who cares?" cried Jasper defiantly. "A great many expressions that
haven't the least significance are put in a thing of this sort. Padding,
you know, my dear sir."

"Oh!" said Ben literally, "I didn't know as you needed padding. All
right, if it is necessary." "It's antique, and perfectly lovely, and
just like Shakespeare," cried Polly, viewing Ben in alarm.

"Oh! let the Bard of Avon have one say in this production," cried Clare.
"Go on, do, with your 'cry you mercy.' What's next, Jap?"

"Are you willing, Ben?" asked Jasper, with a glance at Polly.

"Ye--es," said Ben, also gazing at the rosy face and anxious eyes, "it
can go as padding, I suppose."

"Oh! I am so glad," exclaimed Polly in glee, and dancing around the
room. "And you won't be sorry, I know, Bensie; the audience will applaud
that very thing I'm almost sure," which made Jasper sternly resolve
something on the spot.

"Well, I shall never be through at this rate," he said, whirling over
the manuscript to find his place. "Oh! here I am:

          "'But cry you mercy, Sirs and ladies fair,
           We aim but to be dragons,
           Not mortals posing for effect.
           We have a princess, to be sure'"?

"I should think we have," interrupted Clare with a glance over at the
sofa. "Goodness me, she's fast asleep!"

"Poor little thing, she is tired to death," cried Polly remorsefully,
while they all rushed over to the heap of lace and spangles, blissfully
oblivious of "prologues."

"Do let her sleep through this piece of stupidity," said Jasper,
bundling up another satin skirt that Mrs. Whitney had loaned for Polly
to make a choice from. "There," putting it under the yellow head, "we'll
call her when the dragons come on."

"Take care," cried Polly, with intercepting hand, "that's Auntie's
lovely satin gown."

"Beg pardon," said Jasper, relinquishing it speedily. "Here's the sofa
pillow, after all," dragging it from its temporary retirement under the
theatrical debris. "Now let's get back to work; time is going fast." In
a lowered voice:

          "'We have a princess, to be sure,
           A sweet and gracious Clotilde,
           And a knight who does her homage,
           But the rest of us
           Are fishy, scaly,
           Horny and altogether horrid,
           And of very low degree
           Who scarce know why we are upon the boards,
           Except for your amusement,
           So prithee'"?

"Hold!" cried Clare, "what stuff."

"Give me an inch of time," cried Jasper, hurrying on, "and I'll end the
misery:

          "'So prithee, be amused;
           We're undone, if you are not,
           And all our labor lost.
           Pray laugh, and shake your sides,
           And say "'tis good;
           I' faith, 'tis very good."
           And we shall say
           "Your intellects do you credit."
           And so we bid you a fond adieu,
           And haste away to unshackle the dragons,
           Who even now do roar without.'"

Clare threw himself into the part of the dragons, and forgetful of
Phronsie, gave a loud roar. Polly clapped her hands and tossed an
imaginary bouquet as Jasper bowed himself off.

"Hush!" said Ben, "you'll wake up Phronsie," but it was too late; there
she sat rubbing her eyes in astonishment.

"Oh! you darling," cried Polly, running over to her, to clasp her in her
arms, "I'm so sorry I tired you all out, Phronsie dear, do forgive me."

"I'm not tired," said Phronsie, with dewy eyes. "Has Jasper got through
reading? What was it all about, Polly?"

"Indeed and I have finished," he cried with a yawn and throwing the
manuscript on the table, "and I don't know in the least what it is all
about, Phronsie."

"Just a lot of dreadful words," said Clare over in the corner, pulling
at a heap of costumes on the floor. "Never mind; the horrible spell is
broken; come on, you fellows, and tumble into your dragon skins!"

With that the chief dragon deserted Phronsie, and presently there
resounded the rattle of the scales, the clanking of chains, and the
dragging about of the rest of their paraphernalia.

"Now, Phronsie," said Jasper, coming back, half-within his dragon skin
and gesticulating, "you see that it's only I in this thing. Look, dear!
here goes in my head," and he pulled on the scaly covering, observing
great care to smile reassuringly the last thing before his countenance
was obscured.

Phronsie screamed with delight and clapped her hands. "Oh, Jasper! let
me have one on, do, Jasper! I'd much rather be a dragon than a princess.
Really and truly I would, Jasper."

"I don't agree with you," said Jasper, in a muffled voice. "Phew! this
is no end stuffy, fellows. I can't stand it long."

"I'm all coming to pieces," said Ben, turning around to regard his back
where the scales yawned fearfully.

"I'll run and ask Mamsie to come and sew you up," cried Polly, flying
off. "She said she would help, if we wanted her."




IV

WELCOME HOME!


Marian," said old Mr. King, putting his head in at the door of her
little writing-room, "can't you get her comfortably out of the way this
morning? I want your services without interruption."

"She's going down to Pinaud's," said Mrs. Whitney, looking up from the
note she was writing.

"Capital! when she once gets there, she'll stay the morning," declared
Mr. King, greatly pleased. "Now, then, after she's cleverly off, you may
come to me."

"I will, father," said Marian, going back with a smile to her
correspondence.

Half an hour later Thomas, with the aid of the horses and the shopping
coupe having carried off Mrs. Chatterton, Mrs. Whitney pushed aside her
notes, and ran down to her father's study.

She found him in his velvet morning-gown seated before his table, busy
with a good-sized list of names that was rapidly growing longer under
his pen.

"Oh! I forgot," he said, looking up; "I intended to tell you to bring
some of your cards and envelopes. I want some invitations written."

"Are you going to give a dinner?" asked Marian, looking over his
shoulder. "Oh, no! I see by the length of your list it's an evening
affair, or a musicale."

"You run along, daughter," said the old gentleman, "and get what I tell
you. This is my affair; it's a musicale and something else combined. I
don't just know myself." And he laughed at the sight of her face.

"If father is only pleased, I don't care what it is," said Mrs. Whitney
to herself, hurrying over the stairs and back again, never once thinking
of Polly's and Jasper's surprise for the boys.

"You see, Marian," said Mr. King as she sat down by the table, and laid
the cards and envelopes in front of him, "that I'm going to help out
that affair that Jasper and Polly are getting up."

"Oh, father! how good of you!" exclaimed Mrs. Whitney in a delighted
tone, which immensely pleased the old gentleman, to begin with.

"They've been working very hard, those two, at their studies this
autumn. I've seen them," cried Mr. King with a shrewd air, "and I'm
going now to give them a little pleasure."

Marian said nothing, but let him have the comfort of doing all the
talking, which he now enjoyed to his heart's content.

"Whether the other chaps have done well, I don't know. Davie may have
kept at it, but I suspect the rest of the boys haven't killed themselves
with hard study. But they shall have a good home-coming, at any rate."

Mrs. Whitney smiled, and he proceeded:

"Now I'm going to send out these invitations"--he pushed the list toward
her--"I shall have the drawing-room and music-room floors covered, and
all extra seats arranged, give Turner carte blanche as to flowers, if he
can't furnish enough out of our own conservatories--and the evening will
end with a handsome 'spread,' as Jasper calls it. In short, I shall
recognize their attempt to make it pleasant for the boys' holiday, by
helping them out on the affair all I can." The old gentleman now leaned
back in his big chair and studied his daughter's face.

"And you'll never regret it, father," she cried, with an enthusiasm that
satisfied him, "for these young people will all repay you a thousand-
fold, I do believe, in the time to come."

"Don't I know it?" cried Mr. King, getting out of his chair hastily to
pace the floor. "Goodness me! they repay me already. They're fine young
things, every one of them--Whitneys, Peppers and my boy--as fine as they
are made. And whoever says they're not, doesn't know a good piece of
work when it's before his eyes. Bless me!" pulling out his handkerchief
to mop his face violently, "I don't want to see any finer."

"I hope I shall have a sight of Jasper's and Polly's faces when you tell
them what you intend to do," said Mrs. Whitney; "where are your cards,
father?"

"Tell them? I shan't tell them at all," cried the old gentleman; "I'm
going to have a surprise, too. No one must know it but you and Mrs.
Pepper."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Whitney. "It was very stupid in me not to understand
that. It will be all right, father; Mrs. Pepper and I will keep our
secret, you needn't fear."

"If you can only keep HER out of the way," exclaimed Mr. King, pointing
irascibly in the direction of Mrs. Chatterton's apartments, "all will be
well. But I doubt if you can; her meddlesome ears and tongue will be at
work as usual," he added in extreme vexation.

"Here comes Jasper," exclaimed Mrs. Whitney, which had the satisfactory
result of bringing her father out of his irritation, into a flutter over
the concealment of the party preparations.

"Jasper," cried Polly that evening, as they ran into the music-room to
play a duet, "we're all right about everything now, as your father says
we may invite the girls and your friends."

"And he said when I asked him if we ought not to have cake and coffee,
'I'll attend to that,'" said Jasper, "so everything is all straight as
far as I can see, Polly."

"The private boxes trouble me, I must confess," said Polly, drumming
absently on the keys, while Jasper spread the sheet of music on the
rack. "You know there must be two; one for dear Mr. King and one for the
boys as guests of honor. Now how shall we manage them?"

She took her hand off suddenly from the keys and folded it over its
fellow on her knee, to study his face anxiously.

"It's pretty hard to get them up, that's a fact," said Jasper
truthfully, "but then, you know, Polly, we've always found that when a
thing had to be done, it was done. You know the little brown house
taught us that."

"So it did," said Polly, brightening up. "Dear little old brown house,
how could I ever forget it! Well, I suppose," with a sigh, "it will come
to us as an inspiration when it's time to fix them."

"I suppose so too," said Mrs. Pepper, passing the door, as usual with
her mending basket, "and when two people start to play a duet, I think
they much better put their minds on that, and not waste precious time on
all sorts of questions that will take care of themselves when the time
comes."

"You are right, Mrs. Pepper," cried Jasper with a laugh, and seating
himself before the piano. "Come, Polly!"

"Mamsie is always right, isn't she, Jasper?" cried Polly with pride,
putting her hands down for the first chords.

"Indeed she is," responded the boy heartily. "Here now, Polly, remember,
you slipped up a bit on that first bar. Now!"

The twenty-first of December came all too soon for Polly and Jasper,
whose school duties had engrossed them till two days before, but after
hard work getting up the stage properties, and the many rehearsals,
everything was at last pronounced ready, the drawing-room and music-room
locked, the keys given to Mrs. Whitney who promised faithfully to see
that no one peeped in who should not, and Polly hurried into her hat and
jacket, to go to the station with Jasper to meet the boys.

Thomas drove furiously, as they were a bit late, and they arrived only a
minute before the train puffed in.

"Here they are!" cried Polly, and "Here they are!" cried Jasper,
together, in great excitement, on the platform.

"Halloo, Polly!" cried Joel, prancing out of the car first, and "How
d'ye do, Polly?" as they all hurried after. "Halloo, Jasper!"

"Oh, Polly! it's good to see you!" This from Davie, not ashamed to set a
kiss on her red lips.

Van and Percy looked as if they wanted to, but contented themselves with
wringing her hand nearly off, while Joel declared he would look after
the luggage.

"No, I will," cried Van, dropping Polly's hand.

"You forget," said Percy quietly, "I hold the checks, I'll attend to it
myself." He unclosed his brown traveling glove, and Van, at sight of
them, turned back.

"Go along, do, then," he cried; "I don't want to, I'm sure; I'd much
rather stay with Polly. How d'ye do, Thomas?" he called carelessly to
the coachman on his box, who was continually touching his hat and
indulging in broad smiles of content.

Polly was tiptoeing in very delight, holding Davie's hand closely while
her eyes roved from one to the other of the boys, and her tongue ran
fast indeed. A group of girls, who had also come down to the station to
meet friends, stopped a bit as they came laughing and chatting by.

"How d'ye, boys?" they said carelessly to the three home-comers. "Oh,
Polly! won't it be entrancing to-night?" cried one of them, seizing her
arm as she spoke.

"Hush!" said Polly, as she tried to stop her.

"May I bring Elsie Fay? she's come on the train to stay over Christmas
with her aunt. May I, Polly?" begged another girl eagerly.

"Yes, yes," said Polly in a paroxysm of fear lest Joel, who was crowding
up between them, should catch a word; "do be still," she whispered.
"Bring anybody; only stop, Alexia."

"He won't hear," said Alexia carelessly; "that boy doesn't mind our
talking; his head's full of skating and coasting."

"You're going to have something to-night that you don't want me to know
about," declared Joel, his chubby face set defiantly, and crowding
closer; "so there; now I'm going to find out what it is."

"If we don't want you to know, you ought not to try to find out, Joel
Pepper," cried Alexia. "And you shan't, either."

"There, now you see," cried Polly, unable to keep still, while her face
grew red too. "O dear! what shall we do?"

"You are--you are," cried Joel, capering up and down the platform, his
black eyes shining with delight. "Now I know for certain, and it's at
our house, too, for you asked Polly if you might bring some other girl,
Elsie somebody or other, so! Oh! I'll soon know."

"Joel," exclaimed Jasper suddenly, clapping him on the shoulder, "I'm
going round to the gymnasium; want to go with me?"

Joel stopped his capering at once, this new idea thrusting out the old
one.

"Don't I, though!" he cried, with a nod at Polly and her friends. "But
I'll find out when I do get home," the nod declared plainly.

But Jasper also nodded. He said, "He won't get home till late; depend on
me." And then "Come on, Joe," he cried; "I'm going to walk," and they
were off.

Alexia pinched Polly's gray woolen jacket sleeve convulsively. "What an
escape," she breathed.

"Here comes Percy," cried Polly nervously, and she broke away from her
and the other girls, and ran to meet him, and the two boys following.

"Where's Jasper?" asked Percy, rendered quite important in air and step,
from his encounter with the baggage officials.

"Oh! he isn't going home with us," said Polly. "Come, do let us get in,"
and she scampered off to the carriage and climbed within.

"That's funny," said Percy, jumping in after.

Van opened his lips to tell where Jasper had gone, but remembering
Percy's delight in such an expedition, he closed them quickly, and added
himself to the company in the carriage. Davie followed, and closed the
door quickly.

"Stop! where's Joel?" asked Percy. "Thomas, we've forgotten Joe,"
rapping on the glass to the coachman.

"No, we haven't; he isn't going to drive," said Polly.

"Oh!" and Percy, thinking that Joel had stolen a march on them on his
good strong legs, now cried lustily, "Go on, Thomas; get ahead as fast
as you can," and presently he was lost in the babel of laughter and
chatter going on in the coach.

"I've a piece of news," presently cried Van in a lull. "Davie's bringing
home a prize; first in classics, you know."

"Oh, Davie!" screamed Polly, and she leaned over to throw her arms
around him; "Mamsie will be so glad. Davie, you can't think how glad
she'll be!"

Davie's brown cheek glowed. "It isn't much," he said simply, "there were
so many prizes given out."

"Well, you've taken one," cried Polly, saying the blissful over and
over. "How perfectly elegant!"

Van drummed on the carriage window discontentedly. "I could have taken
one if I'd had the mind to."

"Hoh-oh!" shouted Percy over in his corner. "Well, you didn't have the
mind; that's what was wanting."

"You keep still," cried Van, flaming up, and whirling away from his
window. "You didn't take any, either. Polly, his head was under water
all the time, unless some of the boys tugged him along every day. We
hardly got him home at all."

"No such thing," contradicted Percy flatly, his face growing red.
"Polly, he tells perfectly awful yarns. You mustn't believe him, Polly,
You won't, will you?" He leaned over appealingly toward her.

"Oh! don't, don't," cried Polly, quite dismayed, "talk so to each
other."

"Well, he's so hateful," cried Van, "and the airs he gives himself! I
can't stand them, Polly, you know"--

"And he's just as mean," cried Percy vindictively. "Oh! you can't think,
Polly. Here we are," as Thomas gave a grand flourish through the stone
gateway, and up to the steps.

"I'll help you out," and he sprang out first.

"No, I will," declared Van, opening the door on the other side, jumping
out and running around the carriage. "Here, Polly, take my hand, do."

"No, I got here first," said Percy eagerly, his brown glove extended
quite beyond Van's hand.

"I don't want any one to help me, who speaks so to his brother," said
Polly in a low voice, and with her most superb air stepping down alone,
she ran up the steps to leave them staring in each other's faces.

Here everybody came hurrying out to the porch, and they were soon drawn
into the warm loving welcome awaiting them.

"Oh, Felicie! I don't want that dress," said Polly as she ran into her
room after dinner, to Mrs. Whitney's French maid, "I'm going to wear my
brown cashmere."

"Oh, Mademoiselle!" remonstrated Felicie, adjusting the ruffle in the
neck of the white nun's veiling over her arm.

"Oh, no, Polly! I wouldn't," began Mrs. Pepper, coming in, "the white
one is better for to-night."

"Mamsie!" cried Polly, breaking away from the mirror where she was
pulling into place the bright brown waves over her forehead, "how
lovely! you've put on your black silk; and your hair is just beautiful!"

"Madame has ze fine hair," said Felicie, "only I wish zee would gif it
to me to prepaire."

"Yes, I have good hair," said Mrs. Pepper, "and I'm thankful for it. No
one looks dressed up, in my opinion, with a ragged head. The finer the
gown, the worse it makes careless hair look. No, Polly, I wouldn't wear
the brown dress to-night."

"Why, Mamsie!" exclaimed Polly in surprise, "I thought you'd say it was
just the thing when only the girls and Jappy's friends are coming to the
play. Besides, I don't want to look too dressed up; the Princess ought
to be the only one in a white gown."

"You won't be too conspicuous," said her mother; adding slowly, "you
might wear the nun's veiling well enough as you haven't any part in the
play, Polly," and she scanned the rosy face keenly.

"I don't want any part," cried Polly; "they all play better than I do.
Somebody must see that everything goes off well behind the scenes;
that's my place, Mamsie. Besides, you forget I am to play my sonata."

"I don't forget," said her mother; "all the more reason you should wear
the white gown, then."

"All right," cried Polly, merrily dashing across the room to Felicie,
"put it over my head, do. Well, I'm glad you think it is right to wear
it, Mamsie," as the soft folds fell around her. "I just love this dress.
Oh, Auntie! how perfectly exquisite!"

Mrs. Whitney came in smilingly and put a kiss on the tall girl's cheek.
"Do I look nicely?" she asked naively, turning around under the
chandelier.

"Nicely?" exclaimed Polly, lifting her hands, "why you are fresh from
fairyland. You are so good to put on that lovely blue moire and your
diamond cross, just for the boys and girls."

"I am glad you like it," said Mrs. Whitney hastily. "Now, Polly, don't
you worry about anything; I'll see that the last things are done."

"Well, I am worrying," confessed Polly, quite in a tremble; "I must see
to one corner of the private box for the boys. You know the last India
shawl you lent me wasn't pinned up straight and I couldn't fix it, for
Van wanted me just then, and I couldn't get away without his suspecting
something. Oh, Auntie! if you would see to that."

"I will," said Mrs. Whitney, not daring to look at Mrs. Pepper, "and to
all the other things; don't give a thought to them, Polly."

"How good you are," cried Polly with a sigh of relief. "Oh, Auntie! we
couldn't do anything without you."

"And you don't need to go into the drawing-room at all," said Mrs.
Whitney, going to the door. "Just keep behind the scenes, and get your
actors and Phronsie ready, and your mother and I will receive your
friends. Come, Mrs. Pepper."

"That is splendid," cried Polly, left behind with the maid, "now I can
get ready without flying into a flurry, Felicie; and then for Phronsie
and the rest!"

"There is a dreadful commotion in there among the audience," said
Jasper, out in the green room; "I imagine every one who had an 'invite,'
has come. But I don't see how they can make such a noise."

"Oh! a few girls and boys make just about as much confusion as a good
many," observed Polly. "Jasper, wouldn't you like to see Joel's eyes
when Aunt Whitney leads him into the private box?" she allowed herself
time to exclaim. "Yes," laughed Jasper, pulling out his watch from
beneath his dragon-skin; "well, we have only five minutes more, Polly.
We must have the curtain up sharp."

"O dear, dear!" cried Polly, flying here and there to bestow last
touches on the different members of her cast. "Now, Clare, you must
remember not to give such a shriek when you go on, mustn't he, Jappy?
Just a dull, sullen roar, your part is."

"Well, I'm nearly dead under here," cried Clare, glaring beneath his
dragon face. "I'll shriek, or roar, just as I like, so!"

"Very well," said Polly, "I don't know but it's as well, after all, that
you are cross; you'll be more effective," she added coolly. "Let me see-
-oh! the door of the cave wants a bit more of gray moss; it looks thin
where it hangs over. You get it, will you, Hannah?" to one of the maids
who was helping.

"And just one thing more," scanning hastily the stage setting, "another
Chinese lantern is needed right here," going toward the front of the
stage, "and that green bush is tumbling over; do set it straight,
somebody; there now, I believe everything is all ready. Now let us peep
out of the curtain, and get one good look at the audience. Come,
Phronsie, here's a fine place; come, boys!"

The different members of the cast now applied their eyes to as many
cracks in the curtain as could be hastily managed.

There was a breathing space.

"What, what?" cried Polly, gazing into the sea of faces, and the dragons
nearly knocked the Princess over as Mr. King gave the signal for the
band stationed in the wide hall, to send out their merriest strains.




V

AFTER THE PLAY


It was all over. Phronsie had been swept off, a vision of loveliness, to
the cave; the dragons had roared their loudest, and the gallant knight
had covered himself with glory in the brilliant rescue of the Princess;
the little page had won the hearts of all the ladies; Mr. King had
applauded himself hoarse, especially during the delivery of the prologue,
when "I cry you mercy, sirs, and ladies fair," rang out; the musical
efforts of Polly and Jasper in the "Wait" between the two acts were over,
and the crowded house, in every way possible, had expressed itself
delighted with all things from beginning to end.

"Phronsie, Phronsie, they're calling you," whispered Polly excitedly,
out in the green room.

"Come, Princess." The head dragon held out his hand. "Hurry dear! See
the flowers!"

"They can't be for me," said Phronsie, standing quite still; "Polly has
done all the work; they're hers."

"Nonsense, child!" cried Polly, giving her a gentle push forward. "Go
on, and take them."

"Polly, you come too," begged Phronsie, refusing to stir, and holding
her by the gown.

"I can't, Phronsie," cried Polly in distress; "don't you see they
haven't called me. Go on, child, if you love me," she implored.

Phronsie, not being able to resist this, dropped Polly's gown and
floated before the footlights.

"Thank you," she said, bowing gravely to the sea of faces, as her hands
were filled with roses, "but I shall give these to Polly, because we
couldn't any of us have done it without her." And so she brought them
back to put into dismayed Polly's lap.

"The authors--the authors of the play!" cried a strong voice, privately
urged on by Mr. King.

"There, now's your turn," cried Clare to Polly. "And go ahead, old
dragon," to Jasper, "make your prettiest bow."

So the chief dragon led up blushing Polly to the front of the stage, to
hear a neat little speech from Mr. Alstyne, thanking them for the
pleasure of the evening and congratulating them on its success; and the
band played again, the camp chairs were folded up and removed, the
green-room and stage were deserted, and actors and audience mingled in a
gay, confusing throng.

Phronsie, in her little silver and white gown and gleaming cap, began to
wander among the guests, unconscious that she had not on the red
cashmere dress she had worn all day. Groups stopped their conversation
to take her into their midst, passing her on at last as one might hand
over a precious parcel to the next waiting hands. Polly, seeing that she
was well cared for, gave herself up to the enjoyment of the evening.

"Well, sir, how did you like it?" asked Jasper, with a small pat on
Joel's back.

"Well enough," said Joel, "but why didn't you make more of it? You could
have crawled up on top of the cave, and slashed around there; and you
old dragons were just three muffs in the last act. I'd rather have had
Polly in the play; she's twice the go in her.

"So would we all have preferred Polly," cried Jasper, bursting into a
laugh, "but she wouldn't act--she directed everything; she was all the
play, in fact."

Polly meanwhile was saying to Pickering Dodge, "No, not to-night; you
must dance with one of the other girls."

"But I don't choose to dance with anybody but you," said Pickering,
holding out his hand. "Come, Polly, you can't refuse; they're forming
the Lancers. Hurry!"

Polly's feet twitched nervously under her white gown, and she longed
more than ever after the excitement she had passed through, to lose
herself in the witching music, and the mazy dance. She hesitated a bit,
but just then glancing across the room, "Come," she said, "I want you to
dance with Ray Simmons. You can't refuse," using his own words; and
before he was conscious how it was done, he was by Ray's side, and
asking for the pleasure of the dance.

Polly stood quite still and saw them go away and take the last places in
the set, and a sorry little droop fell upon the curves of the laughing
mouth. She was very tired, and the elation that had possessed her over
the success of the evening was fast dropping out, now that everybody was
enjoying themselves in their own way, leaving her alone. She felt left
out in the cold; and though she fought against it, a faint feeling of
regret stole over her for what she had done. She almost wished she was
standing there by the side of Picketing Dodge, one of the bright group
on whom the eyes of the older people were all turned, as they waited for
the first figure to begin.

"Well, Polly"--it was Mr. Alstyne who spoke, and he acted as if he had
come to stay by her side--"you've covered yourself with glory this
evening."

"Have I, sir?" asked Polly absently, wishing there had been less of the
glory, and a little more fun.

"Yes, indeed," said Mr. Alstyne, his keen eyes searching her face.
"Well, now, Polly, your dragons, although not exactly like any living
ones extant, made me think of some I saw at the Zoo, in London. Do you
want me to tell you how?"

"Oh! if you please," cried Polly, her color coming back, and beginning
to forget the dance and the dancers.

"Let us sit down here, then," said Mr. Alstyne, drawing her off to two
chairs in a corner, "and you shall have the tale. No pun, Polly, you
know." And he plunged into it at once.

"Yes, Alstyne has her all right," Mr. King was saying at the further end
of the drawing-room to Mrs. Pepper; he spied the whole thing; "he'll
take care of her, you may depend."

And two more people had seen; one was Jasper. Nevertheless his partner,
Alexia Rhys, thought it necessary to enlighten him.

"Just think, Polly's given up her chance with the best dancer in the
room, and sent Pickering Dodge off with that horrid Ray Simmons."

Jasper pretended not to hear. "This is our figure," he said hastily, and
they whirled off, finished it, and were back again.

"Isn't she a goose?" as he fanned her, and tried to introduce another
subject.

"I suppose she best pleases herself," said the boy indifferently. "Why
should any one else interfere in the matter?"

"But some one else ought to interfere," cried Alexia, with a little
pout, provoked at his indifference; "that's just the way she does in
school all the time. Oh! I'm vexed at her, I can tell you. She's so
silly--dear me, it's our turn again,"

By the next interim she had forgotten all about Polly and whether she
was having a nice time or the stupidest one imaginable, for Joel, who
held dancing in great contempt, sauntered up.

"Aren't you glad now that you didn't find out about the secret?" cried
Alexia radiantly. "Oh! you are such a nuisance, Joey," she added
frankly.

"Phooh!" exclaimed Joel, "it wasn't worth finding out, that old secret.
But it's as good as girls ever get up," he finished with a supercilious
air.

"It was a perfectly splendid play!" cried Alexia, "and much too good for
a lot of boys. Goodness, Joey, I wouldn't celebrate if you four were
coming home from school to our house. I'd have the jollification the
night before you went back."

"I wouldn't go home if 'twas to your house," declared Joel with equal
candor. "I'd run off to sea, first."

"Come, come, you two, stop sparring," cried Jasper, holding out his
hand; "its our turn again, Alexia. Joel, take yourself off."

Alexia flashing Joel a bright, making-up smile, dashed off into the
figure.

"Good-by," said Joel with a smile as cheery, for he really liked her the
best of all Polly's girl friends.

After the dance, supper was announced, and everybody marched out to the
supper room; the dancers with their partners following.

"Will you allow me?" Mr. Alstyne seeing the movement, got out of his
chair and offered his arm to Polly with a courtly bow.

"Oh! don't think of me, sir," she began, blushing very hard. "Joel will
look out for me."

"I much prefer waiting upon Miss Polly Pepper to any other lady in the
room," said Mr. Alstyne, with another bow, courtlier than the first,
"since Mrs. Alstyne is provided for. See, Polly, Mr. King is taking her
out. And your mother has her cavalier, in Mr. Cabot; and Mrs. Whitney
has already gone out with Mr. Fairfax. So if you don't accept my
services, I shall be entirely left out in the cold." He stood offering
his arm, and Polly, laughing merrily, put her hand within it.

"It's very good of you, sir," she said simply, as they fell into step
and joined the procession.

"I'm afraid if you had trusted to Joel's tender mercies, you would have
fared hardly," said Mr. Alstyne, laughing. "Look, Polly, over yonder in
the corner." They were just passing into the supper room, and now caught
sight of Joel chatting away to a very pretty little creature, in blue
and white, as busily and unconcernedly as if he had done that sort of
thing for years.

"Why!" cried Polly quite aghast, "that can't be Joel. He just hates
girls, you know, Mr. Alstyne, and never goes to parties."

"He seems to be able to endure it all very well to-night," said her
companion dryly. "Shall I get you an ice, Miss Polly?"

"Yes, thank you," said Polly absently, not being able to take her eyes
from Joel and his friend. At last, by the force of attraction, he turned
and looked at her. But instead of showing self-consciousness, his round
eyes surveyed her coolly, while he went on talking and laughing with the
little blue-and-white thing.

"Polly, Polly," exclaimed Alexia Rhys, hurrying up, while Jasper was
storming the supper table for her, "do look at Joel Pepper! He actually
brought in a girl to supper!"

"I see," said Polly, gazing at the two in a fascinated way.

"On the other hand," said Alexia, sending swift, bird-like glances
around the supper room, "there are Van and Percy moping off by
themselves as if they hadn't a friend in the world. What a pity; they
used to be so lively at parties."

Polly wrenched her gaze away from the astonishing sight on which it had
been fixed, and following Alexia's glance, took a keen look over at the
young Whitneys. "Oh! oh! I must go to them," she cried remorsefully.
"Tell Mr. Alstyne, please, when he comes back, where I am," and without
another word she dashed back of some gaily dressed ladies just entering
the supper room, and was out of the door.

"If I ever did!" cried Alexia irritably to herself, "see anything so
queer! Now she thinks she must race after those boys. I wish I'd kept
still. Jasper, she's just as funny as ever," as he came up with a plate
of salad, and some oysters. "Who?" said the boy; "is this right,
Alexia?" offering the plate.

"Why, Polly," said Alexia; "yes, that's lovely," with a comforted glance
at the plate and its contents. "Oh! she's gone off, Mr. Alstyne," to
that gentleman, approaching with Polly's ice. "You can't expect her to
stay for the goodies," beginning to nibble at her own.

"Where is she?" cried Mr. Alstyne, laughing, and sweeping the room with
his brown eyes. "Oh! I see," his glance lighting on the Whitney boys'
corner.

"Yes, she told me to tell you," said Alexia, between her mouthfuls of
salad and oyster, "where she is," as he started.

"Oh, Percy and Van!" Polly was whispering hurriedly, "I'm sorry I hurt
your feelings, only it was so very dreadful, you know, to hear you go on
so to each other."

"We didn't mean anything," said Percy, pushing one foot back and forth
in an embarrassed way, and looking as if he did not know what to do with
his hands, which confused him more than anything else, as he had been
quite sure of them on all previous occasions.

Van thrust his into his pockets, and seemed on the point of whistling,
but remembering where he was, took his lips speedily out of their
curves, and looked the other way.

Just then Mr. Alstyne came up.

"Oh!" cried Polly suddenly, the color rushing over her face. "Could you,
Mr. Alstyne, give that to some one else? Percy and Van are going to wait
upon me."

"Yes, indeed," said Mr. Alstyne in a flash, "nothing easier;" and he
disappeared as suddenly as he came.

"Now, boys," said Polly, turning back to them and whispering busily, "I
know you won't ever say such perfectly dreadful things to each other
again. And so I'm going to ask you both to get me something to eat, will
you?"

"How do you know we won't?" cried Percy slowly. He was sorry enough for
the episode in the coach, yet couldn't resist the temptation to show he
was not to be driven.

"Because I shall then have nothing whatever to eat," said Polly merrily,
"for of course I can't take a bit from anybody else after refusing Mr.
Alstyne's kindness. Don't you see? Oh, Percy! you wouldn't quite do
that?"

Van laughed. "She's got us, Percy," he said, "quite fast. You know you
won't fight, and I won't again; we both said so a little while back; so
what's the good of holding out now?"

Percy drew himself up very slowly and decidedly. "I won't trouble you so
again, Polly," holding out his hand. "Now would you like oysters?" all
in the same breath.

"And here's mine," cried Van, extending his brown one. "Can't I bring
you some salad?"

"Yes, yes," cried Polly gaily, and she released their hands after a
cordial grasp. "You may bring me everything straight through, boys," as
they rushed off, heads erect, to the crowded supper-table.

"You've had a good time?" asked Mrs. Pepper slowly, with a keen glance
into the flushed face and sparkling eyes, as they turned up the gas in
Polly's bedroom. "Dear me! it is half-past eleven."

"Splendid," said Polly, shaking herself free from the white gown and
beginning to braid her hair for the night. "Percy and Van were perfectly
lovely, and Mr. Alstyne was so good to me. And oh! Mamsie, isn't dear
Mr. King just the dearest dear, to give all this to the boys? We haven't
thanked him half enough."

"He is indeed," said Mrs. Pepper heartily. "Why, where is Phronsie?"
looking around the room.

"She was right back of you," said Polly. "She wanted to take off her
things herself. Did you ever see such a sweet"--she began, but Mrs.
Pepper did not stop to hear, hurrying out to the adjoining room, shared
by the mother and her baby.

"She isn't here," Polly heard her say in bewildered tones. So Polly, her
long hair blown about her face, ran in, brush in hand.

"Why, where"--she began laughingly.

"She wouldn't go downstairs, I don't think," said Mrs. Pepper, peering
in all the corners, and even meditating a look under the bed.

"No, no," cried Polly, "the lights are all turned out," investigating
all possible and impossible nooks that a mouse could creep into. "Where
can she be? Phronsie--Phronsie!"

"Well, of course she is downstairs," declared Mrs. Pepper at last,
hurrying out of the room.

"Take a candle, Mamsie, you'll fall," cried Polly, and throwing on her
bath wrapper, she seized the light from the mantel and hurried after
her.

Half-way down she could hear Phronsie's gay little laugh, and catch the
words "Good-night, my dear Grandpapa," and then she came slowly out from
Mr. King's sitting-room, and softly closed the door.

"Phronsie!" exclaimed Polly, sitting down on the middle of the stairs,
the candle shaking ominously, "how could"--

"Hush!" said Mrs. Pepper, who had fumbled her way along the hall. "Don't
say anything. Oh, Phronsie dear, so you went down to bid Grandpapa good-
night, did you?"

Phronsie turned a glance of gentle surprise on her mother, and then
looked up at Polly.

"No, not exactly to bid him good-night," she said slowly. "I was afraid
he was sick; I heard him coughing, so I went down."

"He is quite well, isn't he?" asked Mrs. Pepper. "Here, give me your
hand, child; we must get up to bed."

"Oh, yes! he is quite really and truly all well," declared Phronsie,
breaking into another glad little laugh. "He said he never had such a
beautiful time in his life, and he is just as well as he can be. Oh,
Polly!" as she picked up her Princess gown and prepared to ascend the
stairs, "how funny you look sitting there!"

"Funny?" said Polly grimly. "I dare say, and I feel funny too,
Phronsie."




VI

THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE


They were all sitting around the library fire; Polly under the pretext of
holding Phronsie's head in her lap, was sitting on the rug beside her,
the boys on either hand; old Mr. King was marching up and down the long
room, and looking at them. The merriest of stories had been told, Polly
urging on all the school records of jolly times, and those not so
enjoyable; songs had been sung, and all sorts of nonsense aired. At last
Joel sprang up and ran over to pace by the old gentleman's side.

"Christmas was good enough," said the boy, by way of beginning
conversation.

"Hey?" responded the old gentleman, looking down at him, I should think
it was. Well, and how about the wonderful play on the twenty-first? And
that was good enough, too, I dare say."

"That was well enough," said Joel indifferently, "I don't care for such
stuff, though."

"Tut--tut!" cried Mr. King in pretended anger, "now I won't have anything
said against that wonderful production. Not a thing, sir, do you hear?"

Joel laughed, his chubby face twinkling all over in secret amusement.
"Well, I know something better, if you'll only let us do it, sir, than a
hundred old plays."

"And pray what is it?" demanded Mr. King, "let's have it at once. But
the idea of surpassing the play! Oh, no, no, it can't be done, sir!"

"It's to go and see the little brown house," said Joel, standing up on
his tiptoes to a level with the old gentleman's ear, and one eye looking
backward to see that nobody heard.

Mr. King started, pulled his handsome moustache thoughtfully, looked at
Joel sharply, and then over at the group in the firelight.

"They don't know anything about it," cried the boy in a whisper, "don't
tell them. It's my secret, and yours," he added generously. "Oh! if we
might only go and look at it."

"It's winter," observed the old gentleman, and stepping to the window he
put aside the draperies, to peer out into the black evening. "Yes, it
really is winter," he added with a shiver, to the boy who was close
behind, and as if no longer in doubt about it, he added most
emphatically, "it really is winter, Joel."

"Well, but you never saw anything like it, how magnificent winter is in
Badgertown," cried Joel in an excited whisper. "Such hills to coast
down; the snow is always crisp there, sir, not like this dirty town mud.
And the air is as dry as punk," he added artfully. "Oh! 'twould be such
a lark;" he actually clasped his hands.

"Badgertown isn't so very far off," said Mr. King thoughtfully, "I'll
think about it and see if we can manage it."

"Ugh-ow!" squealed Joel, utterly forgetful of his caution of secrecy,
"we can, we can; we can open the little brown house, and build great
fires there, and"--But he got no further. Into the midst of Van's
liveliest sally, came the words "little brown house," bringing all the
young people to their feet, Phronsie running to the old gentleman's
side, with, "What is it, Grandpapa? He said the little brown house."

"Get away!" cried Joel crossly to the besiegers, each and all wildly
clamoring. "What is it? What are you talking about? It's my secret," he
cried, "and his," pointing with a dismayed finger to Mr. King.

"Well, it isn't a secret any longer," cried Polly, flushing with
excitement. "You said 'little brown house,' we heard you just as
plainly; and you re getting up something, I know you are." "People don't
usually select a roomful of listeners, and then shout out their
secrets," said Jasper. "You are in for it now, Joe, and no mistake. Go
ahead, old fellow, and give us the rest of it."

Joel whirled away from them all in desperation. "You might as well,"
laughed the old gentleman, "the mischief is done now, and no mistake."

So Joel, thus set upon, allowed the whole beautiful plan to be wrung
from him, by slow and torturing installments; how they all were to go to
Badgertown, open the little brown house, and stay there--here he glanced
at Mr. King--"perhaps a week," he brought out suddenly, filling the time
with all sorts of frolics, and playing they were there again, and really
and truly living in the old home.

At last it was all out, to be received in different ways by the
listeners.

"Oh, Joe!" cried Davie with shining eyes. "We never could come away
again if we once get there, never!"

Polly stood quite still, a mist gathering before her glad eyes, out of
which she dimly saw the little brown house arise and beckon to her.

Phronsie jumped up and down and clapped her hands in glee. "Oh,
Grandpapa, Grandpapa!" she screamed, "please take us to the little brown
house, please!"

That settled it. "I do not think we need to consider it longer," said
Mr. King, glancing at Ben, whose face told what he thought, "children,
we will go--that is, if Mrs. Pepper says yes.

"I will ask her," cried Joel with a howl, springing off.

"Come on," cried Jasper, "let's all 'be in at the death.'" And the
library was deserted in a twinkling.

But mother was nowhere to be found. "Upstairs, downstairs, and in the
lady's chamber," they sought her wildly.

"Oh! I forgot," exclaimed Polly, when at last they gathered in the wide
hall, disposing themselves on the chairs and along the stairs, all tired
out. "She has gone to evening meeting with Auntie. How stupid of me not
to remember that."

"Well, I declare!" cried a voice above them, and looking up they met the
cold blue eyes of Mrs. Chatterton regarding them over the railing.
"Cousin Horatio, do you keep a menagerie, or a well-ordered house, I beg
to inquire?"

"A menagerie," said Mr. King coolly, leaning on the balustrade at the
foot of the stairs, and looking up at her. "All sorts of strange animals
wander in here, Cousin."

"Hum; I understand. I'm not so dull as you think. Well, you've changed,
let me tell you, vastly, and not for the better either, in the last six
years. Who would ever suppose I see before me fastidious Horatio King!"
she exclaimed, lifting her long thin hands to show him their horror-
stricken palms.

"I dare say, I dare say, Cousin Eunice," assented Mr. King carelessly,
"but I consider all you say as a compliment."

"Compliment?" she repeated disdainfully, and added with a rising note of
anger, forgetting herself, "there's no fool like an old fool."

"So I think," said Mr. King in the same tone as before. "Children, come
into my room now, and close the door." And Cousin Eunice was left to air
further opinions to her own ear.

But when Mother Pepper and Mrs. Whitney did come home from the meeting,
oh! what a time there was. They all fell upon her, as soon as the door
opened, and the whole air was filled with "little brown house." "May we-
-may we?" "A whole week." "Two days, Mamsie, do say yes," and Phronsie's
glad little chirp "Grandpapa wants to go, he does!" ending every other
exclamation.

"What a babel," cried Mrs. Pepper, her black eyes roving over the
excited group. "Now what is it all about? Baby, you tell mother first."

Phronsie was not too big to jump into the comfortable lap, and while her
fingers played with the bonnet strings, she laid the whole delightful
plan open, the others hanging over them in ill-suppressed excitement.

"Well, you see, Mamsie," she began deliberately.

"Oh! you are so slow, Phronsie," exclaimed Polly, "do hurry."

"Let her take her own time," said Mr. King, "go on, child."

"Dear Grandpapa," proceeded Phronsie, turning her yellow head to look at
him, her hand yet among the bonnet strings, "is going to take us all,
every single one, to see the little brown house, and just touch it once,
and be sure it's there, and peek in the doors and windows and"--

"No, no," roared Joel, "we're going to stay, and a week too," hopping
confidently up and down.

"Oh, Joe! not a week," corrected Polly with glowing cheeks, "perhaps two
days; we don't know yet."

"Three--three," begged Van, pushing his head further into the center of
the group. "Mrs. Pepper, do say you want to stay three days," he begged.

"I haven't said I wanted to go yet," she answered with a smile.

"Now, every one of you keep quiet," commanded Mr. King, raising his
hand, "or you'll spoil the whole thing. Phronsie shall tell her story as
she likes."

Thereupon the rest, with the shadow of his warning that the whole might
be spoiled, fell back to a vigorous restraint once more.

"Perhaps," cried Phronsie with shining eyes, and grasping the strings
tighter she leaned forward and pressed her red lips on the mother's
mouth, "we'll go in and stay. Oh, Mamsie!"

That "Oh, Mamsie!" carried the day, and every one hanging on the
conversation knew as soon as they heard it that a victory had been won.

"It's no use to contend against the Fates," said Mrs. Whitney, laughing,
"Mrs. Pepper, you and I know that."

"That's so," cried old Mr. King, "and whoever finds it out early in
life, is the lucky one. Now, children, off with you and talk it over,"
he cried, dismissing them as if they were all below their teens. "I want
to talk with Mrs. Pepper now."

And in two days they were ready to go. Mrs. Chatterton with nose high in
the air, and plentiful expressions of disgust at such a mid-winter
expedition, taking herself off to make a visit of corresponding length
to some distant relatives.

"I hope and pray this may not get into a society paper," she cried at
the last, as she was seated in the carriage, "but of course it will;
outre things always do. And we shall be disgraced for life. One comfort
remains to me, I am not in it."

Mr. King, holding the carriage door, laughed long and loudly. "No,
Cousin Eunice," he said, "you are not in it. Take comfort in that
thought. Good-by," and the carriage rolled off.

Mother Pepper and the five little Peppers were going back to the little
brown house. "Really and truly we are," as Phronsie kept saying over and
over again with every revolution of the car-wheels, in a crooning
fashion, and making it impossible for Mr. King to shiver in apprehension
at the step he was taking. Were not two cases of blankets and household
comforts safely packed away in the luggage car? "It's not such a
dreadful risk," said the old gentleman gruffly to himself, "it's quite a
common occurrence nowadays to take a winter outing in the country. We're
all right," and he re-enforced himself further by frequent glances at
Mrs. Pepper's black bonnet, two seats off.

It was to be a three-days' frolic, after all. Not that the whole party
were to stay in the little brown house. O dear, no! how could they? It
was only big enough for the Peppers. So Mrs. Whitney and her three boys,
with Mr. King, and Jasper, who concealed many disappointed feelings,
planned to settle down in the old hotel at Hingham.

And before anybody imagined they could reach there so soon, there they
were at Badgertown Center, to find Mr. Tisbett waiting there on his
stage-box as if he had not stirred from it for five years.

"Sho, now!" he called out from his elevated position to Mrs. Pepper, as
she stepped down from the car, "it's good to see you, though. Land! how
many of ye be there? And is that Phronsie? Sho, now!"

"Did you get my letter?" exclaimed Mother Pepper to Mrs. Henderson, who
was pressing up to grasp her hand, and preparing to fall on the young
folks separately. The parson stood just back, biding his time with a
smile.

"Is it possible?" he exclaimed; "are these tall boys and girls the five
little Peppers? It can't be, Mrs. Pepper," as at last he had her hand.
"You are imposing on us."

And then the village people who had held back until their pastor and his
wife paid their respects, rushed up and claimed their rights, and it was
high holiday indeed for Badgertown.

"My goodness!" exclaimed Mr. King at a little remove and viewing the
scene with great disfavor, "this is worse than the danger of taking
cold. Have they no sense, to carry on like this?"

"They're so glad to see the Peppers again, father," said Mrs. Whitney
with bright eyes. "You took them away from all these good people, you
know; it's but fair to give them up for one day."

The old gentleman fumed and fretted, however, in a subdued fashion; at
last wisely turning his back, he began to stalk down the platform, under
pretense of examining the landscape.

"Your friends will stay with us," Mrs. Henderson was saying in a gently
decisive manner, "the old parsonage is big enough," she added with a
laugh.

"Oh! you are so good and thoughtful, dear Mrs. Henderson," cried Mrs.
Pepper with delight at the thought of the homelike warmth of the
parsonage life awaiting the old gentleman, for whom she was dreading the
dreary hotel.

"I'm good to ourselves," declared the parson's wife gaily.

Jasper gave a shout when the new arrangement was declared, as it
presently was by Percy and Van, who flung themselves after him as he was
seeing to the luggage with Ben, and his face glowed with the greatest
satisfaction.

"That is jolly," he exclaimed, "and that's a fact! Now, Ben, we're but a
stone's throw apart. Rather different, isn't it, old fellow, from the
time when I used to race over from Hingham with Prince at my heels?"

Dr. Fisher's little thin, wiry figure was now seen advancing upon the
central group, and everybody fell away to let him have his chance to
welcome the Peppers.

"I couldn't get here before," he cried, his eyes glowing behind his
spectacles. "I've left a very sick patient. This is good," he took them
all in with a loving glance, but his hand held to Polly. "Now I'm going
to drive you down in my gig," he said to her at last. "Will you come?"

"Yes, indeed," cried Polly in delight, as her mother smiled approval,
and she ran off to let him help her in. "It's only yesterday since you
took me to drive, Dr. Fisher, and you gave me my stove--is it?" And so
she rambled on, the little doctor quite charmed to hear it all.

But Mr. Tisbett had a truly dreadful time placing his party in the old
stage, as the townsfolk, fearful that so good a chance for seeing the
Peppers would not happen during the three days' stay, insisted on
crowding up close to the ancient vehicle, and getting in everybody's
way, thereby calling forth some exclamations from Mr. King that could
not be regarded as exactly complimentary. And quite sure that he was a
frightful tyrant, they fell back with many a pitying glance at the
Pepper family whom he was endeavoring to assist into their places.

At last it was all accomplished in some way, and Mr. Tisbett cracked his
whip, Mrs. Pepper and Phronsie leaned out of the window to bow right and
left into smiling faces, Ben and Davie did the same over their heads.

"Good-by," sang out Joel, whom the stage driver had taken up beside him.
"Here we are, off for the little brown house. G'lang!"




VII

OLD TIMES AGAIN


Don't let me look--oh! don't let me look," cried Polly in the old gig,
and twisting around, she hid her face against the faded green cloth side.
"I ought not to see the little brown house before Mamsie and the others
do."

"I'll turn down the lane," said the little doctor, "so"; and suiting the
action to the word, Polly could feel that they were winding down the
narrow little road over toward Grandma Bascom's. She could almost smell
the violets and anemones under the carpet of snow, and could scarcely
restrain herself from jumping out for a riotous run.

"Don't go too far away," she cried in sudden alarm. "We must be there by
the time the stage does." And she applied her eye to the little circular
glass in the back of the gig. "Will it never come--oh! here it is, here
it is, dear Dr. Fisher." And with a quick flourish around of the old
horse, they were soon before the little brown house, and helping out the
inmates of the stage, who with more speed than grace were hurrying over
the steps.

Joel was down before Mr. Tisbett had fairly drawn up in front of the
gate. "Hold on," roared the stage driver, "I don't want you to break
your neck with me."

"It's really here!" cried Phronsie with wide eyes, standing quite still
on a hummock of frozen snow, with her eyes riveted on the house. "It
really is!" Polly had raced up the winding path, and over the flat stone
to drop a kiss on the little old door.

"Oh! oh! Mamsie, do come!" she cried to Mrs. Pepper on the path.

"Hum! I think, Jasper, you and I will let them alone for a few moments,"
said Mr. King, who was still within the stage. "Here, my good fellow,"
to Mr. Tisbett, "you say it's all comfortable in there for them?"

"Yes, yes, sir," said Mr. Tisbett heartily. "Good land! Mis' Henderson
had her boys come down airly this mornin' and make the fires; and
there's a mighty sight of things to eat." The stage-driver put one foot
on the hind wheel to facilitate conversation, and smacked his lips.

"All very well. Now you may drive us down the road a bit," said Mr.
King, withdrawing his head to the depths of the lumbering old vehicle
again.

"Ain't goin' in?" cried Mr. Tisbett, opening his round eyes at him in
astonishment.

"Get up and drive us on, I say," commanded the old gentleman, "and cease
your talking," which had the effect to send honest Mr. Tisbett
clambering expeditiously up to the box, where he presently revenged
himself by driving furiously over all the hard frozen ruts he could
quickly select, determined not to stop till he was obliged to.

"Goodness!" exclaimed Mr. King within, holding to the strap at the side,
as well as to the leather band of the swinging seat in front. "What an
abominable road!"

"The road is well enough," said Jasper, who couldn't bear to have a word
uttered against Badgertown, "it's the fellow's driving that makes it
rough. Here, can't you be a little more careful to keep the road?" he
called, thrusting his head out of the window. But he only narrowly
escaped losing his brown traveling cap for his pains, as the stage gave
a worse lurch than before, to introduce a series of creakings and
joltings hitherto unparalleled.

"I cannot endure this much longer," said old Mr. King, growing white
around the mouth, and wishing he had strength for one-half the
exclamations he felt inwardly capable of. Outside, honest Mr. Tisbett
was taking solid comfort in the reflection that he was teaching a rich
city man that he could not approach with anything less than respect a
citizen of Badgertown.

"Ain't I as good as he?" cried Mr. Tisbett to himself, with an extra cut
to the off horse, as he spied a sharp ragged edge of ice along the cart
track in front of him. "Now that's good; that'll shake him," he added
cheerfully. "Land! but I hain't been spoke to so since I was sassed at
school by Jim Bently, and then I licked him enough to pay twice over.
G'lang there--easy!"

The first thing he knew, one of the glass windows was shivered to
fragments; the bits flying off along the quiet road, to fall a gleaming
shower upon the snow.

"Whoa!" called Mr. Tisbett, to his smoking horses, and leaning over, he
cried, "What's the matter in there?"

"The matter is," said Jasper, putting his face out, "that as I could not
possibly make you hear my calls, I chose to break the window. Have the
goodness to let my father and me at once out of this vehicle."

Mr. Tisbett got down slowly over the wheel. "Beg your pardon," he said
awkwardly, pulling open the door, "ain't you goin' to ride back?"

"Heavens!" cried Mr. King. He was glad to find he could ejaculate so
much as he tremblingly worked his way out to terra firma. "Nothing on
earth would tempt me to step foot inside there again."

"Here is the money for your window," said Jasper, putting a bill into
the fur mitten, covering Mr. Tisbett's brawny right hand. "Kindly bring
our traps to the little brown house; here, father, take my arm," and he
ran after the tall figure, picking its way along the frozen road.

"Hey--what's this?" exclaimed Mr. Tisbett, looking into the center of
his fur mitten, "five dollars! Gee--thumps! I ain't a-goin' to take it,
after shaking that old party almost to pieces."

He stood staring at the bill in stupid perplexity till the uneasy
movements of his horses warned him that his position was not exactly the
proper one for a stage-driver who was on his box from morning till
night, so he clambered over the wheel, full of vexed thoughts, and
carefully tucked the bill under the old cushion before he took his seat.

"Ill give it back to him, that's cert'in," he said, picking up the
reins, "and p'raps they've had enough walkin' so they'll let me pick 'em
up," which raised him out of his depression not a little.

But the stern faces of the old gentleman and the tall boy smote him with
a chill, long before he passed them, and he drove by silently, well
knowing it would not do to broach the subject by so much as a look.

Not daring to go near the little brown house without the occupants of
the stage who had driven down the road with him, Mr. Tisbett drew up
miserably to a convenient angle, and waited till the two came up. Then
without trusting himself to think, he sprang to the ground, and with
shame written all over his honest face, called out, "See here, you young
chap, I want to speak to you, when you've got him in the house."

"I will see you then," said Jasper, as the two hurried on to meet the
Peppers rushing out from the little brown house, and down the small
path.

"I've made an awful mess for 'em all, and they just come home," groaned
Mr. Tisbett; drawing his fur mitten across his eyes, and leading his
horses, he followed at a funeral pace, careful not to stop at the gate
until the door was closed, when he began furiously to unload.

A footstep crunching the snow, broke into the noise he was making. "Hoh!
well," he exclaimed, pausing with a trunk half-off the rack, "it's a
mighty awkward thing for a man to say he's sorry, but you bet I be, as
cert'in as my name's John Tisbett." His face became so very red that
Jasper hastened to put his young shoulder under the trunk, a movement
that only added to the stage-driver's distress.

"It don't pay to get mad, now I tell you," declared Mr. Tisbett, dumping
the trunk down on the snow, and then drawing himself to his full height;
"fust place, your pa sassed me, and"--

"He didn't intend to," cried Jasper eagerly, "and I'll apologize for
him, if that's what you want." He laid his strong right hand in the old
fur mitten.

"Good land! Tain't what I want," cried honest John, but he gripped the
hand nevertheless, a fact that the boy never forgot; "I say I'm sorry I
shook up your pa."

"His age ought to have protected him," said the boy simply.

"Sho! that's a fact," cried Mr. Tisbett, sinking in deeper distress,
"but how is anybody to remember he's so old, when he steps so almighty
high, as if he owned all Badgertown--say!"

"I think we shall be good friends, Mr. Tisbett," said Jasper cordially,
as he turned to wave his hand toward the little brown house;
simultaneously the door opened, and all the young Peppers and Whitneys
rushed out to help in the delightful unloading.

It was well along in the afternoon. The dusk of the December twilight
shut down speedily, around the little brown house and its happy
occupants, but no one wanted the candles lighted till the last moment.

"Oh, Polly!" cried Joel, who was prancing as of old over the kitchen
floor, "don't you remember that night when you said you wished you had
two hundred candles, and you'd light them all at once?"

"I said a good many silly things in those days," said Polly
meditatively, and smoothing Phronsie's yellow hair that was lying across
her lap.

"Some silly ones, and a good many wise ones," observed Mother Pepper,
over in her little old rocker in the west window, where she used to sit
sewing up coats and sacks for the village storekeeper. "You kept us
together many a time, Polly, when nothing else could."

"Oh! no, I didn't, Mamsie," protested Polly, guilty of contradicting,
"you and Bessie did. I just washed dishes, and swept up, and"--

"Baked and brewed, and fussed and stewed," finished Joel, afraid of
being too sentimental.

"Polly was just lovely in those days," said Davie, coming across the
room to lay a cool cheek against her rosy one. "I liked the rainy days
best when we all could stay in the house, and hear her sing and tell
stories while she was working."

"She was cross sometimes," cried Joel, determined not to let
reminiscences become too comfortable; "she used to scold me just
awfully, I know."

Polly broke into a merry laugh; yet she exclaimed, "You poor Joey, I
suppose I was dreadful!"

"You didn't catch one half as bad scoldings as belonged to you," put in
Ben, thrusting another stick in the stove. "You were a bad lot, Joe, in
those days."

"And not over good in these," cried old Mr. King, ensconced in the
snuggest corner in the seat of honor, the high-backed rocker that
comforted Phronsie after her little toe was hurt. "There, now, my boy,
how's that?" with a grim smile.

"Do you remember when the old stove used to plague you, Polly?" cried
Joel, suddenly changing the conversation. "And how Ben's putty was
everlastingly tumbling out? Hoh--hoh!"

"And you two boys were always stuffing up the holes for me, when Ben was
away," cried Polly, with affectionate glances at Davie and Joel.

"I didn't so much," said Joel honestly, "Dave was always giving boot-
tops and such things."

"Boot-tops!" repeated Mr. King in astonishment. "Bless me, I didn't know
that they had anything in common with stoves."

"Oh! that was before we knew you," said Joel, ready in advance of any
one else with the explanation; "it wasn't this stove. Dr. Fisher gave
Polly this one after she had the measles; but it was a lumbering old
affair that was full of holes that had to be stopped up with anything we
could get. And leather was the best; and Davie saved all the old boot-
heels and tops he could find, you know."

"Oh!" said the old gentleman, wondering if other revelations would come
to light about the early days of the Peppers.

"Isn't Dr. Fisher lovely?" cried Polly, with sparkling eyes, "just the
same as ever. Mamsie, I ought to do something for him.

"He is as good as gold," assented Mrs. Pepper heartily. "You've done
something, I'm sure, Polly. The medical books you bought out of your
pocket money, and sent him, pleased him more than anything you could
give him."

"But I want to do something now," said Polly. "Oh! just think how good
he was to us."

"May we never forget it!" exclaimed Mrs. Pepper, wiping her eyes.

"But he's very unwise," said Mr. King a trifle testily, "not to take up
with my offer to establish him in the town. A man like him could easily
hold a good practice, because the fellow's got ability."

"Oh! Dr. Fisher wouldn't leave Badgertown," cried all the Peppers in a
bunch. "And what would the poor people here do without him?" finished
Polly.

"Well, well, never mind, he won't come to town, and that's enough," said
the old gentleman quickly. "Aside from that, he's a sensible chap, and
one quite to my liking."

"Oh, Polly!" cried Phronsie suddenly, and lifting her head, she fastened
her brown eyes on the face above her, "wasn't Mamsie's birthday cake
good?"

"The flowers were pretty, but the cake was heavy, don't you remember?"
said Polly, who hadn't recovered from that grief even yet.

"I thought it was just beautiful," cried Mrs. Pepper hastily. "No one
could have baked it better in the old stove you had. I'm sure we ate it
all up, every crumb."

"We kept it in the old cupboard," cried Joel, rushing over to the corner
to swing the door open. "And we never once peeked, Mamsie, so afraid
you'd suspect."

"You kept staring at the cupboard door all the evening, Joe, you know
you did," cried Ben; "you were just within a hair's breadth of letting
the whole thing out ever so many times. Polly and I had to drag you
away. We were glad enough when you went to bed, I can tell you."

"You were always sending me off to bed in those days," said Joel, taking
his head out of the cupboard to throw vindictive glances over to the
group around the stove.

"I wish we could do so now," said Ben.

"And those two," Joel went on, pointing to Polly and Ben, "used to go
whispering around a lot of old secrets, that they wouldn't tell us. Oh!
it was perfectly awful, wasn't it, Dave?" bestowing a small pinch on
that individual's shoulder.

"I liked the secrets best not to know them till Polly and Ben got ready
to tell us," said David slowly; "then they were just magnificent."

Phronsie had laid her head back in the waiting lap, and was crooning
softly to herself.

"I want to go and see dear good Mr. Beebe," she said presently, "and
nice Mrs. Beebe, can I, Mamsie?" looking over at her.

"To be sure," cried Mrs. Pepper, "you shall indeed, child."

"Beebe-Beebe, and who is he, pray?" demanded Mr. King.

"Oh! he keeps the shoe shop over in the Center," explained three or four
voices, "and Phronsie's new shoes were bought there, you know."

"And he gave me pink and white candy-sticks," said Phronsie, and he was
very nice; and I like him very much."

"And Mrs. Beebe gave us doughnuts all around," communicated Joel; "I
don't know but that I liked those best. There was more to them."

"So you always bought your new shoes of the Beebes?" asked the old
gentleman, a question that brought all the five Peppers around his chair
at once.

"We didn't ever have new shoes that I can remember," said Joel quickly,
"except Phronsie's, and once Ben had a new pair. He had to, because he
was the oldest, you know."

"Oh!" said Mr. King.

"You see," said Phronsie, shaking her head gravely, while she laid one
hand on his knee, "we were very poor, Grandpapa dear. Don't you
understand?"

"Yes, yes, child," said old Mr. King; "there, get up here," and he took
her within his arms.

"No, no, you're not going to talk yet," seeing Percy and Van beginning
violent efforts to join in the conversation. "Let the Peppers have a
chance to talk over old times first. See how good Jasper is to wait."

"I would much prefer to hear the Peppers talk forever," said Jasper,
smiling down on the two Whitneys, "than to have the gates opened for a
general flood. Go on, do, Polly and Ben, and the rest of you."

"Oh! there is so much," said Polly despairingly, clasping her hands, "we
shouldn't get through if we talked ten years, should we, Ben? Mamsie,"
and she rushed over to her, "can we have a baking time to-morrow, just
as we used to in the old days? Oh! do say yes."

"Yes, do say yes," echoed Jasper, also rushing to the side of the little
rocking-chair. "You will, won't you, Mrs. Pepper?"

"Hoh! hoh!" cried the two Whitneys derisively, "I thought you could
'hear the Peppers talk forever.' That's great, Jasper."

"Well, when it comes to hearing a proposal for a baking frolic, my
principles are thrown to the wind," said Jasper recklessly. "Why, boys,
that's the first thing I remember about the little brown house. Do say
yes, Mrs. Pepper!"




VIII

SOME BADGERTOWN CALLS


Well, I declare!" exclaimed Grandma Bascom, opening the door and looking
in, "I never!"

"Come in," cried Mr. King sociably. His night over at the parsonage had
been a most fortunate experiment. "I haven't slept so finely in ten
years," he confided to Mrs. Whitney as they met at breakfast at the
minister's table. So now, his face wreathed with smiles, he repeated his
invitation. "Come in, do, Mrs. Bascom; we're glad to see you."

"I never!" said Grandma Bascom once more, for want of something better
to say, and coming close to the center of operations.

Jasper, attired in one of Mrs. Pepper's long aprons, which was fastened
in the style of the old days, by the strings around his neck, was busily
engaged in rolling out under Polly's direction, a thin paste, expected
presently under the genial warmth of the waiting stove, to evolve into
most toothsome cakes. Ben was similarly attired, and similarly employed;
while Joel and David were in a sticky state, preparing their dough after
their own receipt, over at the corner table, their movements closely
followed by the three Whitneys.

Phronsie, before a board laid across two chairs, was enlightening old
Mr. King who sat by her, into the mysteries of baking day.

"Do bake a gingerbread boy," he begged. "I never had anything half so
good as the one you sent over to Hingham."

"You were my poor sick man then," observed Phronsie, with slow, even
pats on her bit of dough. "Please, the rolling-pin now, Grandpapa dear."

"To be sure," cried the old gentleman; "here, Jappy, my boy, be so good
as to hand us over that article."

"And you see," continued Phronsie, receiving the rolling-pin, and making
the deftest of passes with it over the soft mass, "I couldn't send you
anything better, though I wanted to, Grandpapa dear."

"Better?" cried Mr. King. "I should think not; you couldn't have made me
anything that pleased me more, had you tried a thousand times."

Phronsie never tired of hearing this, and now humming a soft note of
thanks, proceeded with her task, declaring that she would make the best
gingerbread boy that could possibly be achieved.

Grandma Bascom was still reiterating "I never," and going slowly from
one group to another to inspect operations. When she came to Phronsie,
she stopped short, raising her hands in surprise. "Seems as ef 'twas
only yesterday when the Peppers went away, though land knows I've missed
'em all most dretfully, 'an there sets that blessed child baking, as big
as any of 'em. I never!"

"Have you any more raisins to give us, Grandma?" shouted Joel across the
kitchen. "They were terribly hard," he added in his natural voice;
"almost broke our teeth."

"Hey?" called Grandma back again.

"Raisins, Grandma, or peppermints," cried Joel.

"Oh, Joe, for shame!" called Ben.

"I'm going to have the fun of going after them," declared Joel, throwing
down his dough-pat, and wiping his sticky fingers on his apron; "just
like old times--so there!"

"I'll go over and get 'em," said Grandma; "you come along with me,"
looking admiringly up at the tall boy; so the two, Joel laughing and
hopping by her side as if he were five years younger, disappeared, well-
pleased with each other.

"Now I shall take his dough," declared Dick, rushing around the end of
the table to Joel's deserted place.

"No such thing," declared Van, flying out of his chair. "Leave your
hands off, youngster! that's to be mine."

Polly looked up from the little cookies she was cutting with the top of
a tin baking powder box and their eyes met.

"I didn't promise not to have it out with Dicky," said Van stoutly.
"He's a perfect plague, and always under foot. I never thought of such a
thing as not making him stand around, Polly."

But the brown eyes did not return to their task, as Polly mechanically
stamped another cooky.

"I only promised not to have a bout with Percy," Van proceeded
uncomfortably. And in the same breath, "Go ahead, If you want it, Dicky,
I don't care."

"I do want it," declared Dick, clambering into Van's chair, while Van
returned to his own, "and I'm going to have it too. I guess you think
you'd better give it up now, sir; I'm getting so big."

"Softly there, Dicky," said Mrs. Whitney, over in the window-seat with
her fancy work; "if Van gives up, you should thank him; I think he is
very good to do it." And the bigger boy's heart warmed with the radiant
smile she sent him.

Dick gave several vicious thrusts to his dough, and looked up at last to
say very much against his will, "Thank you," and adding brightly, "but
you know I'm getting big, sir, and you'd better give up."

"All right," said Van, with that smile in his heart feeling equal to
anything.

"Now," cried Jasper, with a flourish of his baking apron, "mine are
ready. Here goes!" and he opened the oven door and pushed in a pan of
biscuit.

"Jappy's always ahead in everything," grumbled Percy, laboring away at
his dough. "How in the world do you make the thing roll out straight?
Mine humps up in the middle."

"Put some more flour on the board," said Polly, running over to him.
"There, now see, Percy, if that doesn't roll smooth." "It does with
you," said Percy, taking the rolling-pin again, to send it violently
over the long-suffering dough, "and--I declare, it's going to do with
me," he cried, in delight at the large flat cake staring up at him from
the board. "Now, says I, I'll beat you, Jappy!" And presently the whole
kitchen resounded with a merry din, as the several cakes and biscuits
were declared almost ready for their respective pans.

"But, I can tell you, this gingerbread boy is going in next," declared
Mr. King from Phronsie's baking-board. "It's almost done, isn't it,
child?"

"Not quite, Grandpapa," said Phronsie; "this eye won't stay in just like
the other. It doesn't look the same way, don't you see?" pointing to the
currant that certainly showed no inclination to do its duty, as any
well-bred eye should. "Wait just a moment, please; I'll pull it out and
stick it in again."

"Take another," advised the old gentleman, fumbling over the little heap
of currants on the saucer. "There, here's a good round one, and very
expressive, too, Phronsie."

"That's lovely," hummed Phronsie, accepting the new eye with very sticky
fingers. "Now, he's all ready," as she set it in its place, and took the
boy up tenderly. "Give me a pan, do, Polly."

"Did you cut that out?" cried Dick, turning around in his chair, and
regarding her enviously, "all alone by yourself? Didn't Grandpapa help
you just one teeny bit to make the legs and the hands?"

"No; she made it all herself," said the old gentleman, with justifiable
pride. "There, Phronsie, here's your pan," as Polly set it down before
her with a "You precious dear, that's perfectly elegant!"

Phronsie placed the boy within the pan, and gave it many a loving pat.
"Grandpapa sat here, and looked at it, and smiled," she said, turning
her eyes gravely on Dick, "and that helped ever so much. I couldn't ever
have made it so nice alone. Good-by; now bake like a good boy. Let me
put it in the oven all by myself, do, Polly," she begged.

So Phronsie, the old gentleman escorting her in mortal dread that she
would be burned, safely tucked her long pan into the warmest corner,
shut the door, and gravely consulted the clock. "If I look at it in
twenty-one minutes, I think it will be done," she said, "quite brown."

In twenty-one minutes the whole kitchen was as far removed from being
the scene of a baking exploit as was possible. Everything was cleared
away, and set up primly in its place, leaving only a row of fine little
biscuits and cookies, with Phronsie's gingerbread boy in the midst, to
tell the tale of what had been going on. Outside there was a great
commotion.

Deacon Brown's old wagon stood at the gate, for the Peppers and their
friends; and, oh! joy, not the old horse between the shafts, but a newer
and much livelier beast. And on the straw laid in the bottom of the
wagon, the seats being removed, disported all the merry group, Mr. King
alone having the dignity of a chair.

Deacon Brown, delighted with his scheme of bringing the wagon over as a
surprise for the Peppers to take a drive in, was on the side of the
narrow foot-path, chuckling and rubbing his hands together. "You won't
have to drive so easy as you used to, Ben," he called out, "this
fellow's chirk; give him his head. Sho! what you goin' that way for?" as
Ben turned off down the lane.

"To Grandma Bascom's," shouted two or three voices.

"Joel's over there," sang out Polly.

"We couldn't go without him, you know," chirped Phronsie, poking a
distressed little face up from the straw heap.

"'Twould serve him just right if we did," said Van. "He's a great chap
to stay over there like this."

"No--no," cried Dick in terror, "don't go without Joel; I'd rather have
him than any of you," he added, not over politely.

Phronsie began to cry piteously at the mere thought of Joel's being left
behind.

"He wanted to see Mr. Beebe," she managed to say, "and dear Mrs. Beebe.
Oh! don't go without him." So Mr. King made them hand her up to him, and
at the risk of their both rolling out, he held her in his lap until the
wagon, stopping at the door of Grandma Bascom's cottage, brought Joel
bounding out with a whoop.

"Jolly! where'd you get that, and where are you going?" all in one
breath, as he swung himself up behind.

"Deacon Brown brought it over just now," cried Polly.

"As a surprise," furnished Percy. "Isn't he a fine old chap? Here's for
the very jolliest go!"

"We're going to see dear Mr. Beebe, and dear Mrs. Beebe," announced
Phronsie, smiling through her tears, and leaning out of the old
gentleman's lap to nod at him.

"Hurrah!" screamed Joel. "Good-by, Grandma," to the old lady, whose cap-
frills were framed in the small window. "I've had a fine time in there,"
he condescended to say, but nothing further as to the details could they
extract from him; and so at last they gave it up, and lent their
attention to the various things to be seen as the wagon spun along. And
so over and through the town, and to the very door of the little shoe-
shop, and there, to be sure, was Mr. Beebe the same as ever, to welcome
them; and Joel found to his immense satisfaction that the stone pot was
as full of sugary doughnuts as in the old days; and Phronsie had her
pink and white sticks, and Mrs. Beebe "Oh-ed" and "Ah-ed" over them all,
and couldn't bear to let them go when at last it was time to say "good-
by." And at last they all climbed into the old wagon, and were off again
on their round of visits.

It was not till the gray dusk of the winter afternoon settled down
unmistakably, so that no one could beg to stay out longer, that they
turned Deacon Brown's horse toward the little brown house.

"It's going to snow to-morrow, I think," observed Jasper, squinting up
at the leaden sky, "isn't it, father?"

"Whoop!" exclaimed Joel, "then we will have sport, I tell you!"

"It certainly looks like it," said old Mr. King, wrapping his fur-lined
coat closer. "Phronsie, are you sure you are warm enough?"

"Yes, Grandpapa dear," she answered, curling up deeper in the straw at
his feet.

"Do you remember how you would carry the red-topped shoes home with you,
Phronsie?" cried Polly, and then away they rushed again into "Oh, don't
you remember this, and you haven't forgotten that?" Jasper as wildly
reminiscent now as the others, for hadn't he almost as good as lived at
the little brown house, pray tell? So the Whitneys looked curiously on,
without a chance to be heard in all the merry chatter; and then they
drew up at the gate of the parsonage, where they were all to have
supper.

When Phronsie woke up in the big bed by the side of her mother the next
morning, Polly was standing over her, and looking down into her face.

"Oh, Phronsie!" she exclaimed in great glee, "the ground is all covered
with snow!"

"O--oh!" screamed Phronsie, her brown eyes flying wide open, "do give me
my shoes and stockings, Polly, do! I'll be dressed in just one--minute,"
and thereupon ensued a merry scramble as she tumbled out of the big bed,
and commenced operations, Polly running out to help Mamsie get the
breakfast.

"Mush seems good now we don't have to eat it," cried Joel, as they all
at last sat around the board.

"'Twas good then," said Mrs. Pepper, her black eyes roving over the
faces before her.

"How funny," cried Percy Whitney, who had run over from the parsonage to
breakfast, "this yellow stuff is." And he took up a spoonful of it
gingerly.

"You don't like it, Percy; don't try to eat it. I'll make you a slice of
toast," cried Polly, springing out of her chair, "in just one moment."

"No, you mustn't," cried Dick, bounding in in time to catch the last
words. "Mamma said no one was to have anything different, if we came to
breakfast, from what the Peppers are going to eat. I like the yellow
stuff; give me some, do," and he slid into a chair and passed his plate
to Mrs. Pepper.

"So you shall, Dicky," she said hastily. "And you will never taste
sweeter food than this," giving him a generous spoonful.

"Grandpapa is eating ham and fried eggs over at the minister's house,"
contributed Dick, after satisfying his hunger a bit.

"Ham and fried eggs!" exclaimed Mother Pepper, aghast. "Why, he never
touches them. You must be mistaken, my boy."

"No, I'm not," said Dick, obstinately. "The minister's wife said it was,
and she asked me if I wouldn't have some, and I said I was going over to
the Peppers to breakfast; I'd rather have some of theirs. And Grandpapa
said it was good--the ham and fried eggs was--and he took it twice; he
did, Mrs. Pepper."

"Took it twice?" she repeated, faintly, with troubled visions of the
future. "Well, well, the mischief is done now, so there is no use in
talking about it; but I'm worried, all the same."

"Hurry up, Percy," called Joel across the table, "and don't dawdle so.
We're going to make a double ripper, four yards long, to go down that
hill there." He laid down his spoon to point out the window at a distant
snow-covered slope.

Percy shivered, but recalling himself in time, said "Splendid," and
addressed himself with difficulty to his mush.

"Well, you'll never be through at that speed," declared Joel. "See I've
eaten three saucerfuls," and he handed his plate up, "And now for the
fourth, Mamsie."

"Oh! baked potatoes," cried Ben, rolling one around in his hand before
he took off its crackling skin. "Weren't they good, though, with a
little salt. I tell you, they helped us to chop wood in the old times!"

"I really think I shall have to try one," said Percy, who deeply to his
regret was obliged to confess that Indian meal mush had few charms for
his palate.

"There's real milk in my mug now," cried Phronsie, with long, deep
draughts. "Polly, did I ever have anything but make-believe in the
little brown house; ever, Polly?"

Polly was saved from answering by a stamping of snowy boots on the flat
doorstone.

"Hurrah, there!" cried Van, rushing in, followed by Jasper. "Hoh, you
slow people in the little brown house, come on for the double ripper!"




IX

A SUDDEN BLOW


"Mamsie," cried Polly, suddenly, and resting her hands on her knees as
she sat on the floor before the stove, "do you suppose there is any one
poor enough in Badgertown to need the little brown house when we lock it
up to-morrow?" "Not a soul," replied Mrs. Pepper, quickly; "no more than
there was when we first locked it up five years ago, Polly. I've been
all over that with the parson last evening; and he says there isn't a
new family in the place, and all the old ones have their homes, the same
as ever. So we can turn the key and leave it with a clear conscience."

Polly drew a long breath of delight, and gazed long at the face of the
stove that seemed to crackle out an answering note of joy as the wood
snapped merrily; then she slowly looked around the kitchen.

"It's so perfectly lovely, Mamsie," she broke out at length, "to see the
dear old things, and to know that they are waiting here for us to come
back whenever we want to. And to think it isn't wicked not to have them
used, because everybody has all they need; oh! it's so delicious to
think they can be left to themselves."

She folded her hands now across her knees, and drew another long breath
of content.

Phronsie stole out of the bedroom, and came slowly up to her mother's
side, pausing a bit on the way to look into Polly's absorbed face.

"I don't think, Mamsie," she said quietly, "that people ought to be so
very good who've never had a little brown house; never in all their
lives."

"Oh, yes, they had, child," said Mrs. Pepper briskly; "places don't make
any difference. It's people's duty to be good wherever they are."

But Phronsie's face expressed great incredulity.

"I'm always going to live here when I am a big, grown-up woman," she
declared, slowly gazing around the kitchen, "and I shall never, never go
out of Badgertown."

"Oh, Phronsie!" exclaimed Polly, turning around in dismay, "why, you
couldn't do that. Just think, child, whatever in the world would
Grandpapa do, or any of us, pray tell?"

"Grandpapa would come here," declared Phronsie decidedly, and shaking
her yellow head to enforce her statement. "Of course Grandpapa would
come here, Polly. We couldn't live without him."

"That's it," said Polly, with a corresponding shake of her brown head,
"of course we couldn't live without Grandpapa; and just as 'of course'
he couldn't leave his own dear home. He never would be happy, Phronsie,
to do that."

Phronsie took a step or two into the sunshine lying on the middle of the
old kitchen floor. "Then I'd rather not come, Polly," she said. But she
sighed and Polly was just about saying, "We'll run down now and then
perhaps, Phronsie, as we have done now," when the door was thrown open
suddenly, and Joel burst in, his face as white as a sheet, and working
fearfully.

"Oh, Polly! you must tell Mrs. Whitney--I can't."

Polly sprang to her feet; Mrs. Pepper, who had just stepped into the
pantry, was saying, "I think, Polly, I'll make some apple dumplings, the
boys like them so much."

"What is it, Joe?" cried Polly hoarsely, and standing quite still.
Phronsie, with wide eyes, went up and took the boy's cold hand, and
gazed into his face as he leaned against the door.

"Dick!" groaned Joel; "oh! oh! I can't bear it," and covering his face
with one hand, he would have pulled the other from Phronsie's warm
little palm, but she held it fast.

"Tell me at once, Joe," commanded Polly. "Hush!--mother"--but Mrs.
Pepper was already out of the pantry.

"Joel," said Mrs. Pepper, "whatever it is, tell us immediately."

The look in her black eyes forced him to gasp in one breath, "Dick fell
off the double ripper, and both of his legs are broken--may be not," he
added in a loud scream.

Phronsie still held the boy's hand. He was conscious of it, and that she
uttered no word, and then he knew no more.

"Leave him to me, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, through drawn lips, "and
then do you run as you have never run before, to the parsonage. Oh! if
they should bring him there before the mother hears."

Phronsie dropped the hand she held, and running on unsteady little feet
into the bedroom, came back with Polly's hood and coat.

"Let me go," cried Polly wildly, rushing away from the detaining hand to
the door, "I don't want those things on. Let me go, Phronsie!"

"You'll be cold," said Phronsie. With all her care, her little white
lips were quivering as she held out the things. "Please, Polly," she
said piteously.

"The child is right; put them on," commanded Mrs. Pepper, for one
instant taking her thought from her boy; and Polly obeyed, and was gone.

In the parsonage "best room" sat Mrs. Whitney. Her rocking-chair was
none of the easiest, being a hair-cloth affair, its cushion very much
elevated in the world just where it should have been depressed, so that
one was in constant danger of slipping off its surface; moreover, the
arms and back of the chair were covered with indescribable arrangements
made and presented by loving parishioners and demanding unceasing
attention from the occupant. But the chair was drawn up in the sunshine
pouring into the window, and Mrs. Whitney's thoughts were sunny, too;
for she smiled now and then as she drew her needle busily in and out
through the bright wools.

"How restful it all is here, and so quaint and simple." She glanced up
now to the high-backed mantel with its wealth of daguerreotypes, and
surprising collection of dried leaves in tall china vases; and over the
walls, adorned with pine-cone framed pictures, to the center table
loaded with "Annuals," and one or two volumes of English poetry, and
then her gaze took in the little paths the winter sunshine was making
for itself along the red and green ingrain carpet. "I am so glad father
thought to bring us all. Dear father, it is making a new man of him,
this winter frolic. Why"--

She was looking out of the window now, and her hands fell to her lap as
Polly Pepper came running breathlessly down the village street, her hood
untied, and the coat grasped with one hand and held together across her
breast. But it was the face that terrified Mrs. Whitney, and hurrying
out of her chair, she ran out to the veranda as the girl rushed through
the gateway.

"Polly, child," cried Mrs. Whitney, seizing her with loving arms and
drawing her on the steps--"oh! what is it, dear?"

Polly's lips moved, but no words came.

"Oh!" at last, "don't hate us for--bringing you to the--little--brown
house. Why did we come!" And convulsively she threw her young arms
around the kind neck. "Oh, Auntie! Dicky is hurt--but we don't know how
much--his legs, Joel says, but it may not be as bad as we think; dear
Auntie."

Mrs. Whitney trembled so that she could scarcely stand. Around them
streamed the same winter sunshine that had been so bright a moment
since. How long ago it seemed. And out of gathering clouds in her heart
she was saying, "Polly dear, God is good. We will trust him." She did
not know her own voice, nor realize when Polly led her mercifully
within, as a farmer's wagon came slowly down the street, to stop at the
parsonage gate; nor even when Dick was brought in, white and still,
could she think of him as her boy. It was some other little figure, and
she must go and help them care for him. Her boy would come bounding in
presently, happy and ruddy, with a kiss for mamma, and a world of happy
nonsense, just as usual. It was only when Mrs. Henderson came in, and
took her hand to lead her into the next room, that it all came to her.

"Oh, Dick!" and she sprang to the side of the sofa where he lay. "My
child--my child!"

And then came Dr. Fisher, and the truth was known. One of Dick's legs
was broken below the knee; the other badly bruised. Only Jasper and the
mother remained in the room while the little doctor set the limb; and
after what seemed an age to the watchers, the boy came out.

"He bore it like a Trojan," declared Jasper, wiping his forehead. "I
tell you, Dick's our hero, after this."

"Now I should like to know how all this happened," demanded Mr. King.
The old gentleman had remained at the parsonage to get a good morning
nap while the snow frolic was in progress. And he had been awakened by
the unusual bustle below stairs in time to hear the welcome news that
Dicky was all right since Dr. Fisher was taking care of him. He now
presented himself in his dressing-gown, with his sleeping cap awry, over
a face in which anger, distress and impatience strove for the mastery.
"Speak up, my boy," to Jasper, "and tell us what you know about it."

"Well, the first thing I knew of any danger ahead," said Jasper, "was
hearing Dick sing out 'Hold up!' I supposed the double ripper all right;
didn't you, Ben?"

"Yes," said Ben sturdily, "and it was all right; just exactly as we used
to make them, we boys; there wasn't a weak spot anywhere in her, sir."

"Who was steering?" demanded old Mr. King almost fiercely.

"I was," said Van, beginning boldly enough, to let his voice die out in
a tremulous effort.

"Humph--humph," responded Mr. King grimly. "A bad business," shaking his
head.

"Van would"--began Percy, but his eye meeting Polly's he added, "We'd
none of us done any better, I don't believe, sir, than Van."

Van was now choking so badly that the greatest kindness seemed to be not
to look at him. Accordingly the little company turned their eyes away,
and regarded each other instead.

"Well, so Dick rolled off?" proceeded the old gentleman.

"Oh! no, he didn't," said all three boys together; "he stuck fast to the
double ripper; we ran into a tree, and Dick was pitched off head-first."

"But honestly and truly, father," said Jasper, "I do not think that it
was the fault of the steerer."

"Indeed it was not," declared Ben stoutly; "there was an ugly little
gully that we hadn't seen under the snow. We'd been down four or five
times all right, but only missed it by a hair-breadth; this time the
ripper struck into it; I suppose Dick felt it bump, as it was on his
side, and sang out, and as quick as lightning we were against that tree.
It was as much my fault as any one's, and more, because I ought to have
known that old hill thoroughly."

"I share the blame, Ben," broke in Jasper, "old fellow, if you pitch
into yourself, you'll have to knock me over too."

"Come here, Vanny," said old Mr. King, holding out his hand. "Why, you
needn't be afraid, my boy," aghast at the tears that no power on earth
could keep back. "Now all leave the room, please."

"Where's Polly?" asked Ben, on the other side of the door.

"She's run home," said David, "I guess. She isn't here."

"And that's where I must be too," cried Ben, bounding off.

When Van was next seen he was with old Mr. King, and wearing all signs
of having received his full share of comfort. Phronsie, just tying on
her little hood, to go down to the parsonage to ask after Dicky, looked
out of the window to exclaim in pleased surprise, "Why, here comes dear
Grandpapa," and then she rushed out to meet him.

"Here's my little girl," cried the old gentleman, opening his arms, when
she immediately ran into them. "Now we're all right."

"Is Dicky all right?" asked Phronsie anxiously, as she fell into step by
his side.

"Yes, indeed; as well as a youngster can be, who's broken his leg."

Phronsie shivered. "But then, that's nothing," Mr. King hastened to add;
"I broke my own when I was a small shaver no bigger than Dick, and I was
none the worse for it. Boys always have some such trifling mishaps,
Phronsie."

"Ben never broke his leg, nor Joel, nor Davie," said Phronsie. "Must
they yet, Grandpapa?"

"O dear, no," declared Mr. King hastily; "that isn't necessary. I only
meant they must have something. Now you see, Ben had the measles, you
know."

"Yes, he did," said Phronsie, quite relieved to think that this trial
could take the place of the usual leg-breaking episode in a boy's
career. "And so did Joel, and Davie--all of them, Grandpapa dear."

"Exactly; well, and then Ben had to work hard, and Joel and Davie too,
for that matter. So, you see, it wasn't as essential that they should
break their legs, child."

"But Jasper and Percy and Van don't have to work hard; oh! I don't want
them to break their legs," said Phronsie, in a worried tone. "You don't
think they will, Grandpapa dear, do you? Please say they won't."

"I don't think there is the least danger of it," said Mr. King,
"especially as I shall put an end to this double-ripper business, though
not because this upset was anybody's fault; remember that, Phronsie."
Van's head which had dropped a bit at the last words, came up proudly.
"Van, here, has acted nobly"--he put his hand on the boy's shoulder--
"and would have saved Dicky if he could. It was a pure accident that
nobody could help except by keeping off from the abominable thing. Well,
here we are at the little brown house; and there's your mother,
Phronsie, waiting for us in the doorway."

"Halloo!" cried Van, rushing over the flat stone, and past Mrs. Pepper,
"where's Joel? Oh--here, you old chap!"

"Well, Mrs. Pepper," said the old gentleman, coming up to the step,
Phronsie hanging to his hand, "this looks like starting for town to-
morrow, doesn't it?"

"Oh! what shall we do, sir?" cried Mrs. Pepper, in distress. "To think
you have come down here in the goodness of your heart, to be met with
such an accident as this. What shall we do?" she repeated.

"Goodness of my heart," repeated Mr. King, nevertheless well pleased at
the tribute. "I've had as much pleasure out of it all as you or the
young people. I want you to realize that."

"So does any one who does a kind act," replied Mrs. Pepper, wiping her
eyes; "well, sir, now how shall we manage about going back?"

"That remains to be seen," said Mr. King slowly, and he took a long look
at the winter sky, and the distant landscape before he ventured more.
"It very much looks as if we all should remain for a few days, to see
how Dick is to get on, all but the four boys; they must pack off to
school to-morrow, and then probably Mrs. Whitney will stay over with the
boy till he can be moved. Dr. Fisher will do the right thing by him. Oh!
everything is all right, Mrs. Pepper."

Mrs. Pepper sighed and led the way into the house. She knew in spite of
the reassuring words that the extreme limit of the "outing" ought to be
passed on the morrow.




X

THE PARTY SEPARATES


Good-by to the little brown house!" Joel and David, Percy and Van sang
out in doleful chorus, from the old stage coach; two of the boys on the
seat shared by John Tisbett, the other two within as companions to Mrs.
Pepper and Jasper, who were going home to start the quartette off to
school.

"Ben and I will take good care of everything, Mamsie," said Polly for
the fiftieth time, and climbing up on the steps to tuck the traveling
shawl closer. Thereupon Phronsie climbed up too, to do the same thing.
"Don't you worry; we'll take care of things," she echoed.

"I shan't worry," said Mrs. Pepper in a bright assured way. "Mother
knows you'll both do just right. And Phronsie'll be a good girl too,"
with a long look into the bright eyes peering over the window casing of
the old coach.

"I'll try," said Phronsie. "Good-by, Mamsie," and she tried to stand on
tiptoe to reach her mouth up.

"Goodness me!" cried Polly, "you nearly tumbled off the steps. Throw her
a kiss, Phronsie; Mamsie'll catch it."

"If that child wants to kiss her ma agen, she shall do it," declared Mr.
Tisbett; and throwing down the reins, he sprang to the ground, seized
Phronsie, and swung her lightly over the window edge. "There you be--
went through just like a bird." And there she was, sure enough, in Mrs.
Pepper's lap.

"I should like to go with you," Phronsie was whispering under Mrs.
Pepper's bonnet strings, "Mamsie, I should."

"Oh, no, Phronsie!" Mrs. Pepper made haste to whisper back. "You must
stay with Polly. Why, what would she ever do without you? Be mother's
good girl, Phronsie; you're all coming home, except Auntie and Dick, in
a few days."

Phronsie cast one look at Polly. "Good-by," she said slowly. "Take me
out now," holding her arms towards Mr. Tisbett.

"Here you be!" exclaimed Mr. Tisbett merrily, reversing the process, and
setting her carefully on the ground. "Now, says I; up I goes," his foot
on the wheel to spring to the box.

"Stay!" a peremptory hand was laid on his shaggy coat sleeve, and he
turned to face old Mr. King.

"When I meet a man who can do such a kind thing, it is worth my while to
say that I trust no words of mine gave offense. Bless you, man!" added
the old gentleman, abruptly changing the tone of his address as well as
its form, "it's my way; that's all."

John Tisbett had no words to offer, but remained, his foot on the wheel,
stupidly staring up at the handsome old face.

"We shall be late for the train," called Jasper within the coach, "if
you don't start."

"Get up, do!" cried Joel, who had seized the reins, "or I'll drive off
without you, Mr. Tisbett," which had the effect to carry honest John
briskly up to his place. When there, he took off his fur cap without a
word, and bowed to Mr. King, cracked his whip and they were off, leaving
the four on the little foot-path gazing after them, till the coach was
only a speck in the distance.

"Mamma dear," said Dick, one afternoon three weeks later (the little
brown house had been closed a fortnight, and all the rest of the party
back in town), "when are we going home?"

"Next week," said Mrs. Whitney brightly; "the doctor thinks if all goes
well, you can be moved from here."

Dick leaned back in the big chintz-covered chair. "Mamma," he said,
"your cheeks aren't so pink, and not quite so round, but I think you are
a great deal nicer mamma than you were."

"Do you, Dick?" she said, laughing. "Well, we have had a happy time
together, haven't we? The fortnight hasn't been so long for you as I
feared when the others all went away."

"It hasn't been long at all," said Dick promptly, and burrowing deeper
into the chair-back; "it's just flown, mamma. I like Polly and Phronsie;
but I'd rather have you than any girl I know; I had really, mamma."

"I'm very glad to hear it, Dick," said Mrs. Whitney, with another laugh.

"And when I grow up, I'm just going to live with you forever and ever.
Do you suppose papa will be always going to Europe then?"

"I trust not," said Mrs. Whitney fervently. "Dicky, would you like to
have a secret?" she asked suddenly.

The boy's eyes sparkled. "Wouldn't I mamma?" he cried, springing forward
in the chair; "ugh!"

"Take care, darling," warned his mother. "You must remember the poor
leg."

Dick made a grimace, but otherwise took the pain pluckily. "Tell me, do,
mamma," he begged, "the secret."

"Yes, I thought it would be a pleasant thing for you to have it to think
of, darling, while you are getting well. Dicky, papa is coming home
soon."

"Right away?" shouted Dick so lustily that Mrs. Henderson popped her
head in the door. "Oh! beg your pardon," she said; "I thought you wanted
something."

"Isn't it lovely," cried Mrs. Whitney, "to have a boy who is beginning
to find his lungs?"

"Indeed it is," cried the parson's wife, laughing; "I always picked up
heart when my children were able to scream. It's good to hear you,
Dicky," as she closed the door.

"Is he--is he--is he?" cried Dick in a spasm of excitement, "coming
right straight away, mamma?"

"Next week," said mamma, with happy eyes, "he sails in the Servia. Next
week, Dicky, my boy, we will see papa. And here is the best part of the
secret. Listen; it has all been arranged that Mr. Duyckink shall live in
Liverpool, so that papa will not have to go across any more, but he can
stay at home with us. Oh, Dicky!"

That "Oh, Dicky!" told volumes to the boy's heart.

"Mamma," he said at last, "isn't it good that God didn't give boys and
girls to Mr. Duyckink? Because you see if he had, why, then Mr. Duyckink
wouldn't like to live over there."

"Mr. Duyckink might not have felt as your father does, Dicky dear, about
having his children educated at home; and Mrs. Duyckink wants to go to
England; she hasn't any father, as I have, Dicky dear, who clings to the
old home."

"Only I wish God had made Mr. Duyckink and Mrs. Duyckink a little
sooner," said Dick reflectively. "I mean, made them want to go to
England sooner, don't you, mamma?"

"I suppose we ought not to wish that," said his mother with a smile,
"for perhaps we needed to be taught to be patient. Only now, Dicky, just
think, we can actually have papa live at home with us!"

"Your cheeks are pink now," observed Dick; "just the very pink they used
to be, mamma."

Mrs. Whitney ran to the old-fashioned looking-glass hanging in its pine-
stained frame, between the low windows, and peered in. "Do I look just
as I did when papa went away six months ago, Dicky?" she asked,
anxiously.

"Yes," said Dick, "just like that, only a great deal nicer," he added
enthusiastically.

His mother laughed and pulled at a bright wave on her forehead, dodging
a bit to avoid a long crack running across the looking-glass front.

"Here's Dr. Fisher!" shouted Dick suddenly. "Now, you old fellow, you,"
and shaking his small fist at his lame leg, "you've got to get well, I
tell you. I won't wait much longer, sir!" And as the doctor came in,
"I've a secret."

"Well, then, you would better keep it," said Dr. Fisher. "Good morning,"
to Mrs. Whitney. "Our young man here is getting ahead pretty fast, I
should think. How's the leg, Dicky?" sitting down by him.

"The leg is all right," cried Dick; "I'm going to step on it," trying to
get out of the chair.

"Dicky!" cried his mother in alarm.

"Softly--softly now, young man," said Dr. Fisher. "I suppose you want me
to cure that leg of yours, and make it as good as the other one, don't
you?"

"Why, of course," replied Dick; "that's what you are a doctor for."

"Well, I won't agree to do anything of the sort," said the little doctor
coolly, "if you don't do your part. Do you know what patience means?"

"I've been patient," exclaimed Dick, in a dudgeon, "forever and ever so
many weeks, and now papa is coming home, and I"--

And then he realized what he had done, and he turned quite pale, and
looked at his mother.

Her face gave no sign, but he sank back in his chair, feeling disgraced
for life, and ready to keep quiet forever. And he was so good while Dr.
Fisher was attending to his leg that when he was through, the little
doctor turned to him approvingly: "Well, sir, I think that I can promise
that you can go home Saturday. You've improved beyond my expectation."

But Dick didn't "hurrah," nor even smile.

"Dicky," said Mrs. Whitney, smiling into his downcast face, "how glad we
are to hear that; just think, good Dr. Fisher says we may go next
Saturday."

"I'm glad," mumbled Dick, in a forlorn little voice, and till after the
door closed on the retreating form of the doctor, it was all that could
be gotten out of him. Then he turned and put out both arms to his
mother.

"I didn't mean--I didn't mean--I truly didn't mean--to tell--mamma," he
sobbed, as she clasped him closely.

"I know you didn't, dear," she soothed him. "It has really done no harm;
papa didn't want the home people to know, as he wants to surprise them."

"But it was a secret," said Dick, between his tears, feeling as if he
had lost a precious treasure entrusted to him. "Oh, mamma! I really
didn't mean to let it go."

"Mamma feels quite sure of that," said Mrs. Whitney gently. "You are
right, Dicky, in feeling sorry and ashamed, because anything given to
you to keep is not your own but belongs to another; but, my boy, the
next duty is to keep back those tears--all this is hurting your leg."

Dick struggled manfully, but still the tears rolled down his cheeks. At
last he said, raising his head, "You would much better let me have my
cry out, mamma; it's half-way, and it hurts to send it back."

"Well, I don't think so," said Mrs. Whitney, with a laugh. "I've often
wanted to have a cry out, as you call it. But that's weak, Dicky, and
should be stopped, for the more one cries, the more one wants to."

"You've often wanted to have a cry out?" repeated Dick, in such
amazement that every tear just getting ready to show itself immediately
rushed back again. "Why, you haven't anything to cry for, mamma."

"Indeed I have," she declared; "often and often, I do many things that I
ought not to do"--

"Oh! never, never," cried Dick, clutching her around the neck, to the
detriment of her lace-trimmed wrapper. "My sweetest, dearingest mamma is
ever and always just right."

"Indeed, Dick," said Mrs. Whitney earnestly, "the longer I live, I find
that every day I have something to be sorry for in myself. But God, you
know, is good," she whispered softly.

Dick was silent.

"And then when papa goes," continued Mrs. Whitney, "why, then, my boy,
it is very hard not to cry."

Here was something that the boy could grasp; and he seized it with
avidity.

"And you stop crying for us," he cried; "I know now why you always put
on your prettiest gown, and play games with us the evening after papa
goes. I know now."

"Here are three letters," cried the parson, hurrying in, and tossing
them over to the boy. "And Polly Pepper has written to me, too."

Dick screamed with delight. "Two for me; one from Ben, and one from
Grandpapa!"

"And mine is from Phronsie," said Mrs. Whitney, seizing an epistle
carefully printed in blue crayon.

But although there were three letters from home, none of them carried
the news of what was going on there. None of them breathed a syllable
that Cousin Eunice Chatterton was ill with a low fever, aggravated by
nervous prostration; and that Mrs. Pepper and Polly were having a pretty
hard time of it. On the contrary, every bit of news was of the cheeriest
nature; Jasper tucked on a postscript to his father's letter, in which
he gave the latest bulletin of his school life. And Polly did the same
thing to Ben's letter. Even Phronsie went into a long detail concerning
the new developments of a wonderful kitten she had left at home, to take
her visit to Badgertown, so the two recipients never missed the lack of
information in regard to the household life, from which they were shut
out.

Only once Mrs. Whitney said thoughtfully, as she folded her letter and
slipped it back into its envelope, "They don't speak of Mrs. Chatterton.
I presume she has changed her plans, and is going to remain longer at
her nephew's."

"I hope she'll live there always," declared Dick, looking up savagely
from Ben's letter. "What an old guy she is, mamma!"

"Dick, Dick," said his mother reprovingly, "she is our guest, you know."

"Not if she is at her nephew's," said Dick triumphantly, turning back to
his letter.

Polly at this identical minute was slowly ascending the stairs, a tray
in one hand, the contents of which she was anxiously regarding on the
way.

"I do hope it is right now," she said, and presently knocked at Mrs.
Chatterton's door.

"Come in," said that lady's voice fretfully. And "Do close the door,"
before Polly and her tray were well within.

Polly shut the door gently, and approached the bedside.

"I am so faint I do not know that I can take any," said Mrs. Chatterton.
Whether it was her white cashmere dressing-robe, and her delicate lace
cap that made her face against the pillows seem wan and white, Polly did
not know. But it struck her that she looked more ill than usual, and she
said earnestly, "I am so sorry I wasn't quicker."

"There is no call for an apology from you," said Mrs. Chatterton coldly.
"Set the tray down on the table, and get a basin of water; I need to be
bathed."

Polly stood quite still, even forgetting to deposit the tray.

"Set the tray down, I told you," repeated Mrs. Chatterton sharply, "and
then get the basin of water."

"I will call Hortense," said Polly quietly, placing the tray as desired.

"Hortense has gone to the apothecary's," said Mrs. Chatterton, "and I
will not have one of the other maids; they are too insufferable."

And indeed Polly knew that it would be small use to summon one of them,
as Martha, the most obliging, had airily tossed her head when asked to
do some little service for the sick woman that very morning, declaring,
"I will never lift another finger for that Madame Chatterton."

"My neck aches, and my side, and my head," said Mrs. Chatterton
irritably; "why do you not do as I bid you?"

For one long instant, Polly hesitated; then she turned to rush from the
room, a flood of angry, bitter feelings surging through her heart, more
at the insufferable tone and manner, than at what she was bidden to do.
Only turned; and she was back by the side of the bed, and looking down
into the fretful, dictatorial old face.

"I will bathe you, Mrs. Chatterton," she said gently; "I'll bring the
water in a minute."




XI

POOR POLLY!


"You are very awkward, child," observed Mrs. Chatterton to Polly on her
knees, "and abrupt. Move the sponge more slowly; there, that is better."

Polly shifted her position from one aching knee to another, set her lips
closer together, and bent all her young energies to gentler effects. But
Mrs. Chatterton cried out irritably:

"Have you never taken care of a sick person, pray tell, or is it all
your back-country training that makes you so heavy-handed?"

"I helped mother take care of Phronsie when she had the measles, and Ben
and Joel," said Polly, "five years ago; we haven't been sick lately."

"Humph!" ejaculated Mrs. Chatterton, not very elegantly. But what was
the use of a fine manner when there was nobody but a little back-country
maiden to see it?

"I shall have to endure it till Hortense returns," she said with a sigh;
"besides, it is my duty to give you something useful to do in this
house. You should be thankful that I allow you to bathe me."

Polly's eyes flashed, and the hand holding the sponge trembled. Nothing
but the fear of troubling Mamsie, and dear old Mr. King whose
forbearance was worn to the finest of threads, kept her at her post.

"Now get the violet water," said Mrs. Chatterton, with an air she would
never have dared employ towards Hortense; "it is the bottle in the lower
left-hand corner of the case."

Polly got up from her knees, and stiffly stumbled across the room to the
case of silver-mounted toilet articles: in her tumult bringing away the
upper right-hand corner vial.

"Stupide!" exclaimed Mrs. Chatterton among her pillows. "Go back, and do
as I bid you, girl; the lower left-hand corner bottle!"

Without a word Polly returned, and bringing the right vial set about its
use as directed, in a rapidly growing dismay at the evil feelings
surging through her, warning her it would not be safe to stay in the
room much longer.

"Do you understand," presently began Mrs. Chatterton, fastening her cold
blue eyes upon her, "what your position is in this house? Everybody else
appears to be blind and idiotic to the last degree; you seem to have a
little quickness to catch an idea."

As Polly did not answer, the question was repeated very sharply: "Do you
understand what your position is in this house?"

"Yes," said Polly, in a low voice, and dashing out the violet water with
a reckless hand, "I do."

"Take care," impatiently cried Mrs. Chatterton. Then she pushed her
pillow into a better position, and returned to the charge.

"What is it, pray, since you understand it so well?"

"I understand that I am here in this house," said Polly, quite cold and
white, "because dear Mr. King wants me to be here."

"DEAR Mr. King!" echoed Mrs. Chatterton, in shrill disdain. "Stuff and
nonsense," and she put her head back for an unpleasant cackle; it could
hardly be called a laugh. "What an idiot the man is to have the wool
pulled over his eyes in this fashion. I'll tell you, Polly"--and she
raised herself up on her elbow, the soft lace falling away from the
white, and yet shapely arm. This member had been one of her strongest
claims to beauty, and even in her rage, Mrs. Chatterton paused a second
to glance complacently at it in its new position--"you are, when all is
said about your dear Mr. King, and your absurd assumption of equality
with refined people who frequent this house, exactly the same underbred
country girl as you were in your old brown house, goodness knows
wherever that is."

"I'm glad I am," declared Polly. And she actually laughed merrily, while
she squared her sturdy shoulders. Nothing could be sweeter than to hear
it said she was worthy of the dear little old brown house, and didn't
disgrace Mamsie's bringing up.

The laugh was the last feather that overthrew Mrs. Chatterton's
restraint. She was actually furious now that she, widow of Algernon
Chatterton, who was own cousin to Jasper Horatio King, should be faced
by such presumption, and her words put aside with girlish amusement.

"And I'll tell you more," she went on, sitting quite erect now on the
bed, "your mother thinks she is doing a fine thing to get all her family
wormed in here in this style, but she'll"--

Polly Pepper, the girlish gladness gone from heart and face, waited for
no more. "OUR MOTHER!" she cried stormily, unable to utter another word-
-"oh--oh!" Her breath came in quick, short gasps, the hot indignant
blood mounting to the brown waves of hair on her brow, while she clasped
her hands so tightly together, the pain at any other time would have
made her scream.

Mrs. Chatterton, aghast at the effect of her words, leaned back once
more against her pillows. "Don't try to work up a scene," she endeavored
to say carelessly. But she might as well have remonstrated with the
north wind. The little country maiden had a temper as well as her own,
and all the more for its long restraint, now on breaking bounds, it
rushed at the one who had provoked it, utterly regardless that it was
the great Mrs. Algernon Chatterton.

For two minutes, so breathlessly did Polly hurl the stinging sentences
at the figure on the bed, Cousin Eunice was obliged to let her have her
own way. Then as suddenly, the torrent ceased. Polly grew quite white.
"What have I done--oh! what have I done?" she cried, and rushed out of
the room.

"Polly--Polly!" called Jasper's voice below. She knew he wanted her to
try a new duet he had gone down town to purchase; but how could she play
with such a storm in her heart? and, worse than all else, was the
consciousness that she had spoken to one whose gray hairs should have
made her forget the provocation received, words that now plunged her
into a hot shame to recall.

She flew over the stairs--up, away from every one's sight, to a long,
dark lumber room, partially filled with trunks, and a few articles of
furniture, prized as heirlooms, but no longer admissible in the family
apartments. Polly closed the door behind her, and sank down in the
shadow of a packing box half filled with old pictures, in a distress
that would not even let her think. She covered her face with her hands,
too angry with herself to cry; too aghast at the mischief she had done,
to even remember the dreadful words Mrs. Chatterton had said to her.

"For of course, now she will complain to Mamsie, and I'm really afraid
Mr. King will find it out; and it only needs a little thing to make him
send her off. He said yesterday Dr. Valentine told him there was nothing
really the matter with her--and--dear! I don't know what will
happen."

To poor Polly, crouching there on the floor in the dim and dusty corner,
it seemed as if her wretchedness held no hope. Turn whichever way she
might, the dreadful words she had uttered rang through her heart. They
could not be unsaid; they were never to be forgotten but must always
stay and rankle there.

"Oh--oh!" she moaned, clasping her knees with distressed little palms,
and swaying back and forth, "why didn't I remember what Mamsie has
always told us--that no insult can do us harm if only we do not say or
do anything in return. Why--why couldn't I have remembered it?"

How long she stayed there she never knew. But at last, realizing that
every moment there was only making matters worse, she dragged herself up
from the little heap on the floor, and trying to put a bit of
cheerfulness into a face she knew must frighten Mamsie, she went slowly
out, and down the stairs.

But no one looked long enough at her face to notice its change of
expression. Polly, the moment she turned towards the household life
again, could feel that the air was charged with some intense excitement.
Hortense met her on the lower stairs; the maid was startled out of her
usual nonchalance, and was actually in a hurry.

"What is the matter?" cried Polly.

"Oh! the Madame is eel," said the maid; "the doctaire says it is not a
lie dees time," and she swept past Polly.

Polly clung to the stair-railing, her face whitening, and her gaze
fastened upon Mrs. Chatterton's door, where Hortense was now
disappearing. Inside, was a sound of voices, and that subdued stir that
gives token of a sick room.

"I have killed her!" cried Polly's heart. For one wild moment she was
impelled to flight; anywhere, she did not care where, to shake off by
motion in the free air this paralysis of fear. But the next she started
and, rushing down the stairs and into Mr. King's room, cried out, "Oh!
dear Grandpapa, will Mrs. Chatterton die?"

"No, no, I think not," replied the old gentleman, surprised at her
feeling. "Cousin Eunice never did show much self-control; but then, I
don't believe this piece of bad news will kill her."

"Bad news?" gasped Polly, hanging to the table where Mr. King was
writing letters. "Oh, Grandpapa! what do you mean?"

"Bless me! where have you been, Polly Pepper," said Mr. King, settling
his eyeglass to regard her closely, "not to hear the uproar in this
house? Yes, Mrs. Chatterton received a telegram a half-hour since that
her nephew, the only one that she was very fond of among her relatives,
was drowned at sea, and she has been perfectly prostrated by it, till
she really is quite ill."

Polly waited to hear no more, but on the wings of the wind, flew out and
up the stairs once more.

"Where have you been, Polly?" cried Jasper, coming out of a side passage
in time to catch a dissolving view of her flying figure. "Polly--Polly!"
and he took three steps to her one, and gained her side.

"Oh! don't stop me," begged Polly, flying on, "don't, Jasper."

He took a good look at her face. "Anything I can help you about?" he
asked quickly.

She suddenly stopped, her foot on the stair above. "Oh, Jasper!" she
cried, with clasped hands, "you don't know--she may die, and I said
horribly cruel things to her."

"Who--Mrs. Chatterton?" said the boy, opening his dark eyes; "why, you
couldn't have said cruel things to her, Polly. Don't be foolish, child."
He spoke as he would to Phronsie's terror, and smiled into her face. But
it did not reassure Polly.

"Jasper, you don't know; you can't guess what dreadful things I said,"
cried poor overwhelmed Polly, clasping her hands tightly together at the
mere thought of the words she had uttered.

"Then she must have said dreadful things to you," said the boy.

"She--but, oh, Jasper! that doesn't make it any better for me," said
Polly. "Don't stop me; I am going to see if they won't let me do
something for her."

"There are ever so many people up there now," said Jasper. "Your mother,
and Hortense, and two or three maids. What in the world could you do,
Polly? Come down into the library, and tell us all about it."

But Polly broke away from him with an "Oh! I must do something for her,"
speeding on until she softly worked her way into the sick room.

Mrs. Pepper was busy with the doctor in the further part of the room,
and Polly stood quite still for a moment, wishing she were one of the
maids, to whom a bit of active service was given. She could not longer
endure her thoughts in silence, and gently going up to her mother's
side, with a timorous glance at the bed, as she passed it, she begged,
"Mamsie, can't I do something for her?"

Mrs. Pepper glanced up quickly. "No--yes, you can; take this
prescription down to Oakley's to be prepared."

Polly seized the bit of paper from Dr. Valentine's hand, and hurried
out. Again she glanced fearfully at the bed, but the curtain on that
side was drawn so that only the outline of the figure could be seen. She
was soon out on the street, the movement through the fresh air bringing
back a little color to her cheek and courage to her heart. Things did
not seem quite so bad if she only might do something for the poor sick
woman that could atone for the wretched work she had done; at least it
would be some comfort if the invalid could be helped by her service.

Thus revolving everything in her mind, Polly did not hear her name
called, nor rapid footsteps hurrying after.

"Wait!" at last cried a voice; "O, dear me! what is the matter, Polly?"
Alexia Rhys drew herself up flushed and panting at Polly's side.

"I'm on the way to the apothecary's," said Polly, without looking
around.

"So I should suppose," said Alexia; "O, dear! I'm so hot and tired. Do
go a bit slower, Polly."

"I can't," said Polly. "She's very sick, and I must get this just as
soon as I can." She waved the prescription at her, and redoubled her
speed.

"Who?" gasped Alexia, stumbling after as best she could.

"Mrs. Chatterton," said Polly, a lump in her throat as she uttered the
name.

"O, dear me! that old thing," cried Alexia, her enthusiasm over the
errand gone.

"Hush!" said Polly hoarsely; "she may die. She has had bad news."

"What?" asked Alexia; the uncomfortable walk might be enlivened by a bit
of stray gossip; "what is it, Polly? What news?"

"A telegram," said Polly. "Her favorite nephew was drowned at sea."

"Oh! I didn't know she had any favorite nephew. Doesn't she fight with
everybody?"

"Do be quiet," begged Polly. "No; that is, perhaps, other people are not
kind to her."

"Oh!" said Alexia, in a surprised voice. "Well, I think she's perfectly
and all-through-and-through horrid, so! Don't race like this through the
streets, Polly. You'll get there soon enough."

But Polly turned a deaf ear, and at last the prescription was handed
over the counter at Oakley's, and after what seemed an endless time to
Polly, the medicine was given to her.

"Now as soon as you carry that thing home," observed Alexia, glancing at
the white parcel in Polly's hand, "I hope you'll come with us girls.
That's what I ran after you for."

"What girls?" asked Polly.

"Why, Philena and the Cornwalls; we are going to have a sleighing party
to-night, and a supper at Lilly Drexell's. Mrs. Cornwall chaperones the
thing."

Polly was surprised to feel her heart bound. It hadn't seemed as if it
could ever be moved by any news of girlish frolics, but that its dull
ache must go on forever.

"Oh! I can't," she cried the next moment. "I must stay at home, and help
take care of Mrs. Chatterton."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Alexia in a provoked tone; "you are are not wanted
there, Polly Pepper; the idea, with that great house full of servants."

"Well, I shall not go," declared Polly sharply; "you needn't ask me,
Alexia. I shall stay home till she gets well."

"You little idiot!" cried Alexia, thoroughly out of temper. But as this
produced no effect on Polly, she began to wheedle and coax. "Now, Polly,
do be reasonable. You know we can't go without you; you wouldn't spoil
the whole thing; you know you wouldn't. I shall just tell the Cornwalls
that you are coming," and she turned off to the corner of the avenue.

"Indeed you will not," called Polly after her. "Don't you dare do that,
Alexia Rhys," she said, with flashing eyes.

"You are the most uncomfortable girl I ever saw," cried Alexia,
stopping, to come slowly back. "You spoil every bit of fun with your
absurd notions. I'm quite, quite put out with you, Polly."

"I'm sorry," said poor Polly, fairly longing for the snow-revel, and
dismayed at disappointing the girls.

"No, you're not," pouted Alexia, "and I shall tell them all so," and she
broke away and ran off in the opposite direction.

Polly was met at the door by Mrs. Pepper, who grasped the packet of
medicine quickly.

"Isn't there anything else I can do, Mamsie?" begged Polly.

"No; sit down and rest; you're hot and tired, you've run so."

"I'm not tired," said Polly, not daring to ask "Is she better?"

"Well, you must be," said Mrs. Pepper, hurrying off, "going all the way
down to Oakley's."

So Polly had nothing to do but to sit out in the hall, and listen and
watch all the movements in the sick room, every one of which but
increased her terror. At least she could bear it no longer, and as Dr.
Valentine came out, putting on his gloves, she rushed after him.

"Oh! will she die?" she begged; "please do tell me, sir?"

"Die? no indeed, I hope not," said Dr. Valentine. "She has had a severe
shock to her nerves and her age is against her, but she is coming around
all right, I trust. Why, Polly, I thought better things of you, my
girl." He glanced down into the distressed face with professional
disfavor.

"I'm so glad she won't die," breathed Polly, wholly lost to his opinion
of her; and her face gleamed with something of her old brightness.

"I didn't know you were so fond of her," observed Dr. Valentine grimly;
"indeed, to speak truthfully, I have yet to learn that anybody is fond
of her, Polly."

"Now if you really want to help her," he continued thoughtfully, pulling
his beard, as Polly did not answer, "I can give you one or two hints
that might be of use."

"Oh! I do, I do," cried Polly with eagerness.

"It will be tiresome work," said Dr. Valentine, "but it will be a piece
of real charity, and perhaps, Polly, it's as well for you to begin now
as to wait till you can belong to forty charity clubs, and spend your
time going to committee meetings." And he laughed not altogether
pleasantly. How was Polly to know that Mrs. Valentine was immersed up to
her ears in a philanthropic sea with the smallest possible thought for
the doctor's home? "Now that maid," said the physician, dropping his
tone to a confidential one, "is as well as the average, but she's not
the one who is to amuse the old lady. It's that she needs more than
medicine, Polly. She actually requires diversion."

Poor Polly stood as if turned to stone. Diversion! And she had thrown
away all chance of that.

"She is suffering for the companionship of some bright young nature,"
Dr. Valentine proceeded, attributing the dismay written all over the
girl's face to natural unwillingness to do the service. "After she gets
over this attack she needs to be read to for one thing; to be told the
news; to be made to forget herself. But of course, Polly," he said
hastily, buttoning his top coat, and opening the outer door, "it's too
much to ask of you; so think no more about it, child."




XII

NEW WORK FOR POLLY


It was Saturday morning, and Polly ran upstairs with a bright face, the
morning Journal in her hand. "I'm going to stay with Mrs. Chatterton,
Hortense," she announced to that functionary in the dressing-room.

"And a comfairte may it gif to you," said Hortense, with a vicious shake
of the silk wrapper in her hand, before hanging it in its place. "Madame
has the tres diablerie, cross as de two steeks, what you call it, dis
morning."

Polly went softly into the room, closing the door gently after her. In
the shadow of one corner of the large apartment, sat Mrs. Chatterton
under many wrappings in the depths of an invalid's chair. Polly went up
to her side.

"Would you like to have me read the news, Mrs. Chatterton?" she asked
gently.

Mrs. Chatterton turned her head and looked at her. "No," she was about
to say shortly, just as she had repulsed many little offers of Polly's
for the past few days; but somehow this morning the crackling of the
fresh sheet in the girl's hand, suggestive of crisp bits of gossip, was
too much for her to hear indifferently, especially as she was in a worse
state of mind than usual over Hortense and her bad temper.

"You may sit down and read a little, if you like," she said
ungraciously. So Polly, happy as a queen at the permission, slipped into
a convenient chair, and began at once. She happened fortunately on just
the right things for the hungry ears; a description of a large church
wedding, the day before; two or three bits about society people that
Mrs. Chatterton had lost sight of, and a few other items just as
acceptable.

Polly read on and on, from one thing to another, not daring to look up
to see the effect, until at last everything in the way of gossip was
exhausted.

"Is that all?" asked Mrs. Chatterton hungrily.

Polly, hunting the columns for anything, even a murder account if it was
but in high life, turned the paper again disconsolately, obliged to
confess it was.

"Well, do put it by, then," said Mrs. Chatterton sharply, "and not whirl
it before my face; it gives me a frightful headache."

"I might get the Town Talk" suggested Polly, as a bright thought struck
her. "It came yesterday. I saw it on the library table."

"So it is Saturday." Mrs. Chatterton looked up quickly. "Yes, you may,
Polly," her mouth watering for the revel she would have in its contents.

So Polly ran over the stairs with delighted feet, and into the library,
beginning to rummage over the papers and magazines on the reading table.

"Where is it?" she exclaimed, turning them with quick fingers. "O dear!
it was right here last evening."

"What is it?" asked Phronsie, from the depths of a big arm-chair, and
looking up from her book. Then she saw as soon as she had asked the
question that Polly was in trouble, so she laid down her book, and slid
out of the chair. "What is it, Polly? Let me help you, do."

"Why, the Town Talk--that hateful old society thing," said Polly,
throwing the papers to right and left. "You know, Phronsie; it has a
picture of a bottle of ink, and a big quill for a heading. O dear! do
help me, child, for she will get nervous if I am gone long."

"Oh! I know where that is," said Phronsie deliberately, laying a cool
little hand on Polly's hot one.

"Where?" demanded Polly feverishly. "Oh, Phronsie! where?"

"Jack Rutherford has it."

Polly threw down the papers, and started for the door.

"He has gone," said Phronsie; "he went home almost an hour ago."

Polly turned sharply at her. "What did he want Town Talk for?"

"He said it was big, and he asked Grandpapa if he might have it, and
Grandpapa said, Yes. I don't know what he wanted it for," said Phronsie.
"And he took other newspapers, too, Polly; oh! ever so many."

"Well, I don't care how many he took, nor what they were," cried Polly,
"only that very identical one. O dear me! Well, I'll ask Jasper."

And rushing from the library, Phronsie following in a small panic over
Polly's distress, she knocked at the door of Jasper's den, a little room
in the wing, looking out on the east lawn.

"Oh! I am so glad you are here," she exclaimed as "Come in!" greeted
her, and both Phronsie and she precipitated themselves with no show of
ceremony, in front of his study table. "O Jasper! could you get me a
copy of "Town Talk?" Jack Rutherford has gone off with ours."

"Town Talk!" repeated Jasper, raising his head from his hands to stare
at her.

"Yes; Jack has taken ours off; Grandpapa gave it to him. Can you,
Jasper? Will it break up your study much?" she poured out anxiously.

"No--that is--never mind," said Jasper, pushing the book away and
springing from his chair. "But whatever in the world do you want that
trash for?" He turned, and looked at her curiously.

"Mrs. Chatterton will let me read it to her; she said so," cried Polly,
clasping her hands nervously, "but if I don't get the paper soon, why,
I'm afraid she'll change her mind."

Jasper gave a low whistle as he flung himself into his coat.
"Inestimable privilege!" he exclaimed at last, tossing on his cap.

"Oh, Jasper! you are so good," cried Polly in a small rapture. "I'm so
sorry to have to ask you."

"I'll go for you, Jasper," declared Phronsie; "Mamsie will let me; I
almost know she will."

"No, no, Phronsie," said Jasper, as she was flying off; "it isn't any
place for you to go to. I shall get one at the hotel--the Allibone.
I'll be back in a trice, Polly."

Polly went out, and sat down in one of the big oaken chairs in the hall
to seize it as it came, and Phronsie deposited herself in an opposite
chair, and watched Polly. And presently in came Jasper, waving the
desired journal. Polly, with a beaming face, grasped it and rushed off
upstairs.

"Polly," called the boy, looking after her, "it isn't too late now for
you to go with them. Lucy Bennett met me at the comer and she said they
will take the twelve o'clock train, instead of the eleven, and she
wanted me to beg you to come."

"No, no," tossed back Polly, rushing on, "I am quite determined to stay
at home." Then she went into Mrs. Chatterton's room, and closed the
door. But she couldn't so easily shut out the longings that would rise
in her heart for the Saturday outing that the other girls were to have.
How lovely it would be! the run out to Silvia Horne's charming house
some ten miles distant; the elegant luncheon they would have, followed
by games, and a dance in the ball-room upstairs, that Silvia's older
sisters used for their beautiful parties. Then the merry return before
dusk, of the twelve girls, all capital friends at school! Oh--oh!

"You've been an unconscionable time," exclaimed Mrs. Chatterton in a
sharp, high key, "just to get a paper. Well, do sit down; I am quite
tired waiting for you."

Polly sat down, and resolutely plunged into the column where the news
items promised the most plentiful yield but in between the lines ran the
doings of the girls: how they were all assembling by this time at Lucy
Bennett's; how they were hurrying off to the train, and all the other
delightful movements of the "outing" flashed before her eyes, as she
finished item after item of her dreary task. But how Mrs. Chatterton
gloated over it!

At last Polly, feeling as if she could not endure another five minutes
of it, glanced up to see the old lady's eyes actually sparkling; her
mouth had fallen into contented curves, and the jeweled hand resting on
the chair-arm was playing with the fringe, while she leaned forward that
she might not lose a word.

"Read that again, Polly," she said, "the list of presents exhibited at
Arabella Granger's wedding. I didn't hear any mention of the Archibalds.
It can't be that they have fallen out; and read more slowly."

So Polly began once more the long lists of gifts that ushered in the
matrimonial happiness of Mrs. John Westover nee Miss Arabella Granger;
this time, however, stimulated by the pleasure she was giving, to find
it an endurable task.

It seemed to Polly as if Mrs. John Westover had everything on earth
given to her that could possibly be presented at a wedding; nevertheless
the list was gone through again bravely, Polly retracing her steps two
or three times to read the items over for her listener's slow digestion.

"The Archibalds are not mentioned, either as being there or sending a
gift, nor the Harlands, nor the Smythes, so I am very glad I didn't
remember her," said Mrs. Chatterton, drawing herself up with a relieved
sigh. "Those presents sound fine on paper, but it isn't as well as she
might have done if she had made a different match. Now something else,
Polly," and she dismissed Mrs. Westover with a careless wave of her
hand. Polly flew off into the fashion hints, and was immediately lost in
the whirl of coming toilets. No one noticed when the door opened, so of
course no one saw Mrs. Whitney standing smiling behind the old lady's
big chair.

"Well, Polly," said a pleasant voice suddenly.

Down went Town Talk to the floor as Polly sprang up with a glad cry, and
Mrs. Chatterton turned around nervously.

"Oh, Auntie--Auntie!" cried Polly, convulsively clinging to her, "are
you really here, and is Dicky home?"

"Dear child," said Mrs. Whitney, as much a girl for the moment as Polly
herself. And pressing kisses on the red lips, while she folded her
close--"Yes, Dick is at home. There, go and find him; he is in Mrs.
Pepper's room."

"I am glad to see you so much better, Mrs. Chatterton," said Mrs.
Whitney, leaning over the invalid's chair to lay the tenderest of palms
on the hand resting on the chair-arm.

"Oh, yes, Marian; I am better," said Mrs. Chatterton, looking around for
Polly, then down at the delicious Town Talk carelessly thrown on the
floor. "Will you send her back as soon as possible?" she asked with her
old imperativeness.

"Who--Polly?" said Mrs. Whitney, following the glance. "Why, she has
gone to see Dick, you know. Now, why cannot I read a bit?" and she
picked up the paper.

"You don't know what has been read," said Mrs. Chatterton as Mrs.
Whitney drew up a chair and sat down, running her eye in a practiced way
over the front page. "Dear me, it makes me quite nervous, Marian, to see
you prowling around all over the sheet that way."

"Oh! I shall find something interesting quite soon, I fancy," said Mrs.
Whitney cheerfully, her heart on her boy and the jolly homecoming he was
having. "Here is the Washington news; I mean all about the receptions
and teas."

"She has read that," said Mrs. Chatterton.

"Now for the fashion department." Mrs. Whitney whirled the paper over
dexterously. "Do you know, Mrs. Chatterton, gray stuffs are to be worn
more than ever this spring?"

"I don't care about that," said Mrs. Chatterton quickly, "and besides,
quite likely there'll be a complete revolution before spring really sets
in, and gray stuffs will go out. Find some description of tea gowns,
can't you? I must have one or two more."

"And here are some wonderfully pretty caps, if they are all like the
descriptions," said Mrs. Whitney, unluckily dropping on another
paragraph.

"Caps! who wants to hear about them?" cried Mrs. Chatterton in a
dudgeon. "I hope I'm not at the cap period yet."

"Oh! those lovely little lace arrangements," said Mrs. Whitney hastily;
"don't you know how exquisite they are at Pinaud's?" she cried.

"I'm sure I never noticed," said Mrs. Chatterton indifferently.
"Hortense always arranges my hair better without lace. If you can't find
what I ask you, Marian," raising her voice to a higher key, "you needn't
trouble to read at all."

Fortunately the description of the gown worn by Lady Hartly Cavendish at
a London high tea, stood out in bold relief, as Mrs. Whitney's eyes
nervously ran over the columns again, and she seized upon it.

But in just two moments she was interrupted. "Send that girl back again,
Marian," cried Mrs. Chatterton. "I had just got her trained so that she
suits me. It tires me to death to hear you."

"I do not know whether Polly can come now," said Mrs. Whitney gently;
"she"--

"Do not know whether Polly can come!" repeated Mrs. Chatterton sharply,
and leaning forward in her chair. "Didn't I say I wanted her?"

"You did." Marian's tone did not lose a note of its ordinary gentleness.
"But I shall ask her if she is willing to do it as a favor, Mrs.
Chatterton; you quite understand that, of course?" She, too, leaned
forward in her chair, and gazed into the cold, hard face.

"Just like your father," cried Mrs. Chatterton, settling herself
irascibly back in the chair-depths again. "There is no hope that affairs
in this house will mend. I wash my hands of you."

"I am so glad that you consider me like my father," said Mrs. Whitney
gleefully as a child. "We surely are united on this question."

"May I read some more?" cried Polly, coming in softly, and trying to
calm the impetuous rush of delight as her eyes met Mrs. Whitney's.

"Yes; I am waiting for you," said Mrs. Chatterton. "Begin where you left
off."

Mrs. Whitney bit her pretty lips and slipped out of her chair, just
pausing a moment to lay her hand on the young shoulder as she passed,
and a world of comfort fell upon Polly, shut in once more to her dreary
task.

"How perfectly splendid that I didn't go to Silvia Home's luncheon party
now!" cried Polly's heart over and over between the lines. "If I had, I
should have missed dear Auntie's home-coming, and Dicky's." She glanced
up with luminous eyes as she whirled the sheet. Mrs. Chatterton,
astonishing as it may seem, was actually smiling.

"It's some comfort to hear you read," she observed with a sigh of
enjoyment, "because you enjoy it yourself. I wouldn't give a fig for
anybody to try to do it."

Polly felt like a guilty little thing to take this quietly, and she
eased her conscience by being more glad that she was in that very room
doing that very task. And so the moments sped on.

Outside, Dick was holding high revel as every one revolved around him,
the hero of the coasting accident, till the boy ran considerable danger
from all the attention he was receiving. But one glance and a smile from
Mrs. Whitney brought him back to himself.

"Don't talk any more about it," he cried a trifle impatiently. "I was a
muff to stick on, when I knew we were going over. Mamma, won't you stop
them?"

And she did.

"Do you know, Dicky and I have a secret to tell all of you good people."
The color flew into her soft cheek, and her eyes beamed.

"Really, Marian," said her father, whose hand had scarcely ceased
patting Dick's brown head since the boy's home-coming, "you've grown
young in Badgertown. I never saw you look so well as you do to-day."

Mrs. Whitney laughed and tossed him a gay little smile, that carried him
back to the days when Marian King stood before him looking just so.

"Now listen, father, and all you good people, to my secret--Dicky's and
mine; we are allowed to tell it now. Papa Whitney sailed in the Servia,
and he ought to be in to-day!"

A shout of joy greeted her announcement. Polly, off in her prison, could
hear the merry sounds, and her happy heart echoed them. The misery of
the past week, when she had been bearing an unatoned fault, seemed to
drop away from her as she listened, and to say, "Life holds sunshine
yet."

Then a hush dropped upon the gay uproar. She did not know that Dicky was
proclaiming "Yes, and he is never, never going back again. That is,
unless he takes mamma and me, you know."

Mrs. Chatterton turned suddenly upon the young figure.

"Do go!" She tossed an imperative command with her jeweled fingers. "You
have ceased to be amusing since your interest is all in the other room
with that boy."

Polly dashed the newspaper to the floor, and rushing impulsively across
the room, threw herself, with no thought for the consequences, on her
knees at Mrs. Chatterton's chair.

"Oh--oh!" she cried, the color flying up to the brown waves on her
temples, "don't send me off; then I shall know you never will forgive
me."

"Get up, do!" exclaimed Mrs. Chatterton, in disgust; "you are crushing
my gown, and besides I hate scenes."

But Polly held resolutely to the chair-arm, and never took her brown
eyes from the cold face.

"I must say, Polly Pepper," cried Mrs. Chatterton with rising anger,
"you are the most disagreeable girl that I ever had the misfortune to
meet. I, for one, will not put up with your constant ebullitions of
temper. Go out of this room!"

Polly rose slowly and drew herself up with something so new in face and
manner that the old lady instinctively put up her eyeglass and gazed
curiously through it, as one would look at a strange animal.

"Humph!" she said slowly at last, "well, what do you want to say? Speak
out, and then go."

"Nothing," said Polly in a low voice, but quite distinctly, "only I
shall not trouble you again, Mrs. Chatterton." And as the last words
were spoken, she was out of the room.

"Pretty doings these!" Mr. King, by a dexterous movement, succeeded in
slipping back of the portiere folds into the little writing-room, as
Polly rushed out through the other doorway into the hall. "A fortunate
thing it was that I left Dick, to see what had become of Polly. Now,
Cousin Eunice, you move from my house!" and descending the stairs, he
called determinedly, "Polly, Polly, child!"

Polly, off in her own room now, heard him, and for the first time in her
life, wished she need not answer.

"Polly--Polly!" the determined call rang down the passage, causing her
to run fast with a "Yes, Grandpapa, I'm coming."

"Now, I should just like to inquire," began Mr. King, taking her by her
two young shoulders and looking down into the flushed face, "what she
has been saying to you." "Oh, Grandpapa!" down went Polly's brown head,
"don't make me tell. Please don't, Grandpapa."

"I shall!" declared Mr. King; "every blessed word. Now begin!"

"She--she wanted me to go out of the room," said Polly, in a reluctant
gasp.

"Indeed!" snorted Mr. King. "Well, she will soon go out of that room.
Indeed, I might say, out of the house."

"Oh, Grandpapa!" exclaimed Polly, in great distress, and raising the
brown eyes--he was dismayed to find them filling with tears--"don't,
don't send her away! It is all my fault; indeed it is, Grandpapa!"

"Your fault," cried Mr. King irately; "you must not say such things,
child; that's silly; you don't know the woman."

"Grandpapa," cried Polly, holding back the storm of tears to get the
words out, "I never told you--I couldn't--but I said perfectly dreadful
words to her a week ago. Oh, Grandpapa! I did, truly."

"That's right," said the old gentleman in a pleased tone. "What were
they, pray tell? Let us know."

"Oh, Grandpapa, don't!" begged Polly, with a shiver; "I want to forget
them."

"If you would only follow them up with more," said Mr. King
meditatively; "when it comes to tears, she must march, you know."

"I won't cry," said Polly, swallowing the lump in her throat, "if you
will only let her stay."

She turned to him such a distressed and white face that Mr. King stood
perplexedly looking down at her, having nothing to say.

"I'm tired of her," at last he said; "we are all tired of her; she has
about worn us out."

"Grandpapa," cried Polly, seeing her advantage in his hesitation, "if
you will only let her stay, I will never beg you for anything again."

"Well, then she goes," cried Mr. King shortly. "Goodness me, Polly, if
you are going to stop asking favors, Cousin Eunice marches instanter!"

"Oh! I'll beg and tease for ever so many things," cried Polly radiantly,
her color coming back. "Will you let her stay, Grandpapa--will you?" She
clasped his arm tightly and would not let him go.

"Well," said Mr. King slowly, "I'll think about it, Polly."

"Will you?" cried Polly. "Dear Grandpapa, please say yes."

Mr. King drew a long breath. "Yes," he said at last.




XIII

A PIECE OF NEWS


Collect the whole bunch of Peppers and send them into my writing-room,
Marian." Old Mr. King mounting the stairs, turned to see that his
command was heard.

"You want Mother Pepper too, I presume?" said Mrs. Whitney, pausing at
the foot.

"Mother Pepper? No, indeed; the last person in the world I wish to see,"
cried her father irritably. "The bunch of Pepper children, I want, and
at once; see that they all report to me directly." With that he
redoubled his efforts and was soon at the top of the long oaken steps.

Polly and Ben closely followed by Joel, David and Phronsie soon rushed
over the same ascending thoroughfare, and presented themselves, flushed
and panting, at the writing-room door.

"Come in," called Mr. King from within.

"Here we are, sir," said Ben, spokesman by virtue of being the eldest.

"Yes, yes," said Mr. King nervously, and turning away from some papers
he was fumbling to occupy the waiting moments. "Well, do sit down, all
of you. I sent for you to have a talk about something that you--that
you--well, do sit down."

So all the Peppers deposited themselves in various resting-places; all
but Joel. He immediately marched up to the old gentleman's chair.

"If it's good news," he said abruptly, "please let us have it right this
minute. But if it's bad, why," a gathering alarm stole over his chubby
countenance, as he scanned the face before him, "I'm going out-doors."

"It's good or bad news according as you take it," said the old
gentleman. "It ought to be good. But there," pushing back his chair to
look at the row of anxious figures the other side of the table, "do sit
down with the rest, Joe, and stop staring me out of countenance."

Polly at that, pushed a chair over toward Joel, who persuading himself
into it, sat uncomfortably perched on its edge, where he stared harder
than ever.

"Hum! well, children, now you are all remarkably sensible boys and
girls. Remarkably sensible. I've always said so, and I see no reason to
change my opinion of you now. And so, although at first my news may not
be quite to your liking, why, you'll quickly make it so, and be very
happy about it in the end. Hem! well, did you ever think that--that your
mother might possibly marry again?"

The last words were brought out so abruptly, that to the five pairs of
ears strained to catch their import, it seemed as if the news had shot
by harmlessly. But after a breathing space the dreadful "marry," and
"your mother," came back to them, bringing the several owners of the
ears out of their chairs at one bound.

"Our mother!" Ben hoarsely exclaimed.

"Oh! how can you?" cried Polly passionately, a little white line showing
around her mouth, "say such perfectly dreadful things, sir!"

Phronsie clasped her hands in silent terror, and raised big eyes to his
face. David began to walk helplessly down the apartment. "See here!"
said Joel, turning to the others, "wait a minute, and hold on. Perhaps
it's you, sir," whirling back to question, with piercing eyes, the old
gentleman, "who's going to marry our mother. Then it's all right!"

"Me!" roared the old gentleman. "Oh! bless my soul, what should I want
to marry for at my time of life? Oh! my goodness me."

His distress was now so frightful to see, that it brought the Peppers in
a measure out of theirs; and they began at once to endeavor to soothe
him.

"Don't--oh! don't," they cried, and a common trouble overwhelming them,
they rushed around the table, seized his hands, and patted his shoulders
and hair. "Oh! this is very dreadful," gasped Polly, "but don't you feel
badly, dear, dear Grandpapa."

"I should think it was," said Mr. King. "Phronsie, here, child, get into
my lap. I'll come to myself then. There, now, that's something like," as
Phronsie, with a low cry, hopped into her usual nest. "Now perhaps I can
communicate the rest of my news, when I get my breath."

The Peppers held theirs, and he began once more. "Now, children, it
isn't in the course of nature for such a fine bright woman as your
mother to remain single the rest of her life; somebody would be sure to
come and carry her off. I'm glad it's to be in my lifetime, for now I
can be easy in my mind, and feel that you have a protector when I am
gone. There, there, we won't talk about that," as the young faces turned
dark with sudden pain, while Joel rushed convulsively to the window,
"you can see how I feel about it."

"Are you glad?" cried Ben hoarsely. Polly for her life could not speak.
The whole world seemed turning round, and sinking beneath her feet.

"Yes, I am," said the old gentleman, "and it won't alter the existing
state of things, for he will live here with us, and things will be just
the same, if only you children will take it rightly. But I've no doubt
you will in the end; no doubt at all," he added, brightening up, "for
you are very sensible young people. I've always said so."

"Who is he?" The dreadful question trembled on all the lips; but no one
asked it. Seeing this, Mr. King broke out, "Well, now of course you want
to know who is going to marry your mother, that is, if you are willing.
For she won't have him unless you are to be happy about it. Would you
like Dr. Fisher for a father?"

Joel broke away from the window with a howl, while Polly tumultuously
threw herself within the kind arms encircling Phronsie.

"Next to you," cried the boy, "why, he's a brick, Dr. Fisher is!"

"Why didn't you tell us before that it was he?" sobbed Polly, with
joyful tears running over her face. Davie, coming out of his gloomy
walk, turned a happy face towards the old man's chair, while Ben said
something to himself that sounded like "Thank God!"

Phronsie alone remained unmoved. "What is Dr. Fisher going to do?" she
asked presently, amid the chatter that now broke forth.

"He's going to live here," said old Mr. King, looking down at her, and
smoothing her yellow hair. "Won't that be nice, Phronsie?"

"Yes," said Phronsie, "it will. And he'll bring his funny old gig, won't
he, and 111 drive sometimes, I suppose?" she added with great
satisfaction.

"Yes; you will," said the old gentleman, winking furiously to keep back
the excited flow of information that now threatened the child. "Well,
Phronsie, you love Dr. Fisher, don't you?"

"Yes, I do," said the child, folding her hands in her lap, "love him
very much indeed."

"Well, he's going to be your father," communicated Mr. King, cautiously
watching her face at each syllable.

"Oh, no!" cried Phronsie, "he couldn't be; he's Dr. Fisher." She laughed
softly at the idea. "Why, Grandpapa, he couldn't be my father."

"Listen, Phronsie," and Mr. King took both her hands in his, "and I'll
tell you about it so that you will understand. Dr. Fisher loves your
mother; he has loved her for many years--all those years when she was
struggling on in the little brown house. But he couldn't tell her so,
because he had others depending on him for support. They don't need him
now, and as soon as he is free, he comes and tells your mother and me,
like a noble good man as he is, all about it. He's a gentleman,
children," he declared, turning to the others, "and you will be glad to
call him father."

"I don't know what you mean," said Phronsie, with puzzled eyes. "Dear
Grandpapa, please tell me."

"Why, he is going to marry your mother, child, and we are all to live
here together just the same, and everything is going to be just as happy
as possible."

Phronsie gave a sharp and sudden cry of distress. "But Mamsie, my Mamsie
will be gone!" and then she hid her face in the old gentleman's breast.

"O dear, dear! get a glass of water, Polly," cried Mr. King. "One of you
run and open the window. Phronsie, Phronsie--there, child, look up and
let me tell you." But Phronsie burrowed yet deeper in the protecting
nest, regardless of his spotless linen.

"Polly, speak to her," he cried in despair; "where is she? gone for the
water? O dear! Here, Ben, you try. Dear, dear, what a blunderer I am."

"Phronsie," said Ben, leaning over the shaking figure, "you are making
Grandpapa sick."

Up came Phronsie's yellow head. "Oh, Grandpapa!" she wailed, putting out
an unsteady little hand, "I didn't mean to, dear Grandpapa, only--only
Mamsie will be gone now."

"Bless your heart, you'll have Mamsie more than ever," cried Mr. King
heartily. "Here, you children, tell her. Polly, we don't want the water
now, she's come to," as Polly came rushing in with a glassful. "Make her
understand; I can't."

So Polly, setting down her glass, the others crowding around, took up
the task of making the piece of news as delightful as possible, and
presently Phronsie came out of her despair, to ask questions.

"Are you really and truly very glad, Polly?" she asked.

"Really and truly I am so glad I don't know what to do," said Polly,
kneeling down by the chair-side. "Don't you see we are so much the
richer, Phronsie? We have lost nothing, and we gain Dr. Fisher. Dear
splendid Dr. Fisher!"

"You've always wanted to repay Dr. Fisher for his kindness," said Mr.
King, "and now's your chance, Polly."

"I guess he'll get his pay back for his stove," cried Joel in a burst;
"Polly will wait on him, and kill herself doing things for him."

"And for your new eyes," sang Phronsie in a pleased way. "Oh, Polly!"
She jumped out of the old gentleman's lap, and began to dance around the
room, softly clapping her hands and exclaiming, "Oh, Polly!"

"Well, now, children," said Mr. King, as the excitement ran low, "you
just run and tell your mother, every one of you, how happy she will make
you by bringing Dr. Fisher here as your father. Scamper, now!"

No need to urge them. On the wings of the wind ran the five Peppers up
into Mamsie's own room. Mrs. Pepper for once turning aside from the
claim of her pressing duties, was standing by the work table. Here stood
the mending basket before her, piled to the brim with the weekly
installment of stockings big and little, clamoring for attention. But
the usually busy needle lay idle, and the busier hands were folded, as
the mother-heart went over the words she knew were being rehearsed
downstairs by the kind friend who had made a home for them. He was
pleading her cause with her children.

"They shall be happy, anyway," she said softly to herself, "bless their
hearts!" as they burst in.

"Mother," said Ben--How the boy's cheek glowed! And what a world of joy
rang in the usually quiet tones!--"we want to thank you for giving us
Dr. Fisher for a father."

"Mamsie," Polly hid her happy face on the dear neck, "I've always loved
him, you know; oh! I'm so glad."

Joel whooped out something incoherent, but his face told the words,
while Davie clasped one of the firm, closely folded hands.

"If you'll take me in your lap as much as ever," said Phronsie
deliberately, and patting the other hand, "why I shall be really and
truly glad, Mamsie."

"Bless your dear heart!" cried Mother Pepper, clasping her tightly, "and
you children, all of you," and she drew them all within her arms. "Now I
want you to understand, once for all, that it isn't to be unless you all
wish it. You are sure Mr. King hasn't persuaded you to like it?"

"Look at us," cried Ben, throwing back his head to see her eyes. "Do we
act as if we had been talked over?"

At that, Polly burst into a merry laugh; and the others joining, Mother
Pepper laughing as heartily as the rest, the big room became the
jolliest place imaginable.

"No, I don't really think you do," said Mrs. Pepper, wiping her eyes.

"Dear me!" cried Jasper, putting his head in the doorway, "what good fun
is going on? I'm not going to be left out."

"Come in, Jasper," they all called.

"And we've a piece of news that will make your hair stand on end," said
Joel gaily.

"Joe, don't announce it so," cried Polly in dismay, who dearly enjoyed
being elegant. "Ben must tell it; he is the oldest."

"No, no; let Polly," protested Ben.

"Polly shall," said Jasper, hurrying in to stand the picture of patience
before the group. "Hurry, do, for I must say my curiosity is hard to
keep within bounds."

So Polly was gently pushed into the center of the circle. "Go on," said
Joel, "and hurry up, or I shall tell myself."

"Jasper," said Polly, her breath coming fast, "oh! you can't think; we
are so glad"--But she got no further, for Phronsie, rushing out of
Mother Pepper's arms, piped out suddenly:

"Dr. Fisher is coming here to live always and forever, and I'm going to
ride in his gig, and Mamsie likes him, and I'm going to call him father;
now, Jasper, I told you!"

"I should think you did," exclaimed Ben.

"Whew!" cried Jasper, "that is a piece of news all in one breath. Well,
Mrs. Pepper, I'm glad of it, too. I congratulate you." With that, he
marched up to her, Phronsie hanging to his arm, and shook her hand
heartily.

And in two days everybody in the King set knew that the mother of the
five little Peppers was going to be married.

"I should think you'd want to be condoled with, Ben," said Pickering
Dodge, clapping him on the shoulder as he rushed down the aisle of the
store occupied by Cabot & Van Meter.

"Halloo!" said Ben, "can't stop," rushing past.

"I suppose not," said Pickering carelessly, and striding after, "so I'll
whisper my gentle congratulations in your ear 'on the wing.' But I'm
awfully sorry for you, Ben," he added, as he came up to him.

"You needn't be," said Ben brightly, "we are all as glad as can be."

"Sweet innocent, you don't know a stepfather," said Pickering
lugubriously.

"I know Dr. Fisher," said Ben, "that's enough."

"Well, when you want comfort, come to me," said Pickering, "or your
uncle!"

"Don't you fill Ben's ears with your foolishness," said the Senior
Partner, coming out of the counting-room. "Take yourself off, Pickering;
you're hindering Ben."

Pickering laughed. "I'm caught in the very act. Now, Ben, remember I'm
your friend when you get into trouble with your dear pa. Good-by,
Uncle," with a bright nod, and a lazy shake of his long figure. "Trade
always demoralizes me. I'll get back to my books," and he vanished as
quickly as he came.

"Back to your books," said his uncle grimly, "hum, I wish you would. See
here, Ben," he put a controlling hand on the boy's shoulder, "one word
with you," marching him into the private office of the firm. "Don't you
follow Pickering too closely, my boy," he said abruptly; "he's a good
lad in the main, but if he is my nephew, I must give you warning. He's
losing ground."

Ben lifted his head in sudden alarm. "Oh! I hope not, sir," he said.

"It's a fact. Master Nelson says he could be first scholar in the
grammar, but for the last six months he's failed steadily. There's no
particular reason, only ambition's gone. And when you say that, you mean
there's a general collapse of all my hopes concerning him."

"Oh! no, sir," Ben kept on protesting, his ruddy cheek losing its color.
"He'll take hold by and by and give a pull at his books again."

"It isn't a pull now and then that gets a man up hill," observed Mr.
Cabot, leaning back in his revolving chair to look into the blue eyes,
"that you know as well as I. Now, Ben, I'm not going to see you throw
away your prospects, too. Don't let him influence you in the wrong way.
He's bright and attractive, but don't pay attention to his ridicule of
good things."

"I've a mother," said Ben proudly, "and I don't believe any boy could
say much to me, that I'd think of twice, if she didn't like it."

"You always tell her everything, do you, Ben?" asked Mr. Cabot with a
curious glance.

"I should think so, sir," said Ben, with a short laugh.

"You'll do, then," said Mr. Cabot, bringing his palm down on a pile of
unread letters awaiting him. "Go ahead. I don't promise anything, but I
will say this. If you work on as you have done these two years since you
came in here as errand boy, Ben, I'll make you a power in the house.
Understand I don't expect you to do brilliant things; that isn't in your
line. You will be a success only as a steady, faithful worker. But keep
at it, and hang on to Cabot & Van Meter, and we'll hang on to you."




XIV

MAMSIE'S WEDDING


"Polly," said Dr. Fisher, coming suddenly out of a corner of the library
as she ran around the portiere folds, "you are sure you are willing--are
willing it should go on?"

The little man peered at her anxiously through his big glasses, and he
looked so exactly as he did on that morning so long ago when Polly's
eyes were at their worst, that she could do nothing but gaze
speechlessly into his face.

"I see you don't consider it quite best, child," said the little doctor
brokenly, "but you are trying with your good heart, to make it so. Don't
be afraid; it is not too late to end it all."

"I was thinking," cried Polly with a gasp, "how good you were to me,
when you saved my eyes, and how you kept Joel from dying of the measles.
Oh! I couldn't speak--but I love you so."

She threw her young arms around him. "Papa Fisher--for you are almost my
father now--I am the very, very happiest girl because you are going to
live here, and now I can show you just how much I really and truly love
you."

The little man beamed at her. Then he took off his spectacles, wiped
them, and clapped them into place again. "You see, Polly," he said
deliberately, "it was impossible to see your mother and not love her.
She has had--well, there, child, I cannot bear to talk about it," and he
walked to the window, blew his nose violently on an immense pocket-
handkerchief, leaving the words poised in mid-air.

"It was the greatest trial of my life that I couldn't show her then when
she was struggling so bravely to keep the wolf from the door, how I
felt. But my hands were tied, child," he added, coming back, his usual
self again. "Now I can make her, she says, happy, that is, if you
children like it. Just think, Polly, she said happy! It's stupendous,
but she said so, Polly, she really did!"

He folded his hands and looked at her in astonishment, behind which
shone an intense gratification, that lighted up his plain little face
till he seemed to grow younger every instant.

"Indeed she did!" repeated Polly like a bird, and laughing merrily. "Oh,
Papa Fisher! you ought to hear Mamsie sing. She doesn't know I'm hearing
her, but she sings at her work now."

"Does she?" cried the doctor radiantly. "Well, Polly, we must see that
she sings every day, after this."

"Yes, let us," cried Polly, clasping his hand; "we will."

"And," proceeded the doctor, "after the wedding is over--I It really
dread the wedding, Polly--but after that is over, I do believe we shall
all be comfortable together!"

Polly gave a little cry of delight. Then she said, "You needn't dread
the wedding one bit, Papa Fisher. There will be only the people that we
love, and who love us--Grandpapa promised that."

"But that will make it very big," said Dr. Fisher, with round eyes and a
small shiver he could not suppress.

"Oh, no!" said Polly cheerily, "sixty-five friends; that's all we are
going to ask; Mamsie and I made out the list last night."

"Sixty-five people!" exclaimed Dr. Fisher in dismay. "Oh! isn't is
possible to be married without sixty-five friends to stare at you?"

"Oh! that's not many," said Polly; "sixty-five is the very smallest
number that we could manage. We've been over the list ever so many
times, and struck out quantities of names. You see, everybody loves
Mamsie, and they'll want to see her married."

"I know--I know," assented the doctor, "but that makes one hundred and
thirty eyes. Did you ever think of that, Polly?"

Polly burst into such a laugh that Jasper popped in, and after him,
Phronsie, and a general hilarity now reigning, the dreaded wedding
preparations soon sank away from the doctor's perturbed vision.

But they went on merrily nevertheless. All over the old stone mansion
there were hints of the on-coming festivities; and though all signs of
it were tucked away from the little doctor on his occasional visits, the
smothered excitement flamed afresh immediately his departure became an
assured thing. Everybody had the wildest plans for the occasion; it
appearing impossible to do enough for the one who had stood at the helm
for five long years, and who was to be reigning housekeeper for as much
longer as her services were needed.

And Dr. Fisher never knew how perilously near he had been to the verge
of brilliant evening festivities, in the midst of which he was to be
ushered into matrimony.

For Polly had suddenly waked one morning, to find herself, not "famous,"
but alive with the sense of being--as her mother had so often expressed
it--"Mamsie's little right-hand woman."

"It will be much better to have everything plain," said Polly, communing
with herself, as she turned on her pillow. "Mamsie has always been
without show, of any kind, and so," but here Polly's heart stood still.
Dearly she loved the bright, conspicuous accompaniments to the wedding
whereby Mr. King was determined to show his respect for the family under
his care. And her soul secretly longed for the five hundred guests named
on a list of the old gentleman's drawing up. And the feast and the
lights, and the pretty dresses, and the dancing party for the young
people to follow. For Mr. King had announced himself as about to usher
in the brightest of days for the young Peppers to remember.

"Besides it brings our new physician into notice," he would answer when
any faint protest was made. "And we shall all have reason to be
immensely proud of him, I tell you!"

"Oh, dear!" cried Polly, burrowing deeper within the pillow folds, "why
aren't pleasant things best to do? Why, I wonder!"

Cherry, twittering in the window, chirped something vague and
unsatisfactory. Polly brought up her brown head suddenly and laughed.

"Nonsense! our happiness doesn't depend upon a lot of people coming
together to help it along. Mamsie's face, whenever Grandpapa plans all
this magnificence, is enough to make me feel wretched at the thought of
it. Dear Mamsie! she's afraid of ingratitude if she doesn't try to like
it. She shall have the little morning wedding with a few people around,
and the gray silk gown instead of the lavender one Grandpapa wants her
to wear, for Mamsie always knows just what is right."

With that, Polly sprang out of bed, and rushed at her toilet, and after
breakfast she quietly captured Mr. King on the edge of some other
extravagant plan, and led him into the library.

"Everything is going on finely, Polly," he cried in elation. "Ring for
Thomas, child; stay, I'll do it myself. I shall go in an hour to give my
orders for the wedding supper."

"Grandpapa," cried Polly, turning quite pale, and laying a quick,
detaining hand on his arm, "oh! do wait, dear Grandpapa, I have
something to say."

"Well, child," but he still retained his hand on the cord.

"Oh, Grandpapa!" how could she say it! But she must. "Mamsie will be
ever so much happier if the wedding might be a quiet one. She really
would, Grandpapa."

"No doubt Mrs. Pepper finds it a little hard to adjust her ideas to the
large affair," said the old gentleman, considerably disturbed, and by no
means relinquishing the bell-cord, "but it is due to you children to
have a bright time, and I must see that you all have it. That is my
affair," and this time the cord was pulled, and the bell rang a loud,
insistent message.

Polly stood still in despair. "Grandpapa," she said distinctly, finding
it hard to proceed, with his face before her, "we children do not want
the large party; that is I do not."

It was all out at last.

"Stuff and nonsense!" exclaimed Mr. King sharply, for his surprise was
too great to allow of composure, "who has been putting this idea into
your head? Your mother couldn't have done it, for she promised it should
all be as you young people wanted."

"Mamsie never said a word," cried Polly, recovering herself as she saw a
chance to make things right for Mother Pepper; "it all came to me,
Grandpapa, all alone by myself. Oh! I hate the big display!" she
declared with sudden vehemence, astonishing herself with the repulsion
that now seized her.

"Hoity toity!" exclaimed Mr. King, "it's not quite the thing, Polly, my
child, to express yourself so decidedly, considering your years."

"Grandpapa," cried Polly, with a sudden rush of tears, "forgive me, do;
I did not mean to be so naughty. I did not, dear Grandpapa." She looked
like Phronsie now, and the old gentleman's heart melted. "But I am quite
sure that none of us children would be a bit happy not to have it as
Mamsie would like."

"Well, but I am not sure that the others wouldn't like it," said Mr.
King persistently.

"Ben wouldn't," said Polly triumphantly, "I know, for he all along
shrank from the big party."

"Oh! well, Ben, I suppose, would object somewhat," conceded the old
gentleman slowly.

"And Davie," cried Polly eagerly; "Oh, Grandpapa! David would much
prefer the morning wedding and the plain things."

"But how about Joel and Phronsie?" interrupted Mr. King, utterly
ignoring Davie's claims to be heard. "Ah! Polly, my dear, until you tell
me that they will prefer to give up the fine party, you mustn't expect
me to pay any attention to what you say. It's due to Phronsie that your
mother's wedding is a thing worthy to remember as a fine affair."

"Perhaps Joel and Phronsie will think as we do," said Polly. But her
heart said No.

"All right if they do," said Mr. King easily, "but unless you come and
tell me it is their own choice, why, I shall just go on with my plans as
mapped out," he added obstinately. "Thomas," as that functionary
appeared in the doorway, "take the letters to the post at once; you will
find them on my writing table."

"All right, sir."

"I'll give you till to-morrow to find out," said Mr. King. "Now come and
kiss me, Polly dear. You'll see it's all right after it's over, and be
glad I had the sense to keep my mind about it."

Polly put up her lips obediently. But it was a sad little kiss that was
set upon his mouth, and it left him feeling like a criminal.

And running out, she met her difficult task without a moment of
preparation.

"Halloo, Polly!" whooped Joel, rushing around an angle in the hall,
"Grandpapa promised me that I might go out with him, to give the supper
orders, and all that kind of nonsense."

Polly's heart stood still.

"Joel," she began, seizing his jacket with trembling fingers, "come up
into my room a minute."

"What's up?" cried Joel with curiosity; "some more mysteries? There's
nothing but whisperings, and secrets, and no end of jolly
understandings, ever since Mamsie commenced to marry Dr. Fisher. Go
ahead, I'll come."

"And Phronsie, too," said Polly, seeing the yellow head emerge from the
breakfast-room doorway.

"Come on, Phron," sang out Joel, "up in Polly's room--she wants you,"
and the three hurried off.

"Now, Joel," said Polly, closing the door and facing him desperately,
"you are Mamsie's own boy."

"I should think so," said Joel, "I'm not anybody's else. Is that all you
brought me up here to say?" thrusting his hands in his pockets and
looking at her.

"And you can make her happy, or just as miserable as I can't say what,"
went on Polly incoherently.

"What in the world are you firing at?" demanded the boy, visions of
certain pranks at school unpleasantly before him. "Don't shoot over my
head, Polly, but keep somewhere near your mark," he advised irritably.

Phronsie surveyed the two with wide eyes, and a not wholly pleased
manner.

"Mamsie does not want a big wedding," declared Polly, going to the heart
of the matter, "but dear kind Grandpapa thinks it will please us
children, and so he wants to give her one."

"And so it will," cried Joel, "please us children. Whoop la! give us
your hand, Phronsie, this is the way we'll dance afterwards at the
party."

"I don't want to dance," said Phronsie, standing quite still in the
middle of the room. The morning sun shone across her yellow hair, but no
light came into the large eyes. "Polly wants something, first; what is
it, Joel?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said Joel, poised on a careless foot, and
executing a remarkable pas seul. "I don't believe she knows herself.
Polly is often queer, you know, Phronsie," he added cheerfully.

"Tell me, Polly, do," whispered Phronsie, going over to her.

"Phronsie," said Polly very slowly, "Mamsie doesn't want a big party in
the evening to see her married, but to have a cunning little company of
friends come in the morning, and"--

"Ugh!" cried Joel in disgust, coming down suddenly to both feet.

"It will please Mamsie best," went on Polly, with a cold shoulder to
Joel. "And I never should be happy in all this world to remember that I
helped to make my Mamsie unhappy on her wedding day."

Phronsie shivered, and her voice held a miserable little thrill as she
begged, "Oh! make her be married just as she wants to be, Polly, do."

"Now that's what I call mean," cried Joel in a loud, vindictive tone
back of Polly, "to work on Phronsie's feelings. You can't make me say I
don't want Mamsie to have a wedding splurge, so there, Polly Pepper!"

Polly preserved a dignified silence, and presented her shoulder again to
his view.

"You can't make me say it, Polly Pepper!" shouted Joel shrilly.

"Oh, Phronsie!" exclaimed Polly in a rapture, throwing her arms around
the child, "Mamsie will be so pleased--you can't think. Let us go and
tell her; come!"

"See here!" called Joel, edging up, "why don't you talk to me?"

"I haven't anything to say," Polly condescended to give him, without
turning her head. "Come, Phronsie," holding out her hand.

"Wait a minute."

"Well, what is it?" Polly's hand now held Phronsie's, but she paused on
the way to the door.

"I guess I can give up things as well as she can, if I know Mamsie wants
me to," said Joel, with a deeply injured manner.

"Mamsie doesn't want any of us to give up anything unless we do it as if
we were glad to," said Polly. For her life, she couldn't conceal a
little scornful note in her voice, and Joel winced miserably.

"I--I wish she wouldn't have the big party," he whined.

"I thought you wanted it," said Polly, turning to him.

"I--I don't. I'd rather Mamsie would be happy. O, dear! don't look at me
so."

"I'm not looking at you so," said Polly. "You acted just as if you had
your heart set on the party."

"Well, it isn't. I'll--I'll--if you say party to me again!" and he faced
her vindictively.

"Joel Pepper!" cried Polly, holding him with her brown eyes, "do you
really mean that you are glad to give up that big evening party, and
have the little teeny one in the morning?"

"Yes," said Joel, "as true as I live and breathe, I do!"

"Oh! oh! oh!" cried Polly, and seizing his arm, she led off in a dance,
so much surpassing his efforts, that Phronsie screamed with delight to
see them go. When they could dance no more, Polly, flushed and panting,
ran out of the room, leaving the two to find out as best they might, the
cause of the strange demeanor.

"Grandpapa," Polly rushing over the stairs, met him coming up to Mrs.
Whitney's room, "Joel says it's the little morning wedding--please; and
Phronsie too!"

The old gentleman gave no sign of his defeat, beyond a "Humph! and so
I'm beaten, after all!"

And Dr. Fisher never knew all this.

Mamsie's wedding-day! At last it came! Was any other ever so bright and
beautiful? Phronsie thought not, and thereupon she impeded the
preparations by running up to kiss her mother every few moments, until
such time as Felicie carried her off to induct her into a white muslin
gown. Polly, here, there, and everywhere, was in such a rapture that she
seemed to float on wings, while the boys of the household, with the
exception of Jasper, lost their heads early in the day, and helplessly
succumbed to all demands upon them.

Every flower had to be put in place by the young people. Old Turner for
once stood one side. And Polly must put the white satin boxes filled
with wedding cake on the little table where one of the waiters would
hand them to departing guests. And Phronsie must fasten Mamsie's pearl
broach--the gift of the five little Peppers--in her lace collar the very
last thing. And Jasper collected the rice and set the basket holding it
safely away from Joel's eager fingers till such time as they could
shower the bride's carriage. And all the boys were ushers, even little
Dick coming up grandly to offer his arm to the tallest guest as it
happened.

And old Mr. King gave the bride away! And Dr. Fisher at the last forgot
all the one hundred and thirty eyes, and his "I will," rang out like a
man's who has secured what he has long wanted. And ever so many of the
guests said "What a good father he will make the children," and several
attempted to tell the Peppers so. "As if we didn't know it before," said
Joel indignantly.

And Alexia and all the other girls of Polly's set were there, and Joel's
little blue and white creature came, to his great satisfaction, with her
aunt, who was quite intimate in the family; and Pickering Dodge was
there of course, and the Alstynes, and hosts of others.

And Mother Pepper in her silver-gray gown and bonnet, by the side of her
husband, with Phronsie clinging to one hand, heard nothing but heart-
felt wishes for her happiness and that of the five little Peppers.

And there was not so much as the shadow of a skeleton at the wedding
breakfast. And Cousin Mason Whitney took charge of the toasts--and
everybody felt that just the right things had been said. And then there
was a flutter of departure of the bridal party, and in the rattle of the
wheels Phronsie piped out bravely as she threw the slipper after the
departing coach:

"Mamsie has been taking care of us all these years; now we're going to
be good and let her be happy."




XV

MRS. CHATTERTON HAS A NEW PLAN


"Polly is learning to play beautifully," mused Phronsie, nursing one
foot contemplatively, as she curled up on the floor. "And Ben is to be a
capital business man, so Papa Fisher says, and Joel is going to buy up
this whole town sometime, and Davie knows ever so many books from
beginning to end, but what can I do?"

Down went the little foot to the floor, and the yellow head drooped over
the white apron.

"Nothing," mourned Phronsie, "just nothing at all; not even the wee-est
teeniest bit of anything do I know how to do. O, dear!"

Outside, Jasper was calling to Prince. Phronsie could hear the big dog
rushing over the lawn in response, barking furiously as he went. But she
did not move.

"And Mamsie will never be glad for me, unless I learn how to do things
too. If I don't hurry, I shall never be grown up."

"Tweet--tweet--ch-r-r-r"--Cherry in his cage over her head, chirped
vigorously by way of consolation, but Phronsie did not lift her head.
Cherry seeing all his efforts in vain, stopped his song and rolled one
black eye down at her in astonishment, and soon became quite still.

Presently the rustle of a stiff black satin gown became the chief
intruder upon the silence. It was so asserting that Phronsie lifted her
head to look into the face of Mrs. Chatterton, standing before her,
playing with the rings on her long white hands, and regarding her as if
she would soon require an explanation of such strange conduct.

"What are you doing, Phronsie?" at last demanded the lady.

"Thinking," said Phronsie; and she laid her chin in her hand, and slowly
turned her gaze upon the thin, disagreeable face before her, but not as
if in the slightest degree given up to a study of its lines and
expression.

"So I perceive," said Mrs. Chatterton harshly. "Well, and what are you
thinking of, pray tell?"

Still Phronsie looked beyond her, and it was not until the question had
been repeated, that an answer came.

"Of many things," said Phronsie, "but I do not think I ought to tell
you."

"And why not, pray?" cried the lady, with a short and most unpleasant
laugh.

"Because I do not think you would understand them," said Phronsie. And
now she looked at the face she had before overlooked, with a deliberate
scrutiny as if she would not need to repeat the attention.

"Indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Chatterton angrily, "and pray how long since
your thoughts have been so valuable?"

"My thoughts are nice ones," said Phronsie slowly, "because they are
about nice people."

"Ah!"

"And they won't tell themselves. And I ought not to make them. They
would fly away then, and I should never find them again, when I wanted
to think them."

"Your mother brought you up well, I must say," observed Mrs. Chatterton,
deliberately drawing up a chair and putting her long figure within it,
"to talk in this style to a lady as old as I am."

Phronsie allowed one foot to gently trace the pattern on the carpet
before she answered. "I know you are very old," she said at last, "but I
cannot tell my thoughts to you."

"Very old!" cried Mrs. Chatterton, her chin in the air. "Indeed! well, I
am not, I would have you know, Miss Phronsie," and she played with the
silk cord of her satin wrapper. "I hate a child that is made a prig!"
she added explosively under her breath.

Phronsie made no reply, being already deep in her own calculations once
more.

"Now, Phronsie," said Mrs. Chatterton, suddenly drawing herself out of
her angry fit, and clearing her brow, "I want you to give your attention
to me a moment, for I have something I must say to you. That's why I
came in here, to find you alone. Come, look at me, child. It isn't
polite to be staring at the carpet all the time."

Phronsie, thus admonished, took her gaze from the floor, to bestow it on
the face above her.

"It's something that nobody is to know but just you and me," began Mrs.
Chatterton, with a cautious glance at the door.

Then she got out of her chair, and going across the room, closed it
carefully. "There, that's better; Polly is always around. Now we are
quite alone," coming back to her seat.

"You see, Phronsie," she proceeded, not caring that the brown eyes were
slowly adding to their astonishment an expression that augured ill for
any plans she might be hoping to carry out toward propitiation. "It is
necessary to be careful not to be overheard, for what I am going to say
to you must be kept quite secret."

"I must tell Mamsie," said Phronsie distinctly.

"Indeed you will not," declared Mrs. Chatterton. "She is the very one of
all others who ought not to know. You can help her, Phronsie, if you
only keep quiet."

Phronsie's eyes now became so very large that Mrs. Chatterton hastened
to add:

"You know Polly is learning to be a music teacher when she grows up."

Phronsie made no reply.

"And a very creditable one she will be, from all acounts I can gather,"
contributed Mrs. Chatterton carelessly. "Well, Ben is doing well in
Cabot & Van Meter's, so he's no trouble to your mother. As for the two
boys, I know nothing about them, one way or the other. But you, as you
are a girl, and the only one not provided for, why, I shall show a
little kindness in your direction. It's wholly disinterested and
quixotic, I know," added Mrs. Chatterton, with a sweeping gaze at the
walls and ceilings, "for me to give myself a thought about you or your
future. And I shall never receive so much as a thank you for it. But
I've passed all my life in thinking of others, Phronsie," here she
brought down her attention to the absorbed little countenance, "and I
cannot change now," she finished pensively.

A silence fell upon them, so great that Mrs. Chatterton broke it
nervously. "Goodness me, Phronsie, you are not like a child; you are too
uncanny for anything. Why don't you ask questions about my secret?"

"Because I ought not to know it," said Phronsie, finding her tongue.

"Haven't I told you that you will help your mother only by not telling
her?" said Mrs. Chatterton. "How would you like to learn how to take
care of yourself when you are a big girl?"

A light slowly gathered in the brown eyes, becoming at last so joyous
and assured, that Mrs. Chatterton's face dropped its hard lines, to lose
itself in a gratified smile.

"Now you make me see some real hope that my scheme won't be wholly a
wild piece of philanthropy," she exclaimed. "Only look like that,
Phronsie, and I'll do anything for you."

"If I can do anything for Mamsie," cried Phronsie, clasping her hands in
rapture. "Oh! do tell me, dear Mrs. Chatterton," she pleaded.

"Oh! now I am dear Mrs. Chatterton," cried that lady, with a hard, ill-
favored smile. But she lowered her tone to a gentler one, and extending
one jeweled hand, took the little folded ones in her clasp.

"I will be a good friend to you, and show you how you can learn to do
something so that when you grow up, you can take care of yourself, just
as Polly will. Just think, Phronsie, just as Polly will," cried Mrs.
Chatterton artfully.

"How--how?" demanded Phronsie, scarcely breathing.

"Listen, Phronsie. Now you know I haven't any little girl."

Phronsie drew a long breath.

"Well, I have been looking for one for a long time. I want one who will
be a daughter to me; who will grow up under my direction, and who will
appreciate what I sacrifice in taking her. She must be nice-looking, for
I couldn't stand an ill-favored child. I have found several who were
much better looking than you, Phronsie; in fact, they were beauties; but
I don't like the attitude of their families. The poor things actually
thought they were doing me a favor by accepting my proposition for the
children."

As this statement required no remark on the part of the hearer, Phronsie
was silent, not removing her eyes from Mrs. Chatterton's face.

"Now, although you haven't as much to recommend you as many other
children that I have fancied, I hope to make you serve my purpose. I am
going to try you, at least. Every day, Phronsie, you can come to my
room. It's lucky that you don't go to school, but do pretty much as you
like in this house, so no questions will be asked."

"I go to Grandpapa's room every day," said Phronsie, in a distressed
tone, "to my lessons."

"Of course. I know that; a very silly thing it is too. There's no use in
trying to break it up now, I suppose, or I'd put my hand to the attempt.
But you can come to me after you've got through toadying Mr. King."

"What is toding?" asked Phronsie.

"Never mind; that hasn't anything to do with the business in hand,"
replied Mrs. Chatterton impatiently. "Now if you come to me every day,
and give me as much time as you can, why, I'll show you what I want of
you, and teach you many things. Then after a while, Phronsie, when you
learn to appreciate it, I shall tell you what I am going to do. The
adoption will be an easy matter, I fancy, when the child is interested,"
she added, taking the precaution to mutter it.

"You must do everything as I tell you," Mrs. Chatterton leaned forward,
and said with great deliberateness, "else you will lose this chance to
help your mother. And you will never have another like it, but will grow
up to be a good-for-nothing little thing when Polly and all the rest are
earning money for your Mamsie, as you call her."

"I shall earn money too," declared Phronsie on a high note, and nodding
her yellow head with great decision.

"Never!" Mrs. Chatterton brought her foot, incased in its black satin
slipper, down with force on the carpet. "You will never earn a cent of
money in all this world, unless you do exactly as I say; for you are a
child who hasn't it in her to learn anything. But you can help me, and I
shall teach you many things, and do well by you."

"When I grow a big girl, will anybody want me to do those things that
you are going to teach me?" asked Phronsie, drawing near to lay her hand
on the stiff black gown, and speaking earnestly. "Then if they will,
I'll try to do them just exactly as you tell me."

"Of course they will," declared Mrs. Chatterton carefully, edging off
from the little fingers; "ever so many people will want you, Phronsie.
And I shall give you a great deal of money."

"I shall give it all to Mamsie," interrupted Phronsie, her brown eyes
dilating quickly, "every single twenty-five cents you give me. Then I
guess she will be glad, don't you?" she cried, clasping her hands in
sudden rapture, while she began to dance up and down.

"I shall give you so many twenty-five cents," cried Mrs. Chatterton,
beginning to feel her old heart beat with more enthusiasm than she had
known for many a day, "that you will be very rich, Phronsie."

"Oh-oh!" cried Phronsie, coming to an abrupt pause in the middle of the
floor, her cheek paling in excitement. And then she could say no more.

"But you must do exactly as I tell you." Mrs. Chatterton leaned forward
suddenly, and seized the little hands, now so still in their delight.
"Remember, it is only when you follow my commands in every single thing
that you will have any chance of earning all this money for your mother,
and helping her just at Polly is going to do. Remember now, Phronsie!"

"I will remember," said Phronsie slowly, as her hands were released.

"Very good. We will begin now then." Mrs. Chatterton threw herself back
in her chair, and drew a long breath. "Lucky I found the child alone,
and so tractable. It's singularly good fortune," she muttered. "Well,"
aloud, with a light laugh, "now, Phronsie, if you are going to be your
mother's helper, why, this is your first duty. Let us see how well you
perform it. Run upstairs to the closet out of the lumber-room, and open
the little black box on the shelf in front of the door--the box isn't
locked--and bring me the roll of black velvet ribbon you will find
there."

Phronsie was about to ask, "Why does not Hortense go up for it?" but
Mrs. Chatterton forestalled the question by saying with a frown,
"Hortense has gone down to the dressmaker's. No child who calls me to
account for anything I ask of her can be helped by me. Do as you like,
Phronsie. No one will compel you to learn how to do things so that you
can be a comfort to your mother. Only remember, if you don't obey me,
you will lose your only chance." After this speech, Mrs. Chatterton sat
back and played with her rings, looking with oblique glances of cold
consideration at the child.

"I'll go," said Phronsie with a long sigh, "and do every thing you say."

"I do really believe I can bend one of those dreadful Pepper children to
my will," thought Mrs. Chatterton exultingly. "She is my only hope.
Polly does better than she did, but she is too old to be tractable, and
she has a shrewd head on her practical body, and the others are just
horrible!" She gave a shiver. "But Phronsie will grow up to fit my
purpose, I think. Three purposes, I may say--to get the Peppers
gradually out from under Horatio King's influence, and to train up a
girl to wait on me so that I can get away from these French villains of
maids, and to spite Alexander's daughter by finally adopting this
Phronsie if she suits me. But I must move carefully. The first thing is
to get the child fastened to me by her own will."

Phronsie, ascending the stairs to the lumber-room, with careful
deliberateness, found no hint of joy at the prospect before her,
reaching into the dim distance to that enchanted time when she should be
grown up. But there was a strangely new sense of responsibility, born in
an hour; and an acceptance of life's burdens, that made her feel very
old and wise.

"I shall be a comfort to my mother," she said confidently, and mounted
on.




XVI

WHERE IS PHRONSIE?


Phronsie shut the door of the lumber-room, and with a great sigh realized
that she had with her own hand cut herself off from the gay life below
stairs.

"But they are not so very far off," she said, "and I shall soon be down
again," as she made her way across the room and opened the closet door.

A little mouse scurried along the shelf and dropped to the floor.
Phronsie peered into the darkness within, her small heart beating
fearfully as she held the knob in her hand.

"There may be more," she said irresolutely. "I suppose he wouldn't live
up here all alone. Please go away, mousie, and let me get the box."

For answer there was a scratching and nibbling down in the corner that
held more terrors for the anxious ears than an invading army.

"I must go in," said Phronsie, "and bring out the box. Please, good
mouse, go away for one moment; then you may come back and stay all day."

But the shadowy corner only gave back the renewed efforts of the sharp
little teeth; so at last, Phronsie, plucking up courage, stepped in. The
door swung to after her, giving out a little click, unnoticed in her
trepidation as she picked her way carefully along, holding her red gown
away from any chance nibbles. It was a low narrow closet, unlighted save
by a narrow latticed window, in the ceiling, for the most part filled
with two lines of shelves running along the side and one end. Phronsie
caught her breath as she went in, the air was so confined; and stumbling
over in the dim light, put her hand on the box desired, a small black
affair, easily found, as it was the only one there.

"I will take it out into the lumber-room; then I can get the velvet
roll," and gathering it up within her arms, she speedily made her way
back to the door.

"Why"--another pull at the knob; but with the same result, and Phronsie,
setting the box on the floor, still with thoughts only of the mouse, put
both hands to the task of opening the door.

"It sticks, I suppose, because no one comes up here only once in a great
while," she said in a puzzled way. "I ought to be able to pull it open,
I'm sure, for I am so big and strong." She exerted all her strength till
her face was like a rose. The door was fast. Phronsie turned a
despairing look upon the shadowy corner.

"Please don't bite me," she said, the large tears gathering in her brown
eyes. "I am locked in here in your house; but I didn't want to come, and
I won't do anything to hurt you if you'll let me sit down and wait till
somebody comes to let me out."

Meanwhile Mrs. Chatterton shook out her black satin gown complacently,
and with a satisfied backward glance at the mirror, sailed off to her
own apartments.

"Madame," exclaimed Hortense breathlessly, meeting her within the door,
"de modiste will not send de gown; you must"--

"Will not send it?" repeated her mistress in a passion. "A pretty
message to deliver. Go back and get it at once."

"She say de drapery--de tournure all wrong, and she must try it on
again," said the maid, glad to be defiant, since the dressmaker
supported her.

"What utter nonsense! Yet I suppose I must go, or the silly creature
will have it ruined. Take off this gown, Hortense, and bring my walking
suit, then ring and say I'd like to have Thomas take me down there at
once," and throwing off her bracelets, and the various buckles and pins
that confined her laces, she rapidly disrobed and was expeditiously
inducted by Hortense into her walking apparel, and, a parlor maid
announcing that Thomas with the coupe was at the door, she hurried
downstairs, with no thought for anything beyond a hasty last charge to
her maid.

"Where's Phronsie?" cried Polly, rushing into Mother Fisher's room; "O
dear me, my hair won't stay straight," pushing the rebellious waves out
of her eyes.

"It looks as if a brush wouldn't do it any harm," observed Mother Fisher
critically.

"O dear, dear! well, I've brushed and brushed, but it does no good,"
said Polly, running over to the mirror; "some days, Mamsie, no matter
what I do, it flies all ways."

"Good work tells generally," said her mother, pausing on her way to the
closet for a closer inspection of her and her head; "you haven't taken
as much pains, Polly, lately with your hair; that is the trouble."

"Well, I'm always in such a hurry," mourned Polly, brushing furiously on
the refractory locks. "There, will you stay down?" to a particularly
rebellious wave.

"One at a time is the best way to take things," said Mrs. Fisher dryly.
"When you dress yourself, Polly, I'd put my mind on that, if I were
you."

With that, she disappeared within the closet.

"O dear, I suppose so," sighed Polly, left to her own reflections and
brushing away. "Well, that's the best I can make it look now, for I
can't do the braid over. Where is Phronsie, I wonder! Mamsie," she threw
down the brush and ran over to put her head in the closet, "where did
she go?"

"I told her she might run over to Helen Fargo's, right after breakfast,"
said Mrs. Fisher, her head over a trunk, from which she was taking
summer dresses. "Polly, I think you'll get one more season's wear out of
this pink cambric."

"Oh! I am so glad," cried Polly, "for I had such splendidly good times
in it," with a fond glance at the pink folds and ruffles. "Well, if
Phronsie is over at Helen's, there's no use in asking her to go down
town with us."

"Where are you going?" asked Mrs. Fisher, extricating one of Phronsie's
white gowns from its winter imprisonment.

"Down to Candace's," said Polly. "Jasper wants some more pins for his
cabinet. No, I don't suppose Phronsie would tear herself away from Helen
for all the down-towns in the world."

"You would better let her stay where she is," advised Mother Fisher;
"she hasn't been over to Helen's for quite a while, so it's a pity to
call her away," and she turned to her unpacking again, while Polly ran
off on the wings of the wind, in a tremor at having kept Jasper waiting
so long.

"Candace" was the widow of an old colored servant of Mr. King's; she
called herself a "relict;" that, and the pride in her little shop, made
her hold her turbaned head high in the air, while a perennial smile
enwreathed her round face.

The shop was on Temple Place, a narrow extension thrown out from one of
the city's thoroughfares. She was known for a few specialties; such as
big sugary doughnuts that appealed alike to old and young. They were
always fresh and sweet, with just the proper amount of spice to make
them toothsome; and she made holders of various descriptions, with the
most elaborate patterns wrought always in yellow worsted; with several
other things that the ladies protested could never be found elsewhere.
Jasper had been accustomed to run down to Candace's little shop, since
pinafore days, when he had been taken there by his nurse, and set upon a
high stool before the small counter, and plied with dainties by the
delighted Candace.

"The first thing I can remember," he had often told Polly, "is Candace
taking out huge red and white peppermint drops, from the big glass jar
in the window, and telling me to hold out both hands."

And after the "pinafore days" were over, Candace was the boy's helper in
all his sports where a woman's needle could stitch him out of any
difficulty. She it was who made the sails to his boats, and marvelous
skate bags. She embroidered the most intricate of straps for his school-
books, and once she horrified him completely by working in red cotton,
large "J's" on two handkerchiefs. He stifled the horror when he saw her
delight in presenting the gift, and afterwards was careful to remember
to carry a handkerchief occasionally when on an errand to the shop.

Latterly Candace was occupied in preparing pins for Jasper's cabinet,
out of old needles that had lost their eyes. She cleverly put on red and
black sealing wax heads, turning them out as round as the skillful
manipulation of deft fingers could make them. In this new employment,
the boy kept her well occupied, many half-dollars thereby finding their
way into her little till.

"I wish Phronsie had come," said Polly, as she and Jasper sorted the
pins in the little wooden tray Candace kept for the purpose. "How many
red ones you will have, Jasper--see--fifteen; well, they're prettier
than the others."

"Ef little Miss had come wid you," said Candace, emerging from the folds
of a chintz curtain that divided the shop from the bedroom, "she'd 'a'
seen my doll I made for her. Land! but it's a beauty."

"Oh, Candace!" exclaimed Polly, dropping the big pin she held, and
allowing it to roll off the counter to the floor. "What a pity we didn't
bring her! Do let us see the doll."

"She's a perfec' beauty!" repeated Candace in satisfaction, "an' I done
made her all myself fer de little Miss," and she dodged behind the
curtain again, this time bringing out a large rag doll with surprising
black bead eyes, a generous crop of wool on its head, and a red worsted
mouth.

"Dat's my own hair," said Candace, pointing to the doll's head with
pride, "so I know it's good; an' ain't dat mouf pretty?"

"Oh, Candace!" exclaimed Polly, seizing the doll, and skillfully evading
the question, "what a lovely dress--and the apron is a dear"--

"Ain't it?" said Candace, her black face aglow with delight. "Ole Miss
gimme dat yeller satin long ago, w'en I belonged to her befo' de war.
An' dat yere apun was a piece of ole Miss's night-cap. She used to have
sights of 'em, and dey was all ruffled like to kill, an' made o' tambour
work."

Polly had already heard many times the story of Madame Carroll's night-
caps, so she returned to the subject of the doll's beauty as a desirable
change.

"Do you want us to take this to Phronsie?" she asked. "Jasper, won't she
be delighted?"

"Land, no!" cried Candace, recovering the doll in alarm; "I'd never
sleep a week o' nights ef I didn't put dat yere doll into dat bressed
child's arms."

"Then I'll tell Phronsie to come over tomorrow," said Polly. "Shall I,
Candace?"

"Yes," said Candace, "you tell her I got somefin' fer her; don't you
tell her what, an' send her along."

"All right," said Jasper. "Just imagine Phronsie's eyes when she sees
that production. Candace, you've surpassed yourself,"

"You go 'long!" exclaimed Candace, in delight, and bestowing a gentle
pat of deprecation on his shoulder, "'tain't like what I could do; but
la! well, you send de bressed chile along, and mabbe she'll like it."

"Jasper, we'll stop at Helen's now," said Polly as the two hurried by
the tall iron fence, that, lined with its thick hedge, shut out the
Fargo estate from vulgar eyes, "and get Phronsie; she'll be ready to
come home now; it's nearly luncheon time."

"All right," said Jasper; so the two ran over the carriage drive to a
side door by which the King family always had entree.

"Is Phronsie ready to come home?" asked Polly of the maid. "Tell her to
hurry and get her things on; we'll wait here. Oh, Jasper!" turning to
him, "why couldn't we have the club next week, Wednesday night?"

"Miss Mary," said the maid, interrupting, "what do you mean? I haven't
seen Miss Phronsie to-day."

Polly whirled around on the step and looked at her.

"Oh! she's upstairs in the nursery, playing with Helen, I suppose.
Please ask her to hurry, Hannah."

"No, she isn't, Miss Mary," said Hannah. "I've been sweeping the nursery
this morning; just got through." She pointed to her broom and dustpan
that she had set in a convenient corner, as proof of her statement.

"Well, she's with Helen somewhere," said Polly, a little impatiently.

"Yes; find Helen, and you have the two," broke in Jasper. "Just have the
goodness, Hannah, to produce Helen."

"Miss Helen isn't home," said Hannah. "She went to Greenpoint yesterday
with Mrs. Fargo to spend Sunday."

"Why," exclaimed Polly in bewilderment, "Mamsie said she told Phronsie
right after breakfast that she could come over here."

"She hasn't been here," said the maid positively. "I know for certain
sure, Miss Mary. Has she, Jane?" appealing to another maid coming down
the hall.

"No," said Jane. "She hasn't been here for ever so many days."

"Phronsie played around outside probably," said Jasper quickly; "anyway,
she's home now. Come on, Polly. She'll run out to meet us."

"Oh, Jasper! do you suppose she will?" cried Polly, unable to stifle an
undefinable dread. She was running now on frightened feet, Jasper having
hard work to keep up with her, and the two dashed through the little
gate in the hedge where Phronsie was accustomed to let herself through
on the only walk she was ever allowed to take alone, and into the house
where Polly cried to the first person she met, "Where's Phronsie?" to be
met with what she dreaded, "Gone over to Helen Fargo's."

And now there was indeed alarm through the big house. Not knowing where
to look, each fell in the other's way, quite as much concerned for Mr.
King's well-being; for the old gentleman was reduced to such a state by
the fright that the entire household had all they could do to keep him
in bounds.

"Madame is not to come home to luncheon," announced Hortense to Mrs.
Whitney in the midst of the excitement. "She told me to tell you that de
Mees Taylor met her at de modiste, and took her home with her."

Mrs. Whitney made no reply, but raised her eyes swollen with much
crying, to the maid's face.

"Hortense, run as quickly as possible down to Dr. Fisher's office, and
tell him to come home."

"Thomas should be sent," said Hortense, with a toss of her head. "It's
not de work for me. Beside I am Madame's maid."

"Do you go at once," commanded Mrs. Whitney, with a light in her blue
eyes that the maid never remembered seeing. She was even guilty of
stamping her pretty foot in the exigency, and Hortense slowly gathered
herself up.

"I will go, Madame," with the air of conferring a great favor, "only I
do not such t'ings again."




XVII

PHRONSIE IS FOUND


"I am glad that you agree with me." Mrs. Chatterton bestowed a
complacent smile upon the company.

"But we don't in the least agree with you," said Madame Dyce, her stiff
brocade rustling impatiently in the effort to put her declaration before
the others, "not in the least."

"Ah? Well, you must allow that I have good opportunities to judge. The
Pepper entanglement can be explained only by saying that my cousin's
mental faculties are impaired."

"The rest of the family are afflicted in the same way, aren't they?"
remarked Hamilton Dyce nonchalantly.

"Humph! yes." Mrs. Chatterton's still shapely shoulders allowed
themselves a shrug intended to reveal volumes. "What Jasper Horatio King
believes, the rest of the household accept as law and gospel. But it's
no less infatuation."

"I'll not hear one word involving those dear Peppers," cried Madame
Dyce. "If I could, I'd have them in my house. And it's a most
unrighteous piece of work, in my opinion, to endeavor to arouse
prejudice against them. It goes quite to my heart to remember their
struggles all those years."

Mrs. Chatterton turned on her with venom. Was all the world arrayed
against her, to take up with those hateful interlopers in her cousin's
home? She made another effort. "I should have credited you with more
penetration into motives than to allow yourself to be deceived by such a
woman as Mrs. Pepper."

"Do give her the name that belongs to her. I believe she's Mrs. Dr.
Fisher, isn't she?" drawled Livingston Bayley, a budding youth, with a
moustache that occasioned him much thought, and a solitary eyeglass.

"Stuff and nonsense! Yes, what an absurd thing that wedding was. Did
anybody ever hear or see the like!" Mrs. Chatterton lifted her long
jeweled hands in derision, but as no one joined in the laugh, she
dropped them slowly into her lap.

"I don't see any food for scorn in that episode," said the youth with
the moustache. "Possibly there will be another marriage there before
many years. I'm sweet on Polly."

Mrs. Chatterton's face held nothing but blank dismay. The rest shouted.

"You needn't laugh, you people," said the youth, setting his eyeglass
straight, "that girl is going to make a sensation, I tell you, when she
comes out. I'm going to secure her early."

"Not a word, mind you, about Miss Polly's preferences," laughed Hamilton
Dyce aside to Miss Mary.

"'Tisn't possible that she could be anything but fascinated, of course,"
Mary laughed back.

"Of course not. The callow youth knows his power. Anybody else in favor
of the Peppers?" aloud, and looking at the company.

"Don't ask us if we like the Peppers," cried two young ladies
simultaneously. "They are our especial and particular pets, every one of
them."

"The Peppers win," said Hamilton Dyce, looking full into Mrs.
Chatterton's contemptuous face. "I'm glad to record my humble self as
their admirer. Now"--

"Well, pa!" Mary could not refrain from interrupting as her father
suddenly appeared in the doorway.

"I can't sit down," he said, as the company made way for him to join
them. "I came home for some important papers. I suppose you have heard
the trouble at the Kings? I happened to drop in there. Well, Dyce,"
laying his hand on that gentleman's chair, "I scarcely expected to see
you here to-day. Why aren't you at the club spread?"

"Cousin Horatio! I suppose he's had a paralytic attack," interrupted
Mrs. Chatterton, with her most sagacious air.

"What's the trouble up there?" queried Mr. Dyce, ignoring the question
thrust at him.

"It's the little beauty--Phronsie," said Mr. Taylor.

"Nothing's happened to that child I hope!" cried Madame Dyce, paling.

"Now, Mr. Taylor, you are not going to harrow our feelings by telling us
anything has harmed that lovely creature," exclaimed the two young
ladies excitedly.

"Phronsie can't be found," said Mr. Taylor.

"Can't be found!" echoed all the voices, except Mrs. Chatterton's. She
ejaculated "Ridiculous!"

Hamilton Dyce sprang to his feet and threw down his napkin. "Excuse me,
Miss Taylor. Come, Bayley, now is the time to show our devotion to the
family. Let us go and help them out of this."

Young Bayley jumped lightly up and stroked his moustache like a man of
affairs. "All right, Dyce. Bon jour, ladies."

"How easily a scene is gotten up," said Mrs. Chatterton, "over a naughty
little runaway. I wish some of the poor people in this town could have a
tithe of the attention that is wasted on these Peppers," she added
virtuously.

Madame Dyce turned uneasily in her seat, and played with the almonds on
her plate. "I think we do best to reserve our judgments," she said
coolly. "I don't believe Phronsie has run away."

"Of course she has," asserted Mrs. Chatterton, in that positive way that
made everybody hate her to begin with. "She was all right this morning
when I left home. Where else is she, if she hasn't run away, pray tell?"

Not being able to answer this, no one attempted it, and the meal ended
in an uncomfortable silence.

Driving home a half-hour later, in a cab summoned for that purpose, Mrs.
Chatterton threw off her things, angry not to find Hortense at her post
in the dressing-room, where she had been told to finish a piece of
sewing, and not caring to encounter any of the family in their present
excitement, she determined to take herself off upstairs, where "I can
kill two birds with one stone; get rid of everybody, and find my box
myself, because of course that child ran away before she got it."

So she mounted the stairs laboriously, counting herself lucky indeed in
finding the upper part of the house quite deserted, and shutting the
lumber-room door when she was well within it, she proceeded to open the
door of the closet.

"Hortense didn't tell me there was a spring lock on this door," she
exclaimed, with an impatient pull. "Oh! good heavens." She had nearly
stumbled over Phronsie Pepper's little body, lying just where it fell
when hope was lost.

"I have had nothing to do with it," repeated Mrs. Chatterton to herself,
following Mr. King and Jasper as they bore Phronsie downstairs, her
yellow hair floating from the pallid little face. "Goodness! I haven't
had such a shock in years. My heart is going quite wildly. The child
probably went up there for something else; I am not supposed to know
anything about it."

"Is she dead?" cried Dick, summoned with the rest of the household by
Mrs. Chatterton's loud screams, and quite beside himself, he clambered
up the stairs to get in every one's way.

Mrs. Chatterton, with an aimless thrust of her long jeweled hands,
pushed him one side. And Dick boiled over at that.

"What are you here for?" he cried savagely. "You don't love her. You
would better get out of the way." And no one thought to reprove him.

Polly was clinging to the post at the foot of the stairs. "I shall die
if Phronsie is dead," she said. Then she looked at Mother Fisher,
waiting for her baby.

"Give her to me!" said Phronsie's mother, holding out imperative arms.

"You would better let us carry her; well put her in your bed. Only get
the doctor." Mr. King was almost harsh as he endeavored to pass her. But
before the words were over his lips, the mother held her baby.

"Mamsie," cried Polly, creeping over to her like a hurt little thing, "I
don't believe but that she'll be all right. God won't let anything
happen to our Phronsie. He couldn't, Mamsie."

Dr. Fisher met them at the door. Polly never forgot the long, slow
terror that clutched at her heart as she scanned his face while he took
the child out of the arms that now yielded up their burden. And
everything turned dark before her eyes--Was Phronsie dead?

But there was Mamsie. And Polly caught her breath, beat back the
faintness, and helped to lay Phronsie on the big bed.

"Clearly I have had nothing to do with it," said Mrs. Chatterton to
herself, stumbling into a room at the other end of the hall. But her
face was gray, and she found herself picking nervously at the folds of
lace at her throat. "The child went up there, as all children will, to
explore. I shall say nothing about it--nothing whatever. Oh! how is
she?" grasping blindly at Jasper as he rushed by the door.

"Still unconscious"--

"Stuff and--oh! well," muttering on. "She'll probably come to. Children
can bear a little confinement; an hour or two doesn't matter with them--
Hortense!" aloud, "bring me my sal volatile. Dear me! this is telling on
my nerves." She caught sight of her face in the long mirror opposite,
and shivered to see how ghastly it was. "Where is the girl? Hortense, I
say, come here this instant!"

A maid, summoned by her cries, put her head in the door. "Hadn't you
better go into your own room, Mrs. Chatterton?" she said, in pity at the
shaking figure and blanched face.

"No--no," she sharply repulsed her. "Bring Hortense--where is that
girl?" she demanded passionately.

"She's crying," said the maid, her own eyes filling with tears. "I'll
help you to your room."

"Crying?" Madame Chatterton shrieked. "She's paid to take care of me;
what right has she to think of anything else?"

"She says she was cross to Phronsie once--though I don't see how she
could be, and--and--now that she's going to die, she"--and the maid
burst into tears and threw her apron over her face.

"Die--she shan't! What utter nonsense everybody does talk in this
house!" Madame Chatterton seized her arm, the slender fingers tightening
around the young muscles, and shook her fiercely.

The maid roused by her pain out of her tears looked in affright into the
gray face above her. "Let me go," she cried. "Oh! madame, you hurt me."

"Give me air," said Madame Chatterton, her fingers relaxing, and making
a great effort not to fall. "Help me over to the window, and open it,
girl"--and leaning heavily on the slight figure, she managed to get
across the room.

"There--now," drawing a heavy breath as she sank into a chair and thrust
her ashen face out over the sill, "do you go and find out how the child
is. And come back and tell me at once."

"Madame, I'm afraid to leave you alone," said the girl, looking at her.

"Afraid? I'm not so old but that I can take care of myself," said Mrs.
Chatterton with a short laugh. "Go and do as I tell you," stamping her
foot.

"Still unconscious"--

Would no one ever come near her but this detestable maid, with her still
more detestable news? Mrs. Chatterton clutched the window casing in her
extremity, not feeling the soft springy air as she gasped for breath.
The maid, too frightened to leave her, crept into a corner where she
watched and cried softly.

There was a stir in the household that they might have heard, betokening
the arrival of two other doctors, but no word came. And darkness settled
upon the room. Still the figure in the window niche held to its support,
and still the maid cried at her post.

As the gray of the twilight settled over the old stone mansion, Phronsie
moved on her pillow.

"Dear mouse,"--the circle of watchers around the bed moved closer,--
"I'll go away when some one comes to open the door."

"Hush!" Dr. Fisher put his hand over the mother's lips.

"Don't please bite me very hard. I won't come up again to your house.
Oh! where's Grandpapa?"

Old Mr. King put his head on his hands, and sobbed aloud.

The little white face moved uneasily.

"Grandpapa always comes when I want him," in piteous tones.

"Father," said Jasper, laying a hand on the bowed shoulders, "you would
better come out. We'll call you when she comes to herself."

But Mr. King gave no sign of hearing.

A half-hour ticked slowly away, and Phronsie spoke again. "It's growing
dark, and I suppose they will never come. Dear mouse"--the words died
away and she seemed to sleep.

"I shall not tell," Mrs. Chatterton was saying to herself in the other
room; "what good could it do? Oh! this vile air is stifling. Will no one
come to say she is better?" And so the night wore on.

As morning broke, Phronsie opened her eyes, and gave a weak little cry.
Polly sprang from her knees at the foot of the bed, and staggered toward
the child.

"Don't!" cried Jasper, with a hand on her arm.

"Let her alone," said Dr. Fisher quickly.

"Oh, Polly!" Phronsie raised herself convulsively on the bed. "You did
come--you did!" winding her little arms around Polly's neck. "Has the
mouse gone?"

"Yes, yes," said Polly as convulsively; "he's all gone, Phronsie, and I
have you fast; just see. And I'll never let you go again."

"Never?" cried Phronsie, straining to get up further into Polly's arms.

"No dear; I'll hold you close just as long as you need me."

"And he won't come again?"

"He can't Phronsie; because, you see, I have you now."

"And the door will open, and I'll have Mamsie and dear Grandpapa?"

"Yes, yes, my precious one," began Mr. King, getting out of the large
arm-chair into which they had persuaded him.

"Don't do it. Stay where you are," said Dr. Fisher, stopping him half-
way across the room.

"But Phronsie wants me; she said so," exclaimed old Mr. King hoarsely,
and trying to push his way past the doctor. "Why, man, don't stop me."

Dr. Fisher planted his small body firmly in front of the old gentleman.
"You must obey me."

Obey? When had Mr. King heard that word addressed to himself. He drew a
long breath, looked full into the spectacled eyes, then said, "All
right, Fisher; I suppose you know best," and went back to his arm-chair.

"I'm so tired, Polly," Phronsie was saying, and the arms, Polly could
feel, were dropping slowly from her neck.

"Are you, Pet? Well, now, I'll tell you what we'll do. Let us both go to
sleep. There, Phronsie, now you put your arms down, so"--Polly gave them
a swift little tuck under the bed-clothes--"and I'll get up beside you,
so"--and she crept on to the bed--"and we'll both go right to 'nid-nid-
nodland,' don't you know?"

"You're sure you won't let me go?" whispered Phronsie, cuddling close,
and feeling for Polly's neck again.

"Oh! just as sure as I can be," declared Polly cheerfully, while the
tears rained down her cheek in the darkness.

"I feel something wet," said Phronsie, drawing back one hand. "What is
it, Polly?"

"Oh! that," said Polly with a start. "Oh--well, it's--well, I'm crying,
Phronsie; but I'm so glad--oh! you don't know how glad I am, sweet," and
she leaned over and kissed her.

"If you're glad," said Phronsie weakly, "I don't care. But please don't
cry if you are not glad, Polly."

"Well, now we're fixed," said Polly as gaily as she could. "Give me your
hand, Pet. There, now, good-night."

"Good-night," said Phronsie. Polly could feel her tucking the other hand
under her cheek on the pillow, and then, blessed sound--the long quiet
breathing that told of rest.

"Oh! better, is she?" Mrs. Chatterton looked up quickly to see Mrs.
Whitney's pale face. "Well, I supposed she would be. I thought I'd sit
here and wait to know, since you were all so frightened. But I knew it
wouldn't amount to much. Now, girl," nodding over to the maid still in
the corner, "you may get me to bed." And she stretched her stiff limbs,
and held out her hand imperatively.

"It was very fortunate that I did not tell," she said, when the slow
passage to her own apartments had been achieved. "Now if the child will
only keep still, all will be well."




XVIII

THE GIRLS HAVE POLLY AGAIN


"Phronsie shall have a baked apple this morning," said Mother Fisher,
coming into the sunny room where Phronsie lay propped up against the
pillows.

"Did Papa-Doctor say so?" asked Phronsie, a smile of supreme content
spreading over her wan little face.

"Yes, he did," said her mother; "as nice an apple, red and shiny as we
could find, is downstairs baking for you, Phronsie. When it's done,
Sarah is to bring it up."

"That will be very nice," breathed Phronsie slowly. "And I want my
little tea-set--just the two cups and saucers--and my own little pot and
sugar-bowl. Do let me, Mamsie, and you shall have a cup of milk with
me," she cried, a little pink color stealing into either cheek.

"Yes, yes, child," said Mother Fisher. "There, you mustn't try to lean
forward. I'll bring the little table Grandpapa bought, so;" she hurried
over across the room and wheeled it into place. "Now isn't that fine,
Phronsie?" as the long wing swung over the bed. "Did you ever see such a
tea-party as you and I'll have?"

"Breakfast party, Mamsie!" hummed Phronsie; "isn't that just lovely?"
wriggling her toes under the bed-clothes. "Do you think Sarah'll ever
bring that apple?"

"Yes, indeed--why, here she is now!" announced Mrs. Fisher cheerily.
"Come in, Sarah," as a rap sounded on the door. "Our little girl is all
ready for that good apple. My! what a fine one."

"Bless honey's heart!" ejaculated Sarah, her black face shining with
delight. "Ain't he a beauty, though?" setting down on the table-wing a
pink plate in the midst of which reposed an apple whose crackling skin
disclosed a toothsome interior. "I bring a pink sasser so's to match his
insides. But ain't he rich, though!"

"Sarah," said Phronsie, with hungry eyes on the apple, "I think he is
very nice indeed, and I do thank you for bringing him."

"Bless her precious heart!" cried Sarah, her hands on her ample hips,
and her mouth extended in the broadest of smiles.

"Do get me a spoon, Mamsie," begged Phronsie, unable to take her gaze
from the apple. "I'm so glad he has a stem on, Sarah," carefully picking
at it.

"Well, there," said Sarah, "I had the greatest work to save that stem.
But, la! I wouldn't 'a' brung one without a stem. I know'd you'd want it
to hold it up by, when you'd eat the most off."

"Yes, I do," said Phronsie, in great satisfaction fondling the stem.

"And here's your spoon," said her mother, bringing it. "Now, child,
enjoy it to your heart's content."

Phronsie set the spoon within the cracked skin, and drew it out half-
full. "Oh, Mamsie!" she cried, as her teeth closed over it, "do just
taste; it's so good!"

"Hee-hee!" laughed Sarah, "I guess 'tis. Such works as I had to bake dat
apple just right. But he's a beauty, ain't he, though?"

Phronsie did not reply, being just at that moment engaged in conveying a
morsel as much like her own as possible, to her mother's mouth.

"Seems to me I never tasted such an apple," said Mother Fisher, slowly
swallowing the bit.

"Did you, now?" cried Sarah.

Downstairs Polly was dancing around the music-room with three or four
girls who had dropped in on their way from school.

"Give me a waltz now, Polly," begged Philena. "Dear me, I haven't had a
sight of you hardly, for so long, I am positively starved for you. I
don't care for you other girls now," she cried, as the two went whirling
down the long room together.

"Thank you, Miss Philena," cried the others, seizing their partners and
whirling off too.

"I feel as if I could dance forever," cried Polly, when Amy Garrett
turned away from the piano and declared she would play no more--and she
still pirouetted on one foot, to come up red as a rose to the group.

"Look at Polly's cheeks!" cried Amy.

"You've been a white little minx so long," said Alexia, putting a fond
arm around Polly; "I went home and cried every day, after I would steal
around the back way to see how Phronsie was"--

"Won't Phronsie be downstairs soon?" asked Amy.

"I don't know," said Polly. "Papa-Doctor is going to be dreadfully
careful of her, that she doesn't get up too soon."

"Say, Polly," cried another girl, "don't you have to take a lot of pills
and stuff, now that Dr. Fisher is your father?"

Polly threw back her head and laughed merrily. It sounded so strangely
to her to hear the sound echoing through the room so long silent, that
she stopped suddenly.

"Oh, girls! I can't hardly believe even yet that Phronsie is almost
well," she cried.

"Well, you'd better," advised Alexia philosophically, "because she is,
you know. Do laugh again, Polly; it's good to hear you."

"I can't help it," said Polly, "Cathie asked such a funny question."

"Cathie's generally a goose," said Alexia coolly.

"Thank you," said Cathie, a tall girl, with such light hair and sallow
face that she looked ten years older than her fourteen summers. "I
sometimes know quite as much as a few other people of my acquaintance,"
she said pointedly.

"I didn't say but that you did," said Alexia composedly. "I said you
were generally a goose. And so you are. Why, everybody knows that,
Cath."

"Come, come, girls, don't fight," said Polly. "How can you when Phronsie
is getting better? Alexia didn't mean anything, Cathie."

"Yes, she did," declared Cathie with a pout; "she's always meaning
something. She's the hatefullest thing I ever saw!"

"Nonsense!" said Polly, with a gay little laugh. "She says perfectly
dreadful things to me, and so I do to her, but we don't either of us
mind them."

"Well, those are in fun," said Cathie; "that's a very different matter"-
-

"So you must make these in fun," said Polly. "I would if I were you."
But she drew away from Alexia's arm.

"Polly, don't be an idiot and fight with me," whispered Alexia in her
ear.

"Go away," said Polly, shaking her off.

"Polly, Polly, I'll say anything if you won't look like that. See here,
Cathie, let's make up," and she ran over, seized the tall girl by the
waist and spun her around till she begged to stop.

"Is that your way of making up?" cried Cathie, when she had the breath
to speak.

"Yes; it is as good as any other way. It spins the nonsense out of you.
There!" with a last pat on the thin shoulder, she left her, and ran back
to Polly.

"It's all done," she cried. "I'm at peace with the whole world. Now
don't look like an ogre any longer."

"Phronsie's actually hungry now all the time," confided Polly in a glow,
"and we can't get enough to satisfy her."

"Good--good!" cried the girls.

"I'm going to send her some of my orange jelly," declared Alexia. "I'll
make it just as soon as I go home. Do you think she will like it,
Polly?" she asked anxiously.

"Yes, I do believe she will," said Polly, "because she loves oranges
so."

"Well, I shan't make any old orange jelly," cried Cathie, her nose in
the air. "Faugh! it's insipid enough!"

"But 'tisn't when it's made the way Alexia makes it," said Polly,
viewing in alarm the widening of the breach between the two. "I've eaten
some of hers, and it's too splendid for anything."

"I don't know anything about hers, but all orange jelly I have tasted is
just horrid. I hate it! I'm going to make almond macaroons. They're
lovely, Polly."

"Oh! don't, Cathie," begged Polly in distress.

"Why not, pray tell," whirling on one set of toes. "You needn't be afraid
they won't be good. I've made them thousands of times."

"But she couldn't eat them," said Polly. "Just think, almond macaroons!
Why, Papa-Doctor would"--

"Now I know the doctor makes you take perfectly terrible things, and
won't let you eat anything. And macaroons are the only things I can
make. It's a shame!" and down sat Cathie in despair on an ottoman.

"What's the matter?" Dr. Fisher put his head in at the doorway, his
spectacled eyes sending a swift glance of inquiry around.

"O dear me!" exclaimed Cathie in a fright, jumping up and clutching the
arm of the girl next to her. "Don't let Polly tell him what I said--
don't."

"Polly won't tell," said the girl, with a superb air; "don't you know
any better, Cathie Harrison, you goose, you!"

To be called a goose by two persons in the course of an hour was too
much for Cathie's endurance, and flinging off the girl's arm, she cried
out passionately, "I won't stay; I'm going home!" and rushed out the
door.

Dr. Fisher turned from a deliberate look at the girl's white cheeks, as
she ran past, to the flushed ones before him.

"I'm very sorry that anything unpleasant has happened. I dropped in to
tell you of a little surprise, but I see it's no time now."

"Oh, Papa-Doctor!" cried Polly, flying up to him from the center of the
group, "it was nothing--only"--

"A girl's quarrel is not a slight thing, Polly," said little Dr. Fisher
gravely, "and one of your friends has gone away very unhappy."

"Oh! I know it," said Polly, "and I'm so sorry."

"We can't any of us help it," said Alexia quickly. "Cathie Harrison has
the temper of a gorilla--so there, Dr. Fisher."

Dr. Fisher set his spectacles straight, and looked at Alexia, but he did
not even smile, as she hoped he would do. "I can't help it," she said,
tracing the pattern of the carpet with the toe of her boot, "she makes
us all so uncomfortable, oh! you can't think. And I wish she'd stay home
forever."

Still no answer from the doctor. He didn't act as if he heard, but
bowing gravely, he withdrew his head and shut the door.

"O dear, dear!" cried Alexia, when they had all looked at each other a
breathing space. "Why didn't he speak? I'd much rather he'd scold like
everything than to look like that. Polly, why don't you say something?"

"Because there isn't anything to say." Polly got no further, and turned
away, suspiciously near to tears. Was this the first meeting with the
girls to which she had looked forward so long?

"To think of that Cathie Harrison making such a breeze," cried Alexia
angrily; "a girl who's just come among us, as it were, and we only let
her in our set because Miss Salisbury asked us to make things pleasant
for her. If it had been any one else who raised such a fuss!"

Meantime Dr. Fisher strode out to the west porch, intending to walk down
to his office, and buttoning up his coat as he went along. As he turned
the angle in the drive, he came suddenly upon a girl who had thrown
herself down on a rustic seat under a tree, and whose shoulders were
shaking so violently that he knew she was sobbing, though he heard no
sound.

"Don't cry," said the little doctor, "and what's the matter?" all in the
same breath, and sitting down beside her.

Cathie looked up with a gasp, and then crushed her handkerchief over her
eyes. "Those girls in there are perfectly horrid." "Softly, softly,"
said Dr. Fisher.

"I can't--help it. No matter what I say, they call me names, and I'm
tired of it. O dear, dear!"

"Now see here," said the doctor, getting up on his feet and drawing a
long breath. "I'm on my way to my office; suppose you walk along with me
a bit and tell me all about it."

Cathie opened her mouth, intending to say, "Oh! I can't"--instead, she
found herself silent, and not knowing how, she was presently pacing down
the drive by the doctor's side.

"Polly Pepper!" exclaimed Alexia, as a turn in the drive brought the two
figures in view of the music-room windows, "did you ever see such a
sight in your life? Cathie is walking off with Dr. Fisher! There isn't
anything her tongue won't say!"

"Did you tell Polly?" cried Jasper, a half-hour later, putting his head
into Dr. Fisher's office. "Oh! beg pardon; I didn't know you were busy,
sir."

"Come in," said the doctor, folding up some powders methodically. "No, I
didn't tell Polly."

"Oh!" said Jasper, in a disappointed tone.

"I hadn't a fair chance"--

"But she ought to know it just as soon as it's talked of," said Jasper,
fidgeting at a case of little vials on the table. "Oh! beg pardon again.
I'm afraid I've smashed that chap," as one rolled off to the floor. "I'm
no end sorry," picking up the bits ruefully.

"I have several like it," said the doctor kindly, and settling another
powder in its little paper.

"There were a lot of girls with Polly when I looked in upon her on my
way out. But we'll catch a chance to tell her soon, my boy."

"Oh! I suppose so. A lot of giggling creatures. How Polly can stand
their chatter, I don't see," cried Jasper impatiently.

"They've been shut off from Polly for some time, you know," said Dr.
Fisher quietly. "We must remember that."

"Polly doesn't like some of them a bit better than I do," said Jasper
explosively, "only she puts up with their nonsense."

"It's rather a difficult matter to pick and choose girls who are in the
same classes," said the doctor, "and Polly sees that."

"Don't I know it?" exclaimed Jasper, in an astonished tone. "Dear me,
Dr. Fisher, I've watched Polly for years now. And she's always done so."
He stopped whirling the articles on the office table, and bestowed a
half-offended look on the little physician.

"Softly, softly, Jasper," said Dr. Fisher composedly. "Of course you've
used your eyes. Now don't spoil things by saying anything, but let Polly
'go her own gait,' I beg of you." Then he turned to his powders once
more.

"She will, anyway," declared Jasper. "Whatever she makes up her mind to
do, Polly does that very thing."

"Not a bad characteristic," laughed the doctor.

"I should say not."

"Now when I come up home for dinner, you and I will find Polly, and tell
her the good news. If she's with a lot of those silly girls, I'll--I'll
tear her off this time." Dr. Fisher glared so fiercely as he declared
this determination that Jasper laughed outright.

"I thought no one was to disturb Polly's good intentions in that line,"
he cried.

"Well, there's an end to all things, and patience ceases to be a virtue
sometimes."

"So I've thought a good many times, but I've borne it like a man."
Jasper drew himself up, and laughed again at the doctor's face.

"Oh! you go along," cried Dr. Fisher, his eyes twinkling. "I'll meet you
just before dinner."

"All right," as Jasper rushed off.

Dr. Fisher jumped to his feet, pushing aside the litter of powder
papers, and bottles, and ran his fingers through the shock of gray hair
standing straight on his head.

"Yes, yes," he muttered, walking to the window, "it will be a good thing
for Polly, now I tell you, Adoniram." He always preferred to address
himself by his first name; then he was sure of a listener. "A vastly
good thing. It's quite time that some of the intimacies with these silly
creatures are broken up a bit, while the child gains immensely in other
ways." He rubbed his palms gleefully. "Oh! good-morning, good-morning!"

A patient walking in, looked up at the jolly little doctor. "I wish I
could laugh like that," he ejaculated, his long face working in the
unusual effort to achieve a smile.

"You would if you had a gay crowd of children such as I have," cried the
little doctor proudly. "Why, man, that's better than all my doses."

"But I haven't the children," said the patient sourly, and sitting down
with a sigh.

"I pity you, then," said Dr. Fisher, with the air of having been a
family man for years. "Well, besides owning the Peppers, I'm going off
with them to"--there he stopped, for before he knew it, the secret was
well-nigh out.




XIX

PHRONSIE IS WELL AGAIN


But Polly was not to be told yet. When Papa Fisher walked in to dinner,
the merry party around the oak table were waiting over the ices and
coffee for his appearance.

"Oh, Papa Fisher!" cried Polly in dismay, turning from one of Alexia's
sallies, and dropping her spoon. "Now you're all tired out--too bad!"

Mother Fisher flushed up, and set her lips closely together. Ben looked
disapproval across the board, and Polly knew that the wrong thing had
been said.

"Oh! I didn't mean--of course you must take care of the sick people,"
she said impulsively.

"Yes, I must," said Dr. Fisher wearily, and pushing up the shock of gray
hair to a stiffer brush over his brow. "That's what I set out to do, I
believe."

"But that's no reason why you should tire yourself to death, and break
down the first year," said Mr. King, eyeing him sharply. "Zounds, man,
that isn't what I brought you up from the country for."

Dr. Fisher looked into his wife's eyes and smiled. "I believe you
brought me," the smile said. But he kept his tongue still.

"And you must get accustomed to seeing suffering that you can't help.
Why, man alive, the town's full of it; you can't expect to stop it
alone."

"I'll do what I can to help," said the little doctor between his teeth,
and taking a long draught of the coffee his wife put by his plate. "I
suppose there's no objection to that. Now, that's good," smacking his
lips in a pleased way.

"Of course not, if you help in the right way," said old Mr. King
stoutly, "but I'll wager anything that you're picking up all sorts of
odd jobs among the poor, that belong to the young doctors. Your place is
considerably higher, where you can pick and choose your patients."

Dr. Fisher laughed--an odd little laugh, that along with its pleasant
note, carried the ring of a strong will.

"Oh! well, you know, I'm too old to learn new ways," he said. "Better
let me wag on at the old ones."

Mr. King gave an exclamation of disapproval. "It's lucky your time is
short," he said grimly, and the secret was nearly out!

"Phronsie is coming downstairs to-morrow, isn't she?" asked Jasper
quickly, over to the doctor.

"Oh! no, indeed, I think not," answered Mr. King before Dr. Fisher had
time to reply. "She would better wait a day or two longer. Isn't that
so, Doctor?" at last appealing to him.

"I don't agree with you," the little doctor drew off his attention from
his plate. "You see she has regained her strength remarkably. Now the
quicker she is in the family life again, the better for her."

"Oh, good! good!" cried Polly, delighted at the safe withdrawal from the
precipice of dangerous argument. "Alexia, now you must help us think up
something to celebrate her coming downstairs."

"Not so fast, Polly." The little doctor beamed at her in a way
surprising to see after the morning's affair. "Phronsie won't be ready
for any celebration before next week. Then I think you may venture."

Alexia pouted and played with her spoon.

"O dear!" cried Dick dolefully, "what's the reason we must wait a whole
week, pray tell?"

"Because Father Fisher says so," replied Ben across the table; "that's
the principal reason--and it doesn't need any more to support it"--

"Well, I tell you," broke in Polly in her brightest way, "let us think
up perfectly splendid things. It's best as it is, for it will take us a
week to get ready."

"I shall get her a new doll," declared Mr. King. The rest shouted. "Her
others must be quite worn out."

"What could you get her," cried Mr. Whitney, "in the way of a doll? Do
tell us, for I really do not see."

"Why, one of those phonograph dolls, to be sure," cried Mr. King
promptly.

"Are they on sale yet?" asked Jasper. "I thought they had not perfected
them enough for the market."

"I think I know where one can be bought," said his father. "They must be
perfected--it's all nonsense that I can't find one if Phronsie wants it!
Yes, she shall have a phonograph doll."

"That will be perfectly elegant," exclaimed Polly, with sparkling eyes.
"Won't Phronsie be delighted when she hears it talk?"

"She ought to have a Punch and Judy show," said Mrs. Whitney, "she's
always so pleased with them, father."

Mr. King pushed away his coffee-cup, and pulled out his note-book.

"'Punch and Judy,' down that goes," he said, noting it after "phonograph
doll." "What else?"

"Can't we have some of those boys up from the Orphan Asylum?" asked
Polly, after a minute in which everybody had done a bit of hard
thinking. "Phronsie loves to hear them sing when she goes there. Oh!
they are so cunning."

"She'll want to give them her best toys and load them down with all her
possessions. You see if she doesn't," warned Jasper.

"Well, she won't give away her new doll, anyway," cried Polly.

"No, she never gives away one of the dolls you've given her, father,"
said Mrs. Whitney slowly, "not a single one. I tried her one day, asking
her to give me one to bestow on a poor child, and she quite reproached
me by the look in her brown eyes. I haven't asked her since."

"What did she say?" asked Mr. King abruptly.

"'I can't, Auntie; dear Grandpapa gave them to me himself.' Then she ran
for her savings bank, and poured out the money in my lap. 'Let's go out
and buy the poor child a doll,' she begged, and I really had to do it.
And there must be at least two hundred dolls in this house."

"Two hundred dolls!" cried Alexia in astonishment, and raising her
hands.

"Why, yes; father has been bringing Phronsie dolls for the last five
years, with the greatest faithfulness, till her family has increased to
a painful extent."

"O dear me!" cried Alexia, with great emphasis. "I should think they'd
be under foot in every room."

"Well, indeed they're not," said Polly; "she keeps them up in her
playroom."

"And the playroom closet," said Mrs. Whitney, "that is full. I peeped in
there yesterday, and the dolls are ranged according to the times when
father gave them to her."

"And the baby-house is just crowded," laughed Jasper. "I know, because I
saw her moving out her chairs and tables to make room."

"O dear me!" exclaimed Alexia again, for want of something else to say.

"I just hate dolls," exploded Dick. "Faugh! how can girls play with
them; they're so silly. And Phronsie always has something to do for
hers, so she can't come when I want her to. I wish they were burned up,"
he added vindictively.

Mr. King rubbed his forehead in a puzzled way. "Perhaps she has enough,"
he said at last. "Yet what shall I give her if I don't buy a doll?"

"I'd give her the phonograph one, father," said Mrs. Whitney, "anyway."

"Yes, of course; but after that, what shall I do?"

He looked so troubled that Mrs. Whitney hastened to say, "Oh, well,
father! you know when you are abr"--and the secret Was nearly out for
the second time!

But they were saved by the appearance of Alexia's father, who often
dropped in on the edge of the dinner hour, for a second cup of coffee.

The next morning Phronsie was waiting for Grandpapa King, who insisted
that no one else should carry her downstairs, the remainder of the
household in various stages of delight and expectation, revolving around
her, and curbing their impatience as best they might, in hall and on
staircase.

"Oh, Grandpapa! do hurry," begged Dick, kicking his heels on the stairs.

"Hush, Dicky boy," said mamma. "Grandpapa can't come till his agent is
gone. Don't you hear them talking in the library?"

"Well I wish Mr. Frazer would take himself off; he's a nuisance,"
declared the boy. "He's been here a whole hour."

"Here comes Grandpapa!" announced Polly gleefully, from a station nearer
the library. "Hush, now, Mr. Frazer's going!"

The library door opening at this announcement, and a few sentences
charged with business floating up the staircase, the bustle around
Phronsie became joyfully intense.

"Mamsie, don't you think she ought to have a shawl on?" cried Polly
anxiously, running over the stairs. "She's been shut up so long!"

"No," said Mother Fisher. "Doctor told me particularly not to bundle her
up. It was the last thing he said before he went to his office."

"Well," said Polly with a sigh, "then there isn't absolutely anything
more to do for her. Why doesn't Grandpapa come?"

"You are worse than Dicky," said Mrs. Fisher with a little laugh. "Dear
me, Polly, just think how old you are."

Phronsie stood quite still in the middle of the floor and folded her
hands. "I want to see Grandpapa all alone when he comes up," she said.

"What for?" cried Polly, pausing in astonishment.

"Do you want us all to go out, Phronsie?" asked her mother slowly.

"Yes," said Phronsie, shaking her yellow head with great decision,
"please every single one go out, Mamsie. I want to see Grandpapa quite
alone."

"All right, child," said Mrs. Fisher, with a look at Polly. So after a
little demur and consequent delay on the part of the others, the door
was closed and she was left standing all alone.

Phronsie drew a long breath. "I wish Grandpapa would come," she said to
herself.

"And so you wanted me, did you, dear?" cried Mr. King joyfully, as he
hurried in and closed the door carefully. "Well, now, see if I can guess
what you want to tell me."

"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, standing quite still and turning a puzzled
face toward him, "I don't want to tell you anything; I want to ask you
something."

"Well, well, dear, what is it?" Old Mr. King, not stopping for a chair,
leaned over her and stroked her yellow head. "Now, then, look up, and
ask me right off, Phronsie."

"Must a person keep a promise?" asked Phronsie, "a really and truly
promise, Grandpapa?"

"Yes, yes," said the old gentleman with great abruptness, "to be sure
one must, Phronsie. To be sure. So now if any one has promised you
anything, do you make him stick to it. It's mean enough to break your
word, child."

Phronsie drew a long breath.

"That's all, Grandpapa," she said, and lifting up her arms; "now take me
downstairs, please." She laid a cool little cheek against his, as he
raised her to his shoulder.

"Remember what I say, Phronsie," laughed Mr. King, his mind more intent
on the delightful fact that he was carrying down the longed-for burden
to the family life, than on what he was saying, "and if any one has
promised you anything, keep him up sharp to pay you. I verily believe it
is that scamp Dick. Here goes!" and reaching the door he threw it wide.
"Forward, march!"

"Well, is the important conference over?" asked Polly, with a keen look
at them both.

Mrs. Fisher's eyes did their duty, but she said nothing.

"Yes, indeed," declared Mr. King, marching on gaily. "Now clear the way
there, all you good people. Here, you Dick, drumming your heels, go
ahead, sir."

"I'm glad enough to," shouted Dick, racing down the remainder of the
stairs. "Halloo, Phronsie," waving his hand at her, "three cheers and a
tiger! Bother! Here comes Mrs. Chatterton."

Which was quite true. To every one's astonishment the door of that
lady's apartment opened slowly, disclosing her in new morning wrapper,
preparing to join the cavalcade.

"Good morning, Cousin Eunice," cried Mr. King gaily. He could be merry
with any one this day. "Come on, this is a festal occasion, you see;
Phronsie's going downstairs for the first time. Fall into line!"

"I'm not able to go down," said Mrs. Chatterton, coming slowly out into
the hall, "but I'll stand here and see the parade."

"Bully!" exploded Dick softly, peering up from the foot of the stairs.

Phronsie looked over Mr. King's shoulder at her as she was borne down
the stairs, and, putting out her hand, "I'm all well now," she said.

"Yes, I see," said Mrs. Chatterton. Then she pulled up her white shawl
with a shiver. "It's rather cold here," she said; "after all, I believe
I must get back to my room."

Nobody noticed when she crept back, the hilarity now being so great
below stairs.

"I certainly am losing ground," she muttered, "every little thing
affects me so. I'll step into Bartram's office next time I go down town
and set that little matter straight, since I've made up my mind to do
it. It never would do to let him come to the house. Horatio would
suspect something to see my lawyer here, and the whole household imagine
I was going to die right off. No, no; I must go there, that's clear.
Then if it's attended to, I'll live all the longer, with nothing on my
mind."

Phronsie, meanwhile, was going around from room to room in a pleased
way, and touching different objects gently "Everything's new, isn't it,
Polly," she said at last, "when you stay upstairs? Oh! there's my
kittens in the basket," pointing to a bisque vase on the table.

"Yes," said Polly; "Mamsie brought it in here. And we've some flowers;
Alexia sent them over. They're out in the back hall; we saved them for
you to put in yourself."

"Oh!" exclaimed Phronsie, "that's so good in you, Polly."

"Don't stop now," cried Dick in disgust. "Faugh! you can fix flowers any
time. Come out into the dining-room--and you'll see something you'll
like."

Phronsie smothered a sigh, and turned slowly away from the kittens
waiting in their basket for Alexia's flowers. "Come on!" shouted Dick,
seizing her hand. "You never can guess what it is, in all this world."

"Is it a new dog?" asked Phronsie fearfully, whose memory of Dick's
latest purchase was not altogether happy.

"No," said Dick, pulling her on, "better than that."

"Don't hurry her so," said Polly. "What have you got, Dick?"

"Now, do you mind, sir," cried Jasper, "else well stop your pretty
plan."

"I won't hurry her," said Dick, slackening his gait. "Well, here we
are," opening the dining-room door. "Why, Jane has let it out!"

Phronsie fell back a step at this and tried to cover her feet with her
gown, searching the floor for the "it."

"Lookout!" cried Dick suddenly. "There he goes!" And something whirred
over Phronsie's head.

"Oh! what is it?" she cried, tumbling into Jasper's arms and clasping
his neck. "Oh! oh!"

"Why, it's a swallow," cried Dick, in the babel that ensued, "a
beautiful one, too. I've just caught him, and I made Jane let me bring
it in here to surprise you," he added proudly.

"Well, you've succeeded," cried Jasper, holding Phronsie close. "There,
there, child, it's all right. It's a bird, Phronsie, and he's gone
upstairs."

"He'll frighten my dolls," cried Phronsie in new alarm, hanging to
Jasper's neck. "Oh! do let us go upstairs, and tell them he's only a
bird."

"Run along, Dick, and catch your old bird," cried Jasper, "and clear out
with him--quick now!"

"He's the best thing there is in this house," cried Dick, going over the
back stairs two at a time. "Girls are so silly."

"Bring him down," said Polly, moving along to the foot, "and I'll show
him to Phronsie, and tell her about him. Then she'll like him, Dick."

"I'll like him, Dick," echoed Phronsie, "if he doesn't frighten my
dolls."

This episode taking the family life to the rear of the house, no one
noticed that soft footsteps were passing through the open front door,
that Jane, who was sweeping the vestibule, had left ajar to run and tell
Dick that she had not let the bird out of the dining-room. So the
uninvited guest to the household let himself up easily to the scene of
his hopes--the location of the ladies' jewel-boxes.




XX

THE SECRET


Mrs. Chatterton, standing by her toilet table, carefully examining her
wealth of gray hair to note the changes in its tint, was suddenly
surprised in the very act of picking out an obnoxious white hair, by a
slight noise in the further corner of the apartment. And dropping her
fingers quickly and turning away from the glass, she exclaimed, "How
dare you, Hortense, come in without knocking?"

"If you make a noise I'll kill you," declared a man, standing in the
shadow of a portiere and watching her underneath a slouched black hat.
There was a slight click that caused the listener's nerves to thrill.
But her varied life had brought her nothing if not self-control, and she
coolly answered, "If you want my money, say so."

"Not exactly money, ma'am," said the man, "for I don't suppose you have
much here. But I'll thank you to hand over that there box of diamonds."
He extended the other hand with its dingy fingers toward a large ebony
jewel-case elaborate with its brass hinges, and suggestive of double
locks, on a corner of the table.

"If you are determined to take it, I suppose I must give it to you,"
said Mrs. Chatterton, with evident reluctance handing the box
designated, very glad to think she had but a few days before changed the
jewels to another repository to escape Hortense's prying eyes. In making
the movement she gave a sweeping glance out the window. Should she dare
to scream? Michael was busy on the lawn, she knew; she could hear his
voice talking to one of the under gardeners.

"See here, old lady," warned the man, "you keep your eyes in the room.
Now then," his greedy glance fastened on the glittering gems on her
fingers, "I'll thank you to rip them things off." Dick, racing along the
further end of the hall after his bird with a "Whoop, la--I've almost
caught you," startling him, he proceeded to perform the service for
himself.

"There he goes!" cried Dick, "in her room. Bother! Well, I must catch
him." So without the preamble of knocking, the boy dashed into the
dressing-room. The bird whizzing ahead of him, flashed between the drawn
folds of the portiere.

"Excuse me," cried Dick, rushing in, "but my swallow--oh!"

"Go back!" cried Mrs. Chatterton hoarsely, "you'll be killed."

The bird flying over his head, and the appearance of the boy,
disconcerted the robber for one instant. He held the long white hand in
his, tearing off the rings. There was no chance for her to escape, she
knew, but she could save Dick.

"Go back!" she screamed again. There was only a moment to think, but
Dick dashed in, and with a mighty spirit, but small fists, he flung
himself against the stalwart arms and shoulders.

"O heavens!" screamed Mrs. Chatterton. "He's but a boy, let him go. You
shall have the rings. Help--help!"

Dick, clutching and tearing blindly at whatever in the line of hair or
ragged garment he could lay hold of, was waging an unequal warfare. But
what he did was accomplished finely. And the bird, rushing blindly into
the midst of the contention, with whirrings and flappings indescribable,
helped more than an army of servants, to confuse the man.
Notwithstanding, it was soon over, but not before Mrs. Chatterton had
wrenched her fingers free, and grasped the pistol from its loose hold in
his other hand. The box under his arm fell to the floor, and Dick was
just being tossed to the other side of the room; she could hear him
strike the cheval-glass with a dull thud.

"I can shoot as well as you," said Mrs. Chatterton, handling the pistol
deftly. "Make a noise, and I will."

He knew it, by her eyes, and that she had taken good aim.

"Where are you, Dick?" cried Polly's voice outside, and rapping at the
door. "Mrs. Chatterton, have you seen him?"

"Come in," called Mrs. Chatterton, with firmest of fingers on the
trigger and her flashing eyes fastened upon the seamed, dirty face
before her.

Polly threw wide the door.

"We have a man here that we don't want," said Mrs. Chatterton. "I'll
take care of him till you get help. Hurry!"

"Oh, Dick!" cried Polly in a breath, with a fearful glance at the boy
lying there.

"I think he's all right, Polly." She dared say no more, for Dick had not
stirred.

Polly clasped her hands, and rushed out almost into Jasper's face. "A
burglar--a burglar!" and he dashed into Mrs. Chatterton's room.

"Don't interfere," said Mrs. Chatterton. "I'm a splendid markswoman."

"You needn't shoot," said the man sullenly. "I won't stir."

"No, I don't think you will," said the gray-haired woman, her eyes
alight, and hand firm as a rock. "Well, here are the men."

Jasper had seized a table-spread, and as Michael and the undergardeners
advanced, he went back of the robber, and cleverly threw it over his
head. It was easy to secure and bind him then. Polly rushed over to
Dick.

"Turn the creature over and let us see how he looks," said Mr. King,
hurrying in as the last knot of the rope was made fast. The old slouched
hat had fallen off in the struggle, and the man's features came plainly
to view. "He's no beauty, and that's a fact."

"I've seen that fellow round here for many a day," said Michael, giving
the recumbent legs a small kick. "Oncet he axed me ef we wanted ony
wourk done. I mind yees, yer see," with another attention from his
gardening boot.

"I want to tie one rope," cried a voice. Dick opened his eyes, rubbed
them, and felt of his head. "I'm all right, Polly. I saw stars, but I've
got over it, I guess. Let me give him the last knot." He staggered
blindly to his feet.

"I'll tie for you," said Jasper, "trust me, Dick's all right, only
stunned," he telegraphed to the rapidly increasing group.

"Tell his mother so, do, somebody," said old Mr. King.

"Well, Cousin Eunice, you've covered yourself with glory," he turned on
her warmly. She had thrown aside the pistol, and now sank into a chair.

"Never mind," she waved it off carelessly, "I'll imagine the
compliments. Just now I want a glass of wine. Call Hortense, will you?"

The man on the floor tried to raise his head. But he couldn't, so was
obliged to content himself with an ugly grin.

"That bird has flown," he said. "I'll peep. She put me up to it; we was
goin' shares on the old lady's stuff."

With that Mrs. Chatterton's spirit returned. She sprang from her chair,
and rushed around from bureau to closet to see the extent of her maid's
dishonesty. But beyond a few minor deficiencies of her wardrobe, there
was no robbery to speak of. Evidently Hortense had considered it unwise
to be burdened with much impedimenta. So the robber was hauled off to
justice, and Phronsie, coming wonderingly up the stairs, came softly in
upon them, in time to see Dick rush up to Mrs. Chatterton with a "You're
a brick!" before them all.

After that, there was no more hope of keeping things quiet in the house
for Phronsie's sake. Meanwhile the bird, who had played no mean part in
the engagement, now asserted himself, and blindly rushed into capture.

"Isn't he lovely!" cried Phronsie, tearing her gaze off from the
wonderful wings, as the swallow fluttered under the mosquito netting
speedily brought in.

"Yes, his wings are," said Polly. "Oh, Dick! do tell over again how it
all happened."

So Dick rehearsed once more as far as he knew the story, tossing off
lightly his part of it.

"Your poor head, does it ache?" cried Polly, feeling of the big bump on
the crown.

"No, not a bit," declared Dick, shaking his brown poll. "I'm glad I
didn't crack the glass."

"That heavy plate?" cried Polly, looking over at the cheval-glass with
a shiver.

Phronsie deserted the fascinating bird, and began to smooth Dick's head
with both hands.

"Do let me bathe it," she begged. "I'll get the Pond's Extract."

"No, I won't," said Dick. "It smells awfully, and I've had so much of it
for my leg. I'm all right, Phronsie. See his wings now--he's
stretching."

But Phronsie was not to be diverted from her purpose.

"I'll get bay rum," she said. "May I?"

Dick made a wry face. "Worse and worse."

"Cologne, then."

"No, I hate it."

"He doesn't want it bathed, Phronsie dear," said Polly. "Boys like to
get hurt, you know. 'Tisn't manly to be fixed up."

Phronsie gave a sigh, which so went to Dick's heart, that he said, "All
right, bring on some water if you want to. But don't get any brown
paper; I had enough of that when I was a boy."

And at the end of that exciting day, the secret came out, after all, in
rather a tame fashion. Dr. Fisher and Jasper met Polly in an angle of
the hall, as she was running upstairs after dinner for her schoolbooks.

"Polly," asked the little doctor, putting both hands on her shoulders,
and looking into the brown eyes, "should you be willing to go abroad
with your mother and Phronsie, Mr. King and Jasper?"

"Oh!" Polly gasped. "But you?" came in a later breath, "we couldn't
leave you," she cried loyally.

"Well, I suppose I should go along too," said the little doctor,
enjoying her face.

"Why, Jasper Elyot King!" cried Polly, slipping out from under the
doctor's palms, and seizing the two hands extended, she began to spin
around as in the olden days, "did you ever, ever hear of anything so
perfectly magnificent! But Ben and Joel and Davie!" and she paused on
the edge of another pirouette.

Dr. Fisher made haste to answer, "Polly, Mrs. Whitney will take care of
them." And Jasper led her off into the dance again.

"How can we ever leave the boys! Oh! I don't see," cried Polly, a bit
reproachfully, her hair blown over her rosy cheeks. As they danced
lightly down the long hall, Dr. Fisher leaned against a pillar, and
watched them.

"Have to," said Jasper, guiding his partner deftly in the intricacies of
the chairs and statuary. "That's a good spin, Polly," he said, as they
brought up by the little doctor's side.

"Lovely!" said Polly, pushing back her locks from the sparkling eyes.

"I'm almost tempted to dance myself," said Dr. Fisher. "If I wasn't such
an old fellow, I'd try; that is, if anybody asked me."

"I will," said Polly, laughing. "Come, Papa Fisher," holding out her
hand, "do give me the honor."

"All right," said Dr. Fisher bravely. So Jasper took the deserted post
by the pillar, and whistled a Strauss waltz. Thereupon a most
extraordinary hopping up and down the hall was commenced, the two
figures bobbing like a pair of corks on a quivering water-surface.

The doors opened, and several faces appeared, amongst the number Mrs.
Fisher's.

"I couldn't help it," said the little doctor, coming up red and
animated, and wiping his forehead. His spectacles had fallen off long
since, and he had let them go. "It looked so nice to see Jasper and
Polly, I thought I'd try it. I didn't suppose I'd get on so well; I
really believe I can dance."

"Humph!" laughed Mr. King, "it looks like it. Just see Polly."

"Oh, Papa Fisher!" cried Polly with a merry peal in which Jasper,
unpuckering his lips from the Strauss effort, had joined, "we must have
looked"--Here she went off again.

"Yes," said Jasper, "you did. That's just it, Polly, you did. Lucky you
two caperers didn't break anything."

"Well, if you've got through laughing," observed Dr. Fisher, "I'll
remark that the secret is out."

"Do you like it, Polly?" asked Mr. King, holding out his hand. "Say, my
girl?" And then before she could answer, he went on, "You see, we can't
do anything without a doctor on our travels. Now Providence has given us
one, though rather an obstinate specimen," he pointed to Father Fisher.
"And he wants to see the hospitals, and you want to study a bit of
music, and your mother wants rest, and Jasper and Phronsie and I want
fun, so we're going, that's all."

"When?" demanded Polly breathlessly.

"In a month."




XXI

THE WHITNEYS' LITTLE PLAN


I think it's a mean shame," cried Joel, on a high vindictive key.
"You've had burglars here twice, and I haven't been home."

"You speak as if we appointed the meeting, Joe," said Ben with a laugh.

"Well, it's mean, anyway," cried Joel, with a flash of his black eyes.
"Now there won't any come again in an age."

"Goodness, I hope not," ejaculated Mr. King, lowering his newspaper to
peer over its top.

"I'd have floored him," declared Joel, striking out splendidly from the
shoulder, "if I'd only have been here."

"All very well," said Percy negligently, "but you weren't here," and he
laughed softly.

"Do you mean to say that I couldn't have handled the burglar?" demanded
Joel belligerently, and advancing on Percy, "say? Because if you do,
why, I'll try a bout with you."

"I didn't say anything what you could or couldn't do. I said you weren't
here, and you weren't. That's enough," and Percy turned his back on him,
thrust his hands in the pockets of his morning jacket and stalked to the
window.

Van opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it, and gave a low
whistle. Joel, finding no enthusiasm for tales of his fighting prowess,
ran off to interview Dick on the old topic of the burglary and to obtain
another close account of its details.

"To think Phronsie saw the other burglar five years ago, and now Dick
was on hand for this one--those two babies," he fumed, "and none of us
men around."

"Percy," said Van, "come out in the hall, will you?"

"What do you want?" asked Percy lazily.

"Oh! you come along," cried Van, laying hold of his jacket. "See here,"
dropping his voice cautiously, as he towed him successfully out, "let's
give Joe a chance to see a burglar; he wants to so terribly."

"What do you mean?" asked Percy, with astonished eyes, his hands still
in his pockets.

Van burst into a loud laugh, then stopped short. "It'll take two of us,"
he whispered.

"Oh, Van!" exclaimed Percy, and pulling his hands from their resting
places, he clapped them smartly together.

"But we ought not, I really suppose," he said at last, letting them fall
to his sides. "Mamma mightn't like it, you know."

"She wouldn't mind," said Van, yet he looked uneasy. "It would be a
great comfort to every one, to take Joe down. He does yarn so."

"It's an old grudge with you," said Percy pleasantly. "You know he beat
you when you were a little fellow, and he'd just come."

"As if I cared for that," cried Van in a dudgeon, "that was nothing. I
didn't half try; and he went at me like a country sledge-hammer."

"Yes, I remember," Percy nodded placidly, "and you got all worsted and
knocked into a heap. Everybody knew it."

"Do you suppose I'd pound a visitor?" cried Van wrathfully, his cheeks
aflame. "Say, Percy Whitney?"

"No, I don't," said Percy, "not when 'twas Joe."

"That's just it. He was Polly's brother."

At mention of Polly, Percy's color rose, and he put out his hand. "Beg
pardon, Van," he said. "Here, shake, and make up. I forgot all about our
promise," he added penitently.

"I forgot it, too," declared Van, quieting down, and thrusting out his
brown palm to meet his brother's. "Well, I don't care what you say if
you'll only go halves in this lark," he finished, brightening up.

"Well, I will," said Percy, to make atonement.

"Come up to our room, then, and think it out," cried Van gleefully,
flying over the stairs three at a bound. "Sh--sh! and hurry up!"

Just then the door-bell gave a loud peal, and Jencks the butler opened
it to receive a box about two feet long and one broad.

"For Miss Phronsie Pepper," said the footman on the steps, holding it
out, "but it's not to be given to her till to-morrow."

"All right," said Jencks, taking it. "That's the sixth box for Miss
Phronsie that I've took in this morning," he soliloquized, going down
the hall and reading the address carefully. "And all the same size."

"Ding-a-ling," Jencks laid the parcel quickly on one of the oaken chairs
in the hall, and hurried to the door, to be met by another parcel for
"Miss Phronsie Pepper: not to be given to her till to-morrow."

"And the i-dentical size," he ejaculated, squinting at it as he went
back to pick up the first parcel, "as like as two peas, they are."

Upstairs Polly was at work with happy fingers, Alexia across the room,
asking every third minute, "Polly, how does it go? O dear! I can't do
anything unless you look and see if it's right."

And Polly would turn her back on a certain cloud of white muslin and
floating lace, and flying off to Alexia to give the necessary criticism,
with a pull here and a pat there, would set matters straight, presently
running back to her own work again.

"You see," she said, "everything must be just right, for next to
Mamsie's wedding, this is to be the most important occasion, Alexia
Rhys, that we've ever known. We can't have anything too nice for
Phronsie's getting-well party."

"That's so," said Alexia, twitching a pink satin bow on the handle of a
flower-basket. "O dear me! this bow looks like everything! I've tried
six different times to make it hang down quite careless and refined. And
just to provoke me, it pokes up like a stiff old thing in my face. Do
come and tie it, Polly."

So Polly jumped up again, and laying determined fingers on the
refractory bow, sent it into a shape that Alexia protested was "too
lovely for anything."

"Are you going to have a good-by party?" asked Alexia after a minute.

"I suppose so," said Polly. "Grandpapa said I would better, but O dear
me, I don't believe I can ever get through with it in all this world,"
and Polly hid her face behind a cloud of muslin that was slowly coming
into shape as a dress for one of Phronsie's biggest dolls.

"It will be dreadful," said Alexia, with a pathetic little sniff, and
beginning on a second pink bow, "but then, you know, it's your duty to
go off nicely, and I'm sure you can't do it, Polly, without a farewell
party."

"Yes," said Polly slowly, "but then I'd really rather write little notes
to all the girls. But I suppose they'll all enjoy the party," she added.

"Indeed they will," declared Alexia quickly. "O dear me, I wish I was
going with you. You'll have a perfectly royal time.

"I'm going to work hard at my music, you know," declared Polly, raising
her head suddenly, a glow on her round cheek.

"Oh! well, you'll only peg away at it when you've a mind," said Alexia
carelessly, and setting lazy stitches. "Most of the time you'll be
jaunting around, seeing things, and having fun generally. Oh! don't I
wish I was going with you."

"Alexia Rhys!" cried Polly in astonishment, and casting her needle from
her, she deserted the muslin cloud summarily. "Only peg away when I have
the mind?" she repeated indignantly. "Well, I shall have the mind most
of the time, I can tell you. Why, that's what I am going abroad for, to
study music. How can I ever teach it, if I don't go, pray tell?" she
demanded, and now her eyes flashed, and her hands worked nervously.

"Oh! nonsense," cried Alexia, not looking at the face before her, and
going on recklessly, "as if that meant anything, all that talk about
your being a music-teacher, Polly," and she gave a little incredulous
laugh.

Polly got out of her chair somehow, and stood very close to the fussing
fingers over the pink satin bow. "Do you never dare say that to me
again," she commanded; "it's the whole of my life to be a music-teacher-
-the very whole."

"Oh, Polly!" down went the satin bow dragging with it Alexia's spool of
silk and the dainty scissors. "Don't--don't--I didn't mean anything; but
you really know that Mr. King will never let you be a music-teacher in
all this world. Never; you know it, Polly. Oh! don't look like that;
please don't."

"He will," said Polly, in a low but perfectly distinct voice, "for he
has promised me."

"Well, he'll get out of it somehow," said Alexia, her evil genius urging
her on, "for you know, Polly, it would be too queer for any of his
family, and--and a girl of our set, to turn out a music-teacher. You
know, Polly, that it would."

And Alexia smiled in the most convincing way and jumped up to throw her
arms around her friend.

"If any of the girls in our set," said Polly grandly, and stepping off
from Alexia, "wish to draw away from me, they can do so now. I am to be
a music-teacher; I'm perfectly happy to be one, I want you all to
understand. Just as happy as I can possibly be in all this world. Why,
it's what I've been studying and working for, and how else do you
suppose I can ever repay dear Grandpapa for helping me?" Her voice
broke, and she stopped a minute, clasping her hands tightly to keep back
the rush of words.

"Oh, Polly!" cried Alexia in dismay, and beginning to whimper, she tried
again to put her arm around her.

"Don't touch me," said Polly, waving her off with an imperative hand.

"Oh, Polly! Polly!"

"And the rest of our set may feel as you do; then I don't want them to
keep on liking me," said Polly, with her most superb air, and drawing
off further yet.

"Polly, if you don't stop, you'll--you'll kill me," gasped Alexia. "Oh,
Polly! I don't care what you are. You may teach all day if you want to,
and I'll help get you scholars. I'll do anything, and so will all the
girls; I know they will. Polly, do let me be your friend just as I was.
O, dear, dear! I wish I hadn't said anything--I wish I had bitten my
tongue off; I didn't think you'd mind it so much," and now Alexia broke
down, and sobbed outright.

"You've got to say it's glorious to teach," said Polly, unmoved, and
with her highest air on, "and that you're glad I'm going to do it."

"It's glo--glorious to teach," mumbled poor Alexia behind her wet
handkerchief.

"And I'm glad you're going to do it," dictated Polly inflexibly.

"I'm glad you're going to do it," echoed Alexia in a dismal tone.

"Then I'll be your friend once more," consented Polly with a slow step
toward Alexia, "that is, if you never in all this world say such a
dreadful thing again, Alexia Rhys."

"Don't ask me. You know I won't," promised Alexia, her spirits rising.
So Polly went over to her and set a kiss on her wet cheek, comforting
her as only Polly could, and before long the pink satin bow, with the
spool of silk hanging to it, and the scissors were found under the
table, and Polly attacked the muslin cloud with redoubled vigor, and the
girls' voices carried merry laughter and scraps of happy talk, and Mrs.
Chatterton stole out of the little reading-room next to them and shut
herself up in her own apartment.

"Dear me, how fine that doll's gown is to be, Polly," exclaimed Alexia
after a bit. "Is the lace going on all around the bottom?"

"Yes," said Polly, biting off her thread, and giving the muslin breadths
a little shake; "Felicie is tucking the flounce; then I shall have to
sew on the lace."

"How many dolls are there to refurbish before to-morrow?" asked Alexia
suddenly.

"Four--no, five," said Polly, rapidly counting; "for the one that
Grandpapa gave her Christmas before last, Celestine, you know, does need
a new waist. I forgot her. But that doesn't count the new sashes, and
the hair ribbons and the lace ruffles around the necks; I guess there
are almost fifty of them. Dear me, I must hurry," and she began to sew
faster yet.

"What a nuisance all those dolls are," said Alexia, "they take up every
bit of your spare time."

"That isn't the worst of it," said Polly. "Alexia, I don't know what we
shall do, for Phronsie works over them till she's quite tired out. You
ought to see her this morning."

"She's up in the play-house at it now, I suppose," said Alexia,
"dressing every one of them for the party to-morrow."

"Yes," said Polly, "she is."

"Well, I hope no one will give her a doll to-morrow," said Alexia, "at
least no one but Mr. King. Of course he will."

"Oh! no one else will," declared Polly cheerfully. "Of course not,
Alexia."

And then Jencks walked in with his seven boxes exactly alike as to size,
and deposited them solemnly in a row on the blue and white lounge. "For
Miss Phronsie Pepper, and not to be opened till to-morrow, Miss Mary."

"Polly," said Alexia in a stage whisper, and jumping up as Jencks
disappeared, to run over to the row, "do you suppose they are dolls?"

"I shall die if they are," declared Polly desperately, and sitting quite
still.

"They surely look like dolls on the very covers," said Alexia, fingering
the cords. "Would it be so very wrong to open one box, and just relieve
our suspense? Just one, Polly?"

"No, no, don't," cried Polly sharply. "They belong to Phronsie. But O
dear me!"

"And just think," said Alexia, like a Job's comforter, and looking over
at the clock, "it's only half-past eleven. Polly Pepper, there's time
for oceans more to come in yet."

"It's perfectly horrid to get such a scrap of an outing," said Joel that
night, sprawling on the rug before the library fire, "only four days!
Why couldn't Mr. Marks be sick longer than that, if he was going to be
sick at all, pray?"

"These four days will give you strength for your 'exams,' won't they,
Joe?" asked Van.

Joel turned his black eyes on him and coolly said "Yes," then made a wry
face, doubled up a bit of paper, and aimed it at Van.

Davie sighed, and looked up anxiously. "I hope Mr. Marks will come out
all right so that we can go back Monday."

"I only hope he'll stay ill," said Joel affectionately. "'Tisn't safe
anyway for us to go back Monday. It may be typhoid fever, you know,
Mamsie," looking over at her.

"They'll let us know soon enough if that's the case," said Mother Fisher
in the lamp-light over by the center-table. "No, I expect your letter
to-morrow will say 'Come Monday.'"

"Well, it's a downright shame for us to be pulled off so soon," cried
Joel indignantly, sitting straight.

"Think how soon the term ends, Joe," cried Polly, "then you have such a
long outing." She sighed as she thought of the separation to come, and
the sea between them.

"That's nothing; only a dreadful little time--soon will be gone,"
grunted Joel, turning his face to look at the brightly-leaping flames
the cool evening had made necessary.

Ben glanced over at Polly. "Don't talk of the summer," he was going to
say, but stopped in time. Phronsie set her doll carefully in the corner
of the sofa, and went over to Joel.

"Does your head ache often at school, Joel?" she asked, softly laying
her cool little palm on his stubby hair.

"Yes," said Joel, "it does, awfully, Phronsie; and nobody cares, and
says 'Stop studying."

A shout greeted this.

"That's too bad," said Phronsie pityingly, "I shall just write and ask
Mr. Marks if he won't let you stop and rest when it aches."

"'Twouldn't do any good, Phronsie," said Joel, "nothing would. He's a
regular old grinder, Marks is."

"Mr. Marks," said Phronsie slowly, "I don't know who you mean by Marks,
Joel. And what is a grinder, please?" getting down on her knees to look
in his face.

"And he works us boys so, Phronsie--you can't think," said Joel,
ignoring the question.

"What is a grinder, Joel, please tell me," repeated Phronsie with gentle
persistence.

"Oh! a grinder is a horrid buffer," began Joel impatiently.

"Joel," said Mrs. Fisher, reprovingly. The fire in her black eyes was
not pleasant to look at, and after one glance, he turned back to the
blazing logs once more.

"I can't help it," he muttered, picking up the tongs to poke the fire.

"Don't ever let me hear that excuse from a son of mine," said Mother
Fisher scornfully. "Can't help it. I'd be master of myself, that's one
thing."

Joel set the tongs back with an unsteady hand. They slipped and fell to
the hearth with a clang.

"Mamsie, I didn't mean," he began, finding his feet. And before any one
could draw a long breath, he rushed out of the room.

There was a dreadful pause. Polly clasped her hands tightly together,
and looked at her mother. Mrs. Fisher quietly put her sewing into the
big basket and got out of her chair.

"Oh! what is the matter with Joey?" cried Phronsie, standing quite still
by the deserted hearth-rug. "Mamsie, do you suppose his head aches?"

"I think it must," said Mrs. Fisher gravely. Then she went out very
quietly and they could hear her going up the stairs.

With a firm step she went into her own room, and turned up the gas. The
flash revealed Joel, face downward on the broad, comfortable sofa. Mrs.
Fisher went over and closed the door, then came to his side.

"I thought, my boy," she said, "that I should find you here. Now then,
tell mother all about it," and lifting his head, she sat down and took
it into her lap.

"O dear!" cried Joel, burrowing deep in the comfortable lap, "O dear--O
dear!"

"Now, that is silly, Joey," said Mother Fisher, "tell me at once what
all this trouble is about," passing her firm hands over his hot
forehead, and trying to look in his face. But he struggled to turn it
away from her.

"In the first place I just hate school!" he exploded.




XXII

JOEL


"Hate school?" cried Mother Fisher. "Oh, Joey! think how Ben wanted more
schooling, only he wouldn't take the chance when Mr. King offered it to
him because he felt that he must be earning money as soon as possible.
Oh, Joey!"

That "Oh, Joey!" cut deeply. Joel winced and burrowed deeper under his
mother's fingers.

"That's just it," he cried. "Ben wanted it, and I don't. I hate it, and
I don't want to go back."

"Don't want to go back?" repeated Mrs. Fisher in dismay.

"No, I don't. The fellows are always twitting me, and every one gets
ahead of me, and I'm everlastingly staying in from ballgames to make up
lessons, and I'd like to fire the books, I would," cried Joel with
venom.

Mrs. Fisher said nothing, but the hands still stroked the brown stubby
head in her lap.

"And nobody cares for me because I won't be smart like the others, but I
can't help it, I just hate school!" finished Joel in the same strain.

"Joel," said Mrs. Fisher slowly, "if that is the case, I shall go down
to Mr. King and tell him that we, Father Fisher and I, Polly and
Phronsie, will not go abroad with him."

Joel bolted upright and, putting down his two hands, brought his black
eyes to bear on her.

"What?"

"I shall go directly downstairs and tell Mr. King that Father Fisher and
I, Polly and Phronsie, will not go abroad with him," repeated his mother
slowly and distinctly while she looked him fully in the face.

"You can't do that," said Joel in amazement. "He's engaged the state-
rooms."

"That makes no difference," said Mrs. Fisher, "when a woman has a boy
who needs her, nothing should stand in the way. And I must stay at home
and take care of you, Joel."

Joel sprang to his feet and began to prance up and down the floor. "I'm
big enough to take care of myself, mother," he declared, coming up to
her, to prance off again.

"So I thought," said Mrs. Fisher composedly, "or I shouldn't have placed
you at Mr. Marks's school."

"The idea, Mamsie, of your staying at home to take care of me," said
Joel excitedly. "Why, feel of that." He bared his arm, and coming up,
thrust it out for inspection. "Isn't that splendid? I do verily believe
I could whip any fellow in school, I do," he cried, regarding his
muscles affectionately. "If you don't believe it, just pinch them hard.
You don't mean it really, Mamsie, what you said, of course. The idea of
staying at home to take care of me," and he began to prance again.

"I don't care how many boys you can whip," observed Mother Fisher
coolly, "as long as you can't whip your own self when you're naughty,
you're too weak to go alone, and I must stay at home."

Joel stopped suddenly and looked at her.

"And before I'd give up, a boy of thirteen, and beg to be taken away
from school because the lessons were hard, and I didn't like to study,
I'd work myself to skin and bone but I'd go through creditably." Mrs.
Fisher sat straight now as an arrow in her corner of the sofa. "I've
said my say, Joel," she finished after a pause, "and now I shall go down
and tell Mr. King."

"Mother," howled Joel, dashing across the room to her, "don't go! I'll
stay, I will. Don't say that again, about my having to be taken care of
like a baby. I'll be good, mother, and study."

"Study doesn't amount to much unless you are glad of the chance," said
Mrs. Fisher sharply. "I wouldn't give a fig for it, being driven to it,"
and her lips curled scornfully.

Joel wilted miserably. "I do care for the chance," he cried; "just try
me, and see."

Mrs. Fisher took his sunburnt face between her two hands. "Do you really
wish to go back to school, and put your mind on your books? Be honest,
now."

"Yes, I do," said Joel, without winking.

"Well, you never told me a lie, and I know you won't begin now," said
Mother Fisher, slowly releasing him. "You may go back, Joe; I'll trust
you."

"Phronsie," said Jasper, as the sound of the two voices could be heard
in Mother Fisher's room, "don't you want to come into my den? I've some
new bugs in the cabinet--found a regular beauty to-day."

Phronsie stood quite still just where Joel had left her; her hands were
clasped and tears were rolling slowly down her cheeks. "No," she said,
without looking at him, "Jasper, I don't."

"Do come, Phronsie," he begged, going over to her, and holding out his
hand. "You can't think how nice the new one is, with yellow stripes and
two long horns. Come and see it, Phronsie."

"No, Jasper," said the child quietly. Then in the next breath, "I think
Joey must be very sick."

"Oh! Mamsie is taking care of him, and he'll soon be all right," broke
in Polly cheerily. "Do go with Jasper, Phronsie, do, dear." She took
hold of the clasped hands, and smiled up into the drooping face.

But Phronsie shook her head and said "No."

"If Grandpapa should come in and find her so 'twould be very dreadful!"
exclaimed Polly, looking over at the five boys, who in this sudden
emergency were knocked speechless. "Do let us all play some game. Can't
some one think of one?"

"Let us play 'Twenty Questions,'" proposed Jasper brightly. "I'll begin
it, I've thought of something."

"That's horrid," cried Van, finding his tongue, "none of us want to play
that, I'm sure."

"I do," said David. "I think 'Twenty Questions' is always nice. Is it
animal, vegetable or mineral, Jasper?"

"I'm sick of it. Do play something not quite as old as the hills, I
beg."

"Well, you think of something yourself, old man," said Jasper, nodding
furiously at him. "Hurry up."

"I'd rather have Polly tell a story than any game you could possibly
think of," said Van, going over to her, where she sat on the rug at
Phronsie's feet. "Polly, will you?" he asked wheedlingly.

"Don't ask her to-night," interposed Jasper.

"Yes, I shall. It's the only time we shall have," said Van, "before we
go back to school. Do, Polly, will you?" he begged again.

"I can't think of the first thing," declared Polly, pushing back little
rings of brown hair from her forehead.

"Don't try to think; just spin it off," said Van. "Now begin."

"You're a regular nuisance, Van!" exclaimed Jasper indignantly. "Polly,
I wouldn't indulge him."

"I know Phronsie wants a story; don't you, Phronsie?" asked Van
artfully, and running over to peer into her face.

But to his astonishment, Phronsie stood perfectly still. "No," she said
again, "I don't want a story; Joey must be sick."

"Jasper," cried Polly in despair, and springing up, "something must be
done. Grandpapa's coming; I hear him."

"Phronsie," said Jasper, bending to speak into her ear, "do you know you
are making Polly feel very unhappy? Just think; the next thing I don't
know but what she'll cry."

Phronsie unfolded her hands. "Give me your handkerchief, Polly," she
said, winking back the rest of the tears.

"Now, there's a dear," cried Polly, pulling out her handkerchief and
wiping the wet, little face. None too soon; the door opened and Mr. King
came in.

"Well--well--well!" he exclaimed, looking over his spectacles at them
all. "Playing games, hey?"

"We're going to," said Ben and Jasper together.

"No, Polly is going to tell a story," said Van loudly, "that is, if you
want to hear it, Grandpapa. Do say you do," he begged, going over to
whisper in his ear.

"I want immensely to hear it!" declared the old gentleman, pulling up an
easy-chair to the fireside. "There now," sitting down, "I'm fixed. Now
proceed, my dear."

Van softly clapped his hands. "Phronsie," Mr. King beckoned to her, and
then suggestively touched his knee, "here, dear."

Phronsie scurried across the room to his side. "Yes, Grandpapa."

"There, up she goes!" sang Mr. King, swinging her into position on his
lap. "Now then, Polly, my child, we are all ready for the wonderful
tale. Stay, where is Joel?"

"Joel went upstairs a little while ago," said Jasper quickly. "Well,
now, Polly, do begin."

"I'll tell how we went to buy Phronsie's shoes," said Polly, drawing up
an ottoman to Mr. King's side. "Now, boys, bring your chairs up."

"Joel ought to know that you are going to tell a story, Polly," said Mr.
King. "One of you boys run out and call him at the foot of the stairs."

"He's in Mamsie's room," said Ben. "I suppose when she gets through with
him, he'll come down."

"Oh! ah!" said the old gentleman. "Well, Polly, then perhaps you would
better proceed."

So Polly began on the never tiresome recital, how Phronsie fell down the
stairs leading from the kitchen to the "provision room" in the little
brown house, with the bread-knife in her hand; and how, because she cut
her thumb so that it bled dreadfully, mother decided that she could at
last have a pair of shoes bought especially for her very own self; and
how Deacon Brown's old horse and wagon were procured, and they all set
forth, except mother, and how they rode to town, and how the Beebes were
just as good as gold, and how the red-topped shoes fitted as if they
were made for Phronsie's feet, and how they all went home, and how
Phronsie danced around the kitchen till she was all tired out, and then
went to bed carrying the new shoes with her, and how she fell asleep
with--

"Why, I declare," exclaimed Polly, reaching this denouement in a
delightfully roundabout way, "if she isn't asleep now!"

And indeed she was. So she had to be carried up to bed in the same old
way; only this time it was Jasper instead of Polly who held her.

"Don't you believe we'd better put it off till some other night?"
whispered Percy to Van on the way upstairs to bed, the library party
having broken up early. "A fellow doesn't want to see a burglar on top
of the time Joel has had."

"No, no," said Van; "it'll be good for him, and knock the other thing
out of his head, don't you see, Percy? I should want something else to
think of if I were Joel. You can't back out; you promised, you know."

"Well, and I'll do it," said Percy testily.

"It's no use trying to sleep," declared Joel, in the middle of the
night, and kicking the bedclothes for the dozenth time into a roll at
the foot, "as long as I can see Mamsie's eyes. I'll just get up and
tackle that Latin grammar now. Whew! haven't I got to work, though!
Might as well begin at it," and he jumped out of bed.

Stepping softly over to the door that led into David's little room, he
closed it carefully, and with a sigh, lighted the gas. Then he went over
to the table where his schoolbooks ought to have been. But instead, the
space was piled with a great variety of things--one or two balls, a
tennis racket, and a confusion of fishing tackle, while in front, the
last thing that had occupied him that day, lay a book of artificial
flies.

Joel set his teeth together hard, and looked at them. "Suppose I shan't
get much of this sort of thing this summer," he muttered. "Here goes!"
and without trusting himself to take another look, he swept them all off
down to the floor and into a corner.

"There," he said, standing up straight, "lie there, will you?" But they
loomed up in a suggestive heap, and his fingers trembled to just touch
them once.

"I must cover up the things, or else I know I'll be at them," he said,
and hurrying over to the bed, he dragged off the cover-lid. "Now," and
he threw it over the fascinating mass, "I've GOT to study. Dear me,
where are my books?"

For the next five minutes Joel had enough to do to collect his working
instruments, and when at last he unearthed them from the corner of his
closet where he had thrown them under a pile of boots, he was tired
enough to sit down.

"I don't know which to go at first," he groaned, whirling the leaves of
the upper book. "It ought to be Latin--but then it ought to be algebra
just as much, and as for history--well there--here goes, I'll take them
as they come."

With a very red face Joel plunged into the first one under his hand. It
proved to be the Latin grammar, and with a grimace, he found the page,
and resting his elbows on the table, he seized each side of his stubby
head with his hands. "I'll hang on to my hair," he said, and plunged
into his task.

And now there was no sound in the room but his hard breathing, and the
noise he made turning the leaves, for he very soon found he was obliged
to go back many lessons to understand how to approach the one before
him; and with cheeks growing every instant more scarlet with shame and
confusion, the drops of perspiration ran down his forehead and fell on
his book.

"Whew!" he exclaimed, "it's horribly hot," and pushing back his book, he
tiptoed over to the other window and softly raised it. The cool air blew
into his face, and leaning far out into the dark night, he drew in deep
breaths.

"I've skinned through and saved my neck a thousand times," he reflected,
"and now I've got to dig like sixty to make up. There's Dave now,
sleeping in there like a cat; he doesn't have anything to do, but to run
ahead of the class like lightning--just because he"--

"Loves it," something seemed to sting the words into him. Joel drew in
his head and turned abruptly away from the window.

"Pshaw! well, here goes," he exclaimed again, throwing himself into his
chair. "She said, 'I'd work myself to skin and bone but I'd get through
creditably.'" Joel bared his brown arm and regarded it critically. "I
wonder how 'twould look all skin and bone," and he gave a short laugh.

"But this isn't studying." He pulled down his sleeve, and his head went
over the book again.

Outside, a bright blue eye applied to the keyhole, gave place to a
bright brown one, till such time as the persons to whom the eyes
belonged, were satisfied as to the condition of the interior they were
surveying.

"What do you suppose he's doing?" whispered the taller figure, putting
his face concealed under a black mask, closely to the ear of the other
person, whose countenance was similarly adorned.

"Don't know," whispered the second black mask. "He acts dreadfully
queer, but I suppose he's got a novel. So you see it's our duty to break
it up," he added virtuously.

The taller figure shook his head, but as it was very dark on their side
of Joel's door, the movement was unobserved.

"Well, come on," whispered the second black mask. "Are you ready?"

Yes.

"Come then."

"O, dear, dear!" grunted Joel, "I'd rather chop wood as I used to, years
ago, to help the little brown house out," swinging his arms up over his
head. "Why"--

And he was left in darkness, his arms failing nervously to his side,
while a cautious step across the room made his black eyes stand out in
fright.

"A burglar--a burglar!" flashed through his mind. He held his breath
hard and his knees knocked together. But Mamsie's eyes seemed to look
with scorn on him again. Joel straightened up, clenched his fist, and
every minute expecting to be knocked on the head, he crept like a cat to
the further corner, even in this extremity, grumbling inwardly because
Mr. King would not allow firearms. "If I only had them now!" he thought.
"Well, I must get my club."

But there was no time to get it. Joel creeping along, feeling his way
cautiously, soon knew that there were two burglars instead of one in the
room, and his mind was made up.

"They'll be after Grandpapa's money, sure," he thought. "I have got to
get out, and warn him."

But how? that was the question.

Getting down on all-fours, holding his breath, yet with never a thought
of danger to himself, he crept along toward the door leading into the
hall, then stopped and rested under cover of the heavy window drapery.
But as quick as a flash, two dark figures, that now, his eyes becoming
more accustomed to the darkness, he could dimly distinguish, reached
there before him, and the key clicking in the lock, Joel knew that all
hope from escape by that quarter was gone.

Like a cat, he sprang to his feet, swung the drapery out suddenly toward
the figures, and in the next second hurled himself over the window-sill,
hanging to the edge, grasping the blind, crawling to the next window,
and so on and over, and down, down, by any friendly thing he could
grasp, to the ground.

Two black masks hung over the deserted window-edge.

"Joe--Joe! it's only we boys--Percy and Van. Joe--Joe!"

"He'll be killed!" gasped Van, his face as white as Joel's robe
fluttering below them in his wild descent. "Stop him, Percy. Oh! do stop
him."

Percy clung to the window-sill, and danced in distress. "Stop him!" he
was beyond uttering anything more.

"Yes, oh, Joe! don't you see it's only Percy and Van?" cried Van
persuasively, and hanging out of the window to the imminent danger of
adding himself to Joel's company.

Percy shoved him back. "He's 'most down," he said, finding his breath.
"Now we'll run downstairs and let him in."

Van flew off from the window. "I'll go; it's my scrape," and he was
unlocking the door.

"I'm the oldest," said Percy, hurrying to get there first. "I ought to
have known better."

This made Van furious, and pushing Percy with all his might, he wriggled
out first as the door flew open, and not forgetting to tiptoe down the
hall, he hurried along, Percy behind him, to hear the noise of men's
feet coming over the stairs.

Van tried to rush forward shouting, "Thomas, it's we boys--Percy and
Van." Instead, he only succeeded in the darkness, in stumbling over a
chair, and falling flat with it amid a frightful racket that drowned his
voice.

Old Mr. King who had been awakened by the previous noise, and had rung
his burglar alarm that connected with Thomas's and Jencks's rooms in the
stable, now cried out from his doorway. "Make quick work, Thomas," and
Percy saw the gleam of a pistol held high in Thomas's hand.

Up with a rush came bare feet over the back stairs; a flutter of
something white, and Joel sprang in between them. "It's Percy--it's
Percy!" he screamed, "don't you see, Thomas?"

"I'm Percy--don't shoot!" the taller burglar kept saying without
intermission, while the flaring of candles and frightened voices, told
of the aroused household.

"Make quick work, Jencks!" shouted Mr. King from his doorway, to add to
the general din.

Thomas, whose blood was up, determined once for all to put an end to the
profession of burglary as far as his master's house was concerned, now
drew nearer, steadying his pistol and trying to sight the nearest
fellow. This proved to be Van, now struggling to his feet.

Joel took one wild step forward. "Thomas--don't shoot! It's Van!"

"Make quick work, Thomas!" called Mr. King.

There was but a moment in which to decide. It was either Van or he; and
in an instant Joel had stepped in front of the pistol.




XXIII

OF MANY THINGS


Van threw his arms around Joel. "Make quick work, Thomas," called Mr.
King from his doorway. The pistol fell from Thomas's hand. "I've shot
one of the boys. Och, murther!" he screamed.

And everybody rushing up supposed it was Van, who was writhing and
screaming unintelligibly in the corner.

"Oh! I've killed him," they finally made out.

"Who--who? Oh, Van! who?"

"Joey," screamed Van, bending over a white heap on the floor. "Oh! make
him get up. Oh! I've killed him."

The mask was hanging by one end from his white face, and and his eyes
protruded wildly. Up flew another figure adorned with a second black
mask.

"No, no, it was I," and Percy rushed forward with an "Oh, Joel, Joel!"

Somebody lighted the gas, that flashed suddenly over the terrified
group, and somebody else lifted the heap from the corner. And as they
did so, Joel stirred and opened his eyes.

"Don't make such a fuss," he said crossly. One hand had gripped the
sleeve of his night-dress, trying to hold it up in a little wad on the
shoulder, the blood pouring down the arm. At sight of this, Van
collapsed and slid to the floor.

"Don't frighten Mamsie," said Joel, his head drooping, despite his
efforts to hold it up. "I'm all right; nothing but a scratch. Ugh! let
me be, will you?" to Mr. Whitney and Jasper, who were trying to support
him.

And Mother Fisher, for the first time since the children had known her,
lost her self-control.

"Oh, Joey! and mother was cross to you," she could only sob as she
reached him.

Polly, at a nod from the little doctor's night-cap and a few hurried
words, ran as in a dream for the case of instruments in his bedroom.

"All right, Mamsie!" exclaimed Joel in surprise, and trying to stagger
to his feet.

"Good heavens and earth!" cried old Mr. King, approaching. "What? oh!
it's monstrous--Joel!"

"Och, murther!" Thomas sidled along the edge of the group, rolling
fearful eyes at them, and repeating over and over, "I've shot that boy--
that boy!"

All this occupied but an instant, and Joel was laid on his bed, and the
wound which proved to be only a flesh one, the ball cutting a little
furrow as it grazed the shoulder, was dressed, and everybody drew a long
breath. "Tell Van that I'm all right," Joel kept saying all the time.

Polly undertook to do this.

"Van--Van!" she cried, running out into the hall to lay a shaking hand
on his arm, where he lay on the floor. "Joel sent me to say that he is
all right."

"Polly, I've killed him!" Van thrust his head up suddenly and looked at
her, with wild eyes. "I have--don't speak to me, or look at me. I've
killed Joel!"

"Take off this dreadful thing," said Polly with a shiver, and kneeling
down, she seized the strings that tied the mask. "O dear! it's all in a
knot. Wait, I'll get the scissors," and she found her feet, and ran off
to her room.

"Now you are all right;" he gave a little sob as the mask tumbled off.
"Oh! how could you?" she wanted to say, but Van's distress was too
dreadful for anything but comfort.

"Don't you see," said Polly, sitting down on the floor and cuddling up
his head in her lap, "that Joel is really all right now? Suppose we
hadn't a Father Fisher who was a doctor, what should we do then?" and
she even managed a faint laugh.

"O dear! but I've killed Joel." Van covered his face with the folds of
her flannel dress and wailed on.

"Now, just see here, Van Whitney," said Polly, with the air of
authority, "I tell you that Joel is all right now. Don't you say that
again--not once more, Vanny."

"But I have ki--I mean I saw Thomas shoot, and I couldn't stop him,"
and Van writhed fearfully, ending with a scream "I've ki"--but Polly,
clapping her hand over his mouth, kept the words back.

Meanwhile Percy had rushed out of the house.

"Oh!" cried Polly, when this new alarm sprang up, and everybody was
running hither and thither to comfort him by the assurance that Joel was
not much hurt, "do, Uncle Mason and Jasper, let me go with you."

"No, no, you stay here, Polly," cried Jasper, throwing wide the heavy
front door. "Brother Mason and I will find him. Don't worry, Polly."

"I know I could help," said Polly, hanging over the stair-railing. "Oh!
do let me," she begged.

"No, no, child," said Mr. Whitney, quickly. "Stay where you are, and
take care of the others. Now, then, Jasper, is Jencks ready with the
lantern?"

"All right," said Jasper. "Come on."

Polly, longing to fly to the window to watch, at least, the lantern's
twinkling light across the lawn, hurried off to comfort Aunt Whitney,
who at this new stage in the affairs, was walking her room, biting her
lips to keep from screaming the terror that clutched at her heart.

"Oh, Polly!" she cried, "I'm so glad you've come. I should die if left
alone here much longer;" her soft hair floated down the white robe, and
the blue eyes were filled with tears. "Do tell me, don't you think they
will find Percy?"

"Yes, indeed!" declared Polly, cuddling up to the little woman. "Oh,
Auntie! remember when Dicky's leg was broken."

"But this is much worse," said Mrs. Whitney, sobbing, and holding close
to Polly's warm hand.

"But we thought he was dead," and Polly gave a little shiver.

"Don't--don't," begged Mrs. Whitney, clasping her hands; "Oh, Polly!
don't."

"But he wasn't, you see, Auntie," Polly hurried on, "and so now you know
it will come out all right about Per--There! Oh! they've found him!" as
a shout from the lawn rang out.

"Do you suppose it, Polly?" cried Mrs. Whitney, breathlessly. "Oh! do
run to the window and see!"

So Polly ran to the window in the next room that overlooked that part of
the lawn where Mr. Whitney and Jasper were searching, and strained her
gaze up and down, and in every direction.

"Have they? oh! have they?" cried Mrs. Whitney. "Oh, Polly! do tell me."

"I don't see any of them," said Polly, listening eagerly for another
cry, "but I do believe they've found him."

"Do come back," implored Mrs. Whitney; "there, now, don't go again,
Polly," as Polly hurried to her side, "but just hold my hand."

"I will," said Polly, "just as tight as I can, Auntie."

"Oh--oh! Percy is so much worse off than Joel," wailed Mrs. Whitney.
"Oh! to do such a thing, Polly!" she groaned.

"They only meant it in fun," said Polly, swallowing hard the lump in her
throat, "don't let us talk about it, Auntie."

"And Van," cried Mrs. Whitney, running on. "Oh! my poor, poor boys. Will
your mother ever forgive me, Polly?"

"Oh, Auntie! don't talk so," said Polly tenderly; "and we both ought to
be out helping. There's Van, Auntie; just think how he feels."

"I can't go near him," cried Mrs. Whitney in distress, "as long as he is
in Joel's room, for I can see your mother's eyes, Polly. It would kill
me to have her look at me."

The door opened at this, and the trail of a long silken wrapper was
heard on the floor.

"Mrs. Chatterton," said Mrs. Whitney, raising her head and looking at
the new-comer with as much anger as her gentle face could contain, "I
really cannot see you in my room to-night. Excuse me, but I am unstrung
by all that has occurred. Will you please not come in"--

"I thought I might sit with you," said Mrs. Chatterton. In the brief
interval since the arousing of the household, she had contrived to make
a perfect breakfast toilet, and she folded her hands over her handsome
gown. "Polly might then be with her mother. But if you don't wish me to
remain, I will go."

"I do not need you," said Mrs. Whitney, decidedly, and she turned to
Polly again.

Mrs. Chatterton moved away, and closed the door after her.

"Auntie," said Polly, "she really wants to help you."

"Polly, you needn't say anything about it," exclaimed Mrs. Whitney, like
many other gentle creatures, when roused, becoming unreasonably
prejudiced; "I cannot bear the sight of that woman. She has been here so
long, and is so intensely disagreeable to us all."

Polly's eyes became very round, and she held her breath in astonishment.

"Don't look so, child," said Mrs. Whitney at length, "you don't
understand, my dear. But you would if you were in my place"--

"She's sorry for it," said Polly, finding her tongue at last.

"And father is nearly worn out with her," continued Mrs. Whitney. "And
now to come parading her attentions upon me, it"--

"Who--who?" Dicky, now that the excitement in Joel's room had died down,
had lost his relish for it, and he now pranced into Mrs. Whitney's room.
"Who, mamma?"

"Mrs. Chatterton," said Mrs. Whitney unguardedly. "She has disagreeably
intruded herself upon me."

"Has she been in here?" asked Dick in astonishment.

"Yes; asking if she can sit with me," and Polly started at the look in
the usually soft blue eyes.

"And you wouldn't let her?" asked Dick, stopping short and regarding his
mother curiously.

"Of course not, Dicky," she made haste to say.

"Then I think you did very wrong," declared Dick flatly.

"Oh, Dick!" exclaimed Polly in consternation.

"And you don't act like my mother at all," said Dick, standing quite
stiffly on his sturdy legs, and gazing at her with disapprobation.
"Didn't Mrs. Chatterton save my life," he exploded, "when the real
burglar was going for me? Say, didn't she?" he cried.

"I have yet to find out that is the truth," said Mrs. Whitney, finding
her voice. "Oh, Dicky," she added, hurt that he should defend another,
worst of all, Mrs. Chatterton, "don't talk about her."

"But I ought to talk about her," persisted Dick. "She saved me as much
as she could. Because she won't let anybody thank her, I like her more
myself. I'm going to stay with her."

With that, he held his head high, and marched to the door.

"Dick, Dick!" called his mother, "come back, dear."

Dick slowly turned and made his way to her side, but he still regarded
her with disapproval.

"Dick, I want you to go to Mrs. Chatterton's room, and say that I am
sorry I refused her offer to help, and that I would like to have her sit
with me. Remember, say I am sorry I refused her offer to help, Dicky."
She leaned forward and kissed her boy, her long, soft hair falling like
a veil around the two faces.

Dick threw his arms around her neck.

"Now, you're a brick!" he declared impulsively. "I'll bring the old
lady, and we'll both sit with you."

So Polly was free to run back to Mamsie. On the way there she opened the
door of Phronsie's little room, just out of Father and Mother Fisher's.

"How good it is that she sleeps through it all," said Polly, listening
to the regular breathing. Then she stole across the room and stood
beside the small bed.

"She looks just as she did the night she took her new shoes to bed,"
thought Polly; "one hand is over her head, exactly as it was then. Oh,
Phronsie! to think that you're to have no party to-morrow," and she
turned off with a sigh, went out, and closed the door.

"Percy's here--all right!" cried Jasper, running over the stairs to meet
her at the top.

His eyes were gleaming with excitement, and his face was torn and
bleeding.

"Are you hurt?" cried Polly, feeling as if the whole family were bound
to destruction. "Oh, Jasper! did you fall?"

"Nothing but a scratch. I was fool enough to forget the ledge, and
walked off for my pains"--

"Oh, Jasper!" cried Polly, with paling cheeks, "let me bathe it for you,
do;" her strength began to return at the thought of action, and she
sprang for a basin of water.

"Nonsense. No, Polly!" cried Jasper, with a quick hand detaining her,
"it's nothing but a mere scratch, I tell you, but I suppose it looks
terribly. I'll go and wash it off. Run and tell his mother that Percy is
found."

"Is he all right?" asked Polly fearfully, holding her breath for the
answer.

"Sound as a nut," declared Jasper; "we found him streaking it down the
locust path; he said he was going to run off to sea."

"Run off to sea!" repeated Polly. "Oh, Jasper!"

"Well, he was so frightened, of course he didn't know what to say,"
replied Jasper. "And ashamed, too. He didn't care to show his head at
home. I don't know as I blame him, Polly. Well, it's too bad about
Phronsie's party, isn't it?" added Jasper, mopping up his face as the
two went down the hall.

"Yes," said Polly with a sigh, stopping at Mrs. Whitney's door, "but,
oh! think how happy we are now that Percy is safe, Jasper."

"Still, it's too bad for Phronsie," repeated Jasper, looking back.

But Joel flatly declared that the first one that even so much as hinted
that a single item of the arrangements for Phronsie's getting-well party
should be changed, he'd make it disagreeable as only he knew how, for
that one when he got up from his bed. "Yes, sir!" and he scolded, and
fretted, and fussed, and laid down the law so generally to all, not
excepting the doctor, that at last it was decided to let the party go
on. Then he lay back against the pillows quite exhausted, but with a
beatific face.

"I should think you would be tired, Joe," exclaimed Jasper, "you've
bullied us so. Dear me! people ought to be angelic when they're sick, at
least."

"If you'd had him to take care of as I did," observed Dr. Fisher, "you'd
know better; goodness me! the little brown house scarcely held him when
he was getting over the measles."

"What's the use of being sick," said Joel reflectively, turning on his
pillow, "if you can't make people stand around, I'd like to know. Now
that point's settled about Phronsie's party, won't you all go out? I'd
like to speak to Father Fisher a moment."

"You don't mean me, Joey?" said Mother Fisher at the head of the bed,
holding her boy's hand.

"Yes; you, too, Mamsie," said Joel, giving her an affectionate glance,
"it's something that only the doctor and I are to know."

"You're not hurt anywhere else, are you, Joey?" asked his mother, a
sudden alarm leaping to her black eyes.

"Not a scratch," said Joel promptly. "I want to see Father Fisher about
something. Sometime you shall know, Mamsie." He gave her hand a sudden
pressure, then let it go.

"Perhaps you would better step out, my dear," said the little doctor,
nodding to his wife. So Mrs. Fisher, smothering a sigh, went out
reluctantly.

"All out?" asked Joel, trying to raise his head to see for himself.

"Every soul," said Dr. Fisher.

"Well, see here, will you," said Joel, pointing to the table, the
schoolbooks scattered as he had left them, "pack those things all away
in the closet on the shelf, you know, and put the rubbish on the floor
there, back on the table?"

Dr. Fisher could not for his life, refrain from asking curiously, as he
did as requested, "Been having a pull at the books, eh, Joe?"

"Um--um--maybe," said Joel, twisting uneasily. "Well, now, come here,
please, Father Fisher."

The little man turned away from the table, with its sprawling array of
delightful things, to stand by the bedside.

"You must get me well as soon as you can," said Joel confidentially.

"All right; I understand," Dr. Fisher nodded professionally.

"And whatever you say, don't let it be that I must be careful of my
eyes," said Joel.

"All right; that is, if you get up quickly," agreed the doctor.

"That's all," said Joel in great satisfaction. "Now, call Mamsie in and
the others."

And in the morning, no one told Phronsie what had happened the night
before. She only knew that Joel was not very well, and was going to keep
his room; all her pleadings to do something for him being set one side
by Grandpapa's demands upon her instant attention whenever the idea
suggested itself to her. And so the time wore along till the party
began.

Alexia was the first to arrive, her bowl of orange jelly in her hand,
and after her, a tall slight figure jumped from the carriage, her flaxen
hair streaming out in two pale braids.

"I thought I'd pick Cathie up," said Alexia carelessly; "had to pass her
door, you know. O dear me, what perfectly dreadful times you had last
night, Polly Pepper."

"I didn't bring macaroons," said Cathie, "as I really think that they
wouldn't be good for Phronsie. Besides, I've forgotten how to make them,
and our cook was cross and said I shouldn't come into her kitchen. But I
bought a doll for Phronsie; my mother said it would be a great deal more
sensible present," and she hugged the long box under her arm with great
satisfaction.

"O dear! dear!" groaned Alexia, falling back with Polly as the three
raced along the hall, "she showed it to me in the carriage, and it's a
perfect guy, besides counting one more."

But afflictions like this were small to Polly now, and although for the
next hour it rained dolls into Phronsie's puzzled hands, Polly helped
her to thank the givers and to dispose them safely on neighboring chairs
and tables and sofas.

Mrs. Chatterton's was the pattern of old Mr. King's phonograph doll, at
which discovery he turned upon her with venom in his eye.

"My gift to my little granddaughter," taking especial care to emphasize
the relationship, "has always been a doll, I suppose you knew that,
Cousin Eunice; and to try to procure one exactly like the one I have
purchased, is very presuming in you, to say the least."

"And why may I not present a doll to Phronsie Pepper, if I care to, pray
tell?" demanded Mrs. Chatterton in a high, cold tone.

"Why? because you have always showed a marked dislike for the child,"
cried old Mr. King angrily, "that's why, Cousin Eunice."

"Grandpapa--Grandpapa," said Phronsie, laying her hand on his arm.

"And to parade any special affection, such as the presentation of a gift
indicates, is a piece of presumption on your part, I say it again,
Cousin Eunice."

"Grandpapa!" said Phronsie again at his elbow.

"Now, Phronsie," turning to her, "you are to take that doll," pointing
to a gorgeous affair reposing on the sofa, with Mrs. Algernon
Chatterton's card attached to it, "and go over to Mrs. Chatterton, and
say, very distinctly, 'I cannot accept this gift;' mind you say it
distinctly, Phronsie, that there may be no mistake in the future."

"Oh, Grandpapa!" cried Phronsie in dismay.

"Yes, child; I know what is best for you. Take that doll, and do exactly
as I bid you."

A dreadful pause fell upon the room. Polly clasped her hands, while
Alexia and the other girls huddled into a corner saying softly, "Oh! how
perfectly dreadful!"

"No use to say anything to father when he looks like that," groaned
Jasper, when Polly besought him to try his influence, "his blood is up
now; he's borne a good deal, you know, Polly."

"O dear, dear!" whispered Polly, back again, "just look at Mrs.
Chatterton's face, and at poor Phronsie's; can't you do something,
Jasper?"

"I'm afraid not," said Jasper gloomily. "No; he's making her give it
back; see, Polly."

"You'll know it's for the best," Mr. King was repeating as he led the
child to Mrs. Chatterton standing cold and silent at the end of the
room, "sometime, child, and then you'll thank me that I saved you from
further annoyance of this sort. There, Cousin Eunice, is your gift,"
taking the doll from Phronsie's hand, and placing it in the long,
jeweled one. "My little granddaughter receives presents only from those
who love her. All others are unwarranted, and must be returned."

Phronsie burst out tearfully, "She's sorry, Grandpapa, I know she is,
and she loves me now. Please let me keep the doll."

But Mrs. Chatterton had left the room, the doll in her hand.




XXIV

AWAY


And after that everybody had to be as gay as possible, to keep Phronsie's
sad little face from being flooded with tears.

"Dear me!" exclaimed Jasper, "here comes Candace! Now what do you suppose
she has for you, Phronsie?"

Candace sailed through the doorway with ample satisfaction with
everything and herself in particular.

"Whar's little Miss?" she demanded, her turban nodding in all
directions, and her black eyes rolling from side to side.

"There, Candace," said some one, "over in the corner with Jasper."

"Oh! I see her," said Candace, waddling over to them. "Well, now,
Phronsie, seein' you couldn't come to me for somethin' I made 'xpressly
fer you, w'y, Candace has to come to you. See dat now, chile!"

She unrolled the parcel, disclosing the wonderful doll adorned with
Candace's own hair, and "Ole Missus' ruffles," then stood erect, her
bosom swelling with pride and delight.

"O my goodness me!" exclaimed Alexia, tumbling back after the first and
only glance, and nearly overturning Cathie who was looking over her
shoulder. "Polly Pepper, O dear me!" Then she sat down on the floor and
laughed till she cried.

"Hush--hush!" cried Polly, running over to her, "do stop, Alexia, and
get up. She'll hear you, and we wouldn't hurt her feelings for the
world. Do stop, Alexia."

"O dear me!" cried Alexia gustily, and holding her sides while she waved
back and forth; "if it had been--a--respectable doll, but that--horror!
O dear me!"

"Stop--stop!" commanded Polly, shaking her arm.

But Alexia was beyond stopping herself. And in between Candace's
delighted recital how she combed "de ha'r to take de curl out," and how
"ole Missus' ruffles was made into de clothes," came the peals of
laughter that finally made every one in the room stop and look at the
girls.

"Candace, come into my 'den' and get a pattern for some new pins I want
you to make for me," cried Jasper, desperately dragging her off.

"It's no use to lecture me," said Alexia, sitting straight as Candace's
feet shuffled down the hall, and wiping her face exhaustedly. "I know it
was dreadful--O dear me! Don't anybody speak to me, or I shall disgrace
myself again!"

"Now, Phronsie, what do you suppose we are to do next?"

Phronsie looked up into old Mr. King's face.

"I don't know, Grandpapa," she said wonderingly.

"Well, now, my dear, you've had Punch and Judy, and these nice
children," waving his hand to indicate the delegation from the orphan
asylum, "have sung beautifully for you. Now what comes next, Phronsie?"

"I don't know, Grandpapa," repeated Phronsie.

"When gifts become burdensome they no longer are kindnesses," said Mr.
King. "Now, Phronsie, I have found out--never mind how; little birds,
you now, sometimes fly around telling people things they ought to know.
Well, I have discovered in some way that my little girl has too many
children to care for."

Here Phronsie's brown eyes became very wide.

"And when there are too many children in the nest, Phronsie, why, they
have to go out into the world to try their fortunes and make other
homes. Now there are so many poor little girls who haven't any children,
Phronsie. Think of that, dear; and you have so many."

Phronsie at this drew nearer and stole her hand into his.

"Now what is to be done about it?" asked the old gentleman, putting his
other broad palm over her little one and holding it fast. "Hey, my pet?"

"Can't we buy them some children?" asked Phronsie with warm interest.
"Oh, Grandpapa dear, do let us; I have money in my bank."

"Phronsie," said the old gentleman, going to the heart of the matter at
once and lifting her to his lap, "I really think the time has come to
give away some of your dolls. I really do, child."

Phronsie gave a start of incredulity and peered around at him.

"I really do. You are going abroad to be gone--well, we'll say a year.
And your dolls would be so lonely without anything to do but to sit all
day and think of their little mother. And there are so many children who
would love them and make them happy." Now Mr. King's white hair was very
near the yellow waves floating over his shoulder, so that none but
Phronsie's ears caught the next words. "It's right, Phronsie dear; I'd
do it if I were you," he said in a low voice.

"Do you want it, Grandpapa?" asked Phronsie softly.

"I do, child; but not unless you are willing"--

"Then I do," declared Phronsie, sitting quite straight on his knee. And
she gave a relieved sigh. "Oh, Grandpapa, if we only had the poor
children now!" she exclaimed, dreadfully excited.

"Come, then." Old Mr. King set her on her feet. "Clear the way there,
good people; we are going to find some poor children who are waiting for
dolls," and he threw wide the door into a back passage, and there,
presided over by Jencks, and crowding for the first entrance, was a
score of children with outstretched hands.

"Oh--oh!" exclaimed Phronsie with cheeks aflame.

"Please, he said we was to have dolls," cried one hungry-eyed girl,
holding out both her hands. "I've never had one. Please give me one
quick."

"Never had one?" echoed Phronsie, taking a step toward her.

"Only a piece, Miss, I found in a rag-barrel. Please give me one quick."

"She's never had a doll--only a piece," repeated Phronsie, turning back
to the family, unable to contain this information.

"Ask the others if they have had any," said Mr. King, leaning against a
tall cabinet. "Try that girl there in a brown plaid dress."

"Have you ever had a doll?" asked Phronsie obediently, looking over at
the girl indicated, and holding her breath for the answer.

At this, the girl in the brown plaid dress burst into tears, which so
distressed Phronsie that she nearly cried.

"Yes, but it died," said the girl after a little.

"Oh, Grandpapa, her doll died!" exclaimed Phronsie in horror.

"No, it didn't, Jane," corrected another girl, "the dog et it; you know
he did."

"Yes, I know," said Jane, between small sobs, "it died, and we couldn't
have any fun'ral, 'cause the dog had et it."

"Well, now, Phronsie," exclaimed Mr. King, getting away from the support
of the cabinet, "I think it's time that we should make some of these
children happy. Don't you want to take them up to the playroom and
distribute the dolls?"

"No, no," protested Phronsie suddenly. "I must go up and tell my
children. They will understand it better then, Grandpapa. I'll be back
in a very few minutes," and going out she went quickly upstairs, and
after a while returned with both arms full.

"This doll is for you," she said gravely, putting a doll attired in a
wonderful pink satin costume into Jane's arms. "I've told her about your
dog, and she's a little frightened, so please be careful."

"What's the fun down there now?" asked Joel of Van, who with Percy could
not be persuaded to leave his bedside a moment, "open the door, do, and
let's hear it."

So Van threw wide the door.

"Go out and listen, Percy, will you?" he said.

"I don't want to," said Percy, who shared Van's wish to keep in the
background.

"You two fellows act like muffs," said Joel. "Now if you want me to get
well, go out, do, and tell me what the fun is going on down there."

So persuaded, the two boys stole out into the hall in time to see
Phronsie go down the stairs with her armful, and carefully using their
ears they soon rushed back with "Phronsie's giving away her dolls!"

"Stuff and nonsense!" exclaimed Joel, "if you can't bring back anything
better than that yarn, you might as well stay here."

"But I tell you it's true," declared Van, "isn't it, Percy?"

"Yes, it is," said Percy. "I heard her distinctly say, 'This doll is for
you'--and she had her arms full, so I suppose she's going to give those
away too"--

"A likely story," said Joel, bursting into a laugh. At the noise up in
the boys' room, Mother Fisher ran quickly over the stairs.

"Oh, boys! what is it? Joel, are you worse?"

"No, indeed," said Joel, "I was laughing. Percy and Van have been
telling such a big story. Mamsie, they actually said that Phronsie was
giving away her dolls."

"Is that all?" cried Mrs. Fisher in relief. "Well, so she is, Joel."

"PHRONSIE GIVING AWAY HER DOLLS, MAMSIE?" screamed Joel. "Why, what does
Grandpapa say?"

"He's the very one that proposed it," said Mrs. Fisher. "There, Joey,
don't get excited, for I don't know what the doctor will say," as Joel
sank back on his pillow, overcome by this last piece of news.

When Phronsie went to bed that night she clasped Mr. King's new gift to
her breast.

"Grandpapa, dear," she said confidingly as they went up the stairs
together, "do you know I really think more of this doll, now that the
others are gone? Really I do, Grandpapa, and I can take better care of
her, because I shall have more time."

"So you will, dear," assented Mr. King. "Well, Phronsie, I think you and
I, dear, haven't made a bad day's work."

"I think my children will be happy," said Phronsie with a small sigh,
"because you see it's so nice to make good times for their new mothers.
And, Grandpapa, I couldn't play with each one more than once a week. I
used to try to, but I couldn't, Grandpapa."

"Why didn't you tell me, Phronsie," asked the old gentleman a bit
reproachfully as they reached the top step, "how it was, dear? You
should have given them away long ago."

"Ah, but," said Phronsie, slowly shaking her head, "I didn't want to
give them away before; only just now, Grandpapa, and I think they will
be happy. And now I'm going to take this newest one to bed, just as I
used to take things to bed years ago, when I was a little girl."

And after all, there was an extension of time for the three boys'
vacation, Dr. Marks not getting up from his sudden attack of fever as
quickly as was expected. But there came a day at last, when Percy, Van
and David bade Joel "good-by."

"It won't be for long," observed that individual cheerfully, "you'll be
back in three weeks."

"O dear!" groaned Percy when safe within the coach, "we've ruined all
his chances. He certainly will be plucked now--with those three weeks
to make up."

Van gathered himself up and leaned forward in his corner.

"Don't look so, Dave," he cried desperately.

David tried to smooth the troubled lines out of his face, but only
succeeded in making it look worse than before.

"And it will kill Mrs. Fisher," Percy continued gloomily, "if he does
get plucked, as of course he will."

"Keep still, will you?" cried Van, his irritation getting beyond bounds.
"What's the use of talking about a thing till it's done," which had the
effect to make Percy remember his promise to Polly and close his mouth.

But Joel's wound healed quicker than any one supposed it possibly could,
and Percy and Van, who both hated to write letters, gave up much time on
the playground to indite daily bulletins, so that he declared that it
was almost as good as being there on the spot. And Mother Fisher and her
army of servants cleaned the great stone house from top to bottom, and
sorted, and packed away, and made things tidy for the new housekeeper
who was to care for them in her absence, till Dr. Fisher raised his
eyebrows and hands in astonishment.

"I really must," he said one day, "put in a remonstrance, wife, or
you'll kill yourself before we start."

"Oh! I'm used to working," Mrs. Fisher would say cheerily, and then off
she would fly to something so much worse that the little doctor was
speechless.

And Polly set herself at all her studies, especially French, with
redoubled vigor, notwithstanding that she was hampered with the faithful
attentions of the schoolgirls who fought among themselves for her
company, and showered her with pathetic "O--dear--me--ow--I--shall--miss-
-you," and with tears when they got over it. And Jasper buried himself in
his den, only bursting forth at meal times, and Mrs. Whitney bemoaned
all preparations for the travelers' departure, and wished a thousand
times that she had not given her promise to keep the house and look
after the boys. And everybody who had the slightest claim to a calling
acquaintance, now dropped in upon the Kings, and Polly had her "good-by
party," and it was pronounced perfectly elegant by Alexia and her set,
and the three boys came home for the long vacation--and in two days the
party would sail.

"Who do you think is going abroad with us?" asked Mr. King suddenly, as
they all sat in the library for a last evening talk; "guess quickly."

"Who?" cried several voices.

"Why, I thought you didn't want any outsiders, father," exclaimed Jasper
in surprise.

"Well, and I didn't when I said so, but circumstances are changed now--
come, guess quickly, some one?"

"The Cabots," said Jasper at a venture.

"No, no; guess again."

"Mr. Alstyne?"

"No; again."

"The Bayleys, the Dyces, the Herrings," shouted Mr. Whitney and Van and
Joel.

"No, I know," broke in Percy, "it's Mrs. Chatterton," with a quick
glance to make sure that she was not in the room.

"NO!" thundered Mr. King. "Oh! how stupid people can be when they want
to. Two persons are to meet us in New York to-morrow. I didn't tell you
till I was sure; I had no desire that you should be disappointed. Now
guess again."

"Auntie, do you know?" asked Polly suddenly, leaning back, as she sat on
the rug in front of the fire, to lay her head in Mrs. Whitney's lap.

"No, I'm sure I don't," said Mrs. Whitney, stroking lightly the brown
hair, with a pang to think how long it would be before she should caress
it again.

"How any one can desire to cross the ocean," remarked Mr. Whitney,
folding his hands back of his head and regarding meditatively the
glowing fire, "is more than I can see. That I never shall do it again
unless whipped over, I'm morally certain."

"Are the persons men?" asked Ben suddenly.

"One is," replied Mr. King.

"And the other is a woman?"

"The other is a woman," said Mr. King. "Well, what are their names?
Isn't anybody smart enough to guess them? Dear me, I've always said that
the Peppers were remarkably bright, and the rest of you children are not
behind other young people. Go on, try again. Now who are they?"

Polly took her head out of Mrs. Whitney's lap, and rested her chin in
her hands, Davie walked up and down the room, while Ben and the two
Whitney boys hung over Mother Fisher's chair.

"Dear me!" fumed Joel. "Who ever could guess. There's such a lot or
people in the world that Grandpapa knows. It might be any two of them
that he had asked."

Little Dr. Fisher's eyes roved from one to the other of the group. "I
couldn't begin to guess because I don't know many of your friends," he
said quietly.

"You know these two people very well," said Mr. King, laughing, to see
the little man's face.

"Now I think I know," said Jasper slowly, a light coming into his gray
eyes, "but I don't suppose it's fair to guess, for I saw the address on
a letter father was writing two or three weeks ago."

"You did, you young scamp, you!" cried Mr. King, turning on him. "Well,
then, 'tisn't a guess for you, Jasper. Keep still, my boy, and let them
work away at it. Will no one guess?"

"Mamsie," cried Polly, bounding up from the ring, nearly upsetting
Phronsie, who was sitting beside her in a brown study, "can it be--do
you suppose it is nice, dear Mr. and Mrs. Henderson?"

"Well, Polly," said Mr. King, beaming at her, "you've done what the
others couldn't. Yes, it is Mr. and Mrs. Henderson, and they are going
with us to stay until the autumn."

"Good, good!" cried every one till the big room seemed full of joy.

"Oh, father!" exclaimed Mrs. Whitney, "I'm so glad you've done this.
They were so kind to Dicky and to me when he was hurt."

"They were kind to Dicky and to you," said her father; "and besides,
Marian, Mr. Henderson is a man who doesn't preach at you only once a
week, and Mrs. Henderson is a fine woman. So it's a pity not to ease up
things for them now and then. Well, how do you like the plan?" He spoke
to Dr. Fisher, but his gaze took them all in.

"Immensely," said the little doctor; which being again echoed heartily
by all the rest, old Mr. King began to feel very much elated at his part
in the proceedings, and in a quarter of an hour it seemed as if the
expedition had been especially planned for the benefit of the
Hendersons, so naturally had it all come about.

And on the morrow, the whole family, Kings, Whitneys, Fishers and
Peppers, turned their backs on the gray stone mansion and went down to
the city.

And Alexia Rhys persuaded her aunt to do her semi-annual shopping at
this time, and to take her too; and Mr. Alstyne also had business that
necessitated his going, and Mr. Cabot and Mary Taylor, and her father
found they must go along too; and Hamilton Dyce was there, and Pickering
Dodge, of course, went to be company for Ben on the way back. And at the
last moment who should jump on the train but Livingston Bayley.

"Had a telegram," he explained; "must be there at noon. So glad of the
unexpected pleasure of meeting you all."

And Cousin Eunice Chatterton went; for, at the last minute, she had
suddenly discovered that she had visited at the gray stone mansion as
long as she cared to, and notified the family accordingly. And Mr. King
had so far made up for his part in the late unpleasantness as to ask her
to go with the party, on her way to her nephew's in the city. So there
she was with the others, bidding them good-by on the steamer.

"Phronsie," she said slowly, under cover of the babel of tongues, "you
are a good child, and I've done well by you. This little bit of paper,"
putting it into her hands, "contains a message to Mr. King, which you
are to give him after you have started."

"I will go and give it to him now," said Phronsie, her fingers closing
over the bit.

"No, no," said Mrs. Chatterton sharply, "do as I say. Remember, on no
account to let any one see it till after you have started. You are a
good child, Phronsie. Now, remember to do as you are bidden. And now,
will you kiss me, child?"

Phronsie lifted her eyes and fixed them on the long, white face, and
suddenly raising herself on her tiptoes, she put up her lips.

"Look at Phron," cried Joel in the midst of the group, "actually kissing
Mrs. Chatterton!" and everybody turned and stared.

Cousin Eunice dropped her veil with a quick hand, and moved off with a
stately step, but not in time to lose young Bayley's drawl:

"'Pon me word--it's the most extraordinary thing. Phronsie, come here,
and tell us what 'twas like." But Phronsie stood quite still as if she
had not heard.

"Yes, I hope you'll have a nice time," Pickering Dodge was saying for
the dozenth time, with eyes for no one but Polly, "now don't stay away
for a year."

Polly with her heart full of the boys, who were hanging on either side,
answered at random.

"Oh, Ben! I can't go," she was exclaiming, and she hid her head on his
shoulder, so Pickering turned off.

But Joel set his teeth together. "You must," he said, for Ben was beyond
speech with the effort to control himself.

"I can't," said poor Polly, "leave you, Ben, and the boys."

And then Mrs. Whitney came up just as Polly was near breaking down.

"My dear child," she said, taking Polly's hands, "you know it is right
for you to go."

"Yes, I know," said Polly, fighting her tears.

"Then, Polly, be brave, dear, and don't begrudge me my three new boys,"
she added playfully. "Just think how happy I'm to be, with six such
splendid fellows to call my own."

Polly smiled through her tears.

"And one thing more," said Mrs. Whitney in a low voice, "when you feel
badly," looking steadily at Polly and the three boys, "remember what Dr.
Fisher said; that if your mother didn't stop working, and rest, she
would break down."

"I'll remember," said Ben hoarsely.

"So will I," said David.

"And I will," said Joel, looking everywhere but into Polly's eyes.

"Well, I hope, Miss Polly," said young Mr. Bayley, sauntering up, "that
you'll have an uncommonly nice time, I do indeed. I may run across in
September; if I do, we shall probably meet."

"Miss Mary Pepper?" suddenly asked a man with a huge basket of flowers,
and pausing in front of her.

Young Mr. Bayley smiled indulgently as he could not help reading the
card thrust into the flowers. "She will receive my flowers at intervals
all the way over, if the steward doesn't fail me," he reflected with
satisfaction, "while this boy's will fade in an hour."

"Miss Mary Pepper?" the florist's messenger repeated, extending the
basket to Polly.

"It's for you, Miss Polly," said young Mr. Bayley. "Let me relieve you,"
taking the basket.

"Oh! are they for me?" cried Polly.

"I believe you are Miss Mary Pepper," said young Bayley. "Pretty, aren't
they?" fingering the roses, and glad to think that there were orchids
among the flowers to which his card was attached, and just placed under
the steward's care.

"I suppose I am," said Polly, with a little laugh, "but it seems as if I
couldn't be anything but Polly Pepper. Oh! thank you, Pickering, for
these lovely roses," catching sight of him.

"Glad you like them," said Pickering radiantly. "Say, Polly, don't stay
away a whole year, will you?"

Young Mr. Bayley set the basket in his hand and turned on his heel with
a smile.

"Come, Polly, I want you," cried Alexia, trying to draw her off. "You
know she's my very best friend, Pickering, and I haven't had a chance to
say one word to her this morning. Come, Polly."

"Polly, come here," called Mrs. Fisher.

"O dear!" cried Alexia impatiently, "now that's just the way it always
is. It's Polly here, and Polly there," as Polly deserted her and ran off
with her basket of roses.

"You don't do any of the calling, of course," said Pickering, with a
laugh.

"Well, I'll have her to myself," declared Alexia savagely, "before it's
time for us to get off the steamer, see if I don't."

"I don't believe it," said Pickering. "Look at her now in a maelstrom of
relatives. You and I, Alexia, are left out."

And the next thing Alexia knew somebody unceremoniously helped her from
the steamer with a "Beg pardon, Miss, but you must get off," and she was
standing on the wharf in a crowd of people, looking in a dazed way at
Polly Pepper's fluttering handkerchief, while fast-increasing little
ripples of greenish water lay between them.

And Phronsie was running up to Mr. King:

"Here, Grandpapa, Mrs. Chatterton wanted me to give you this,"
unclasping her warm little palm where the bit of white paper lay. "The
Dickens she did," exclaimed the old gentleman; "so she has had a last
word with you, has she? Well, she won't get another for a long spell; so
never mind. Now, let's see what Cousin Eunice says. Something
interesting, no doubt." He spread the crumpled bit straight and read,
Phronsie standing quite still by his side:

COUSIN HORATIO:
I have made Phronsie Pepper my sole heir. Yon may like it or not, as you
please. The thing is done, and may God bless Phronsie.
     EUNICE CHATTERTON.




*** END OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK, FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS MIDWAY ***

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