"Where's Jap?" called one of the boys; and then there was a clatter out into the hall.
"What are you doing?" and Van came to a full stop of amazement and stared at them.
"Resting," said Jappy, concisely, "what do you want, Van?"
"I want you," said Van, "we can't do anything without you, Jappy; you know that."
"Very well," said Jasper, getting up. "Come on, Polly, we must go."
"And Phronsie," said Van, anxiously, looking up to Phronsie, who had nearly reached them by this time, "we want her, too."
"Of course," said Polly, running up and meeting her to give her a hug; "I don't go unless she does."
"Where are we going, Polly?" asked Phronsie, looking back longingly to her beloved stairs as she was borne off.
"To the greenhouse, chick!" said Jasper, "to help Turner; and it'll be good fun, won't it, Polly?"
"What is a greenhouse?" asked the child, wonderingly. "All green, Jasper?"
"Oh, dear me," said Van, doubling up, "do you suppose she thinks it's painted green?"
"It's green inside, Phronsie, dear," said Jasper, kindly, "and that's the best of all."
When Phronsie was really let loose in the greenhouse she thought it decidedly best of all; and she went into nearly as much of a rapture as Polly did on her first visit to it.
In a few moments she was cooing and jumping among the plants, while old Turner, staid and particular as he was, laughed to see her go.
"She's your sister, Miss Mary, ain't she?" at last he asked, as Phronsie bent lovingly over a little pot of heath, and just touched one little leaf carefully with her finger.
"Yes," said Polly, "but she don't look like me."
"She is like you," said Turner, respectfully, "if she don't look like you; and the flowers know it, too," he added, "and they'll love to see her coming, just as they do you."
For Polly had won the old gardener's heart completely by her passionate love for flowers, and nearly every morning a little nosegay, fresh and beautiful, came up to the house for "Miss Mary."
And now nobody liked to think of the time, or to look back to it, when Phronsie hadn't been in the house. When the little feet went pattering through halls and over stairs, it seemed to bring sunshine and happiness into every one's heart just to hear the sounds. Polly and the boys in the schoolroom would look up from their books and nod away brightly to each other, and then fall to faster than ever on their lessons, to get through the quicker to be with her again.
One thing Phronsie always insisted on, and kept to it pertinaciously—and that was to go into the drawing-room with Polly when she went to practice, and there, with one of her numerous family of dolls, to sit down quietly in some corner and wait till she got through.
Day after day she did it, until Polly, who was worried to think how tedious it must be for her, would look around and say, "Oh, childie, do run out and play."
"I want to stay," Phronsie would beg in an injured tone; "please let me, Polly."
So Polly would jump and give her a kiss, and then, delighted to know that she was there, would go at her practicing with twice the vigor and enthusiasm.
But Phronsie's chief occupation, at least when she wasn't with Polly, was the entertainment and amusement of Mr. King. And never was she very long absent from his side, which so pleased the old gentleman that he could scarcely contain himself, as with a gravity befitting the importance of her office, she would follow him around in a happy contented way, that took with him immensely. And now-a-days, no one ever saw the old gentleman going out of a morning, when Jasper was busy with his lessons, without Phronsie by his side, and many people turned to see the portly figure with the handsome head bent to catch the prattle of a little sunny-haired child, who trotted along, clasping his hand confidingly. And nearly all of them stopped to gaze the second time before they could convince themselves that it was really that queer, stiff old Mr. King of whom they had heard so much.
And now the accumulation of dolls in the house became something alarming, for Mr. King, observing Phronsie's devotion to her family, thought there couldn't possibly be too many of them; so he scarcely ever went out without bringing home one at least to add to them, until Phronsie had such a remarkable collection as would have driven almost any other child nearly crazy with delight. She, however, regarded them something in the light of a grave responsibility, to be taken care of tenderly, to be watched over carefully as to just the right kind of bringing up; and to have small morals and manners taught in just the right way.
Phronsie was playing in the corner of Mrs. Whitney's little boudoir, engaged in sending out invitations for an elaborate tea-party to be given by one of the dolls, when Polly rushed in with consternation in her tones, and dismay written all over her face.
"What is it, dear?" asked Mrs. Whitney, looking up from her embroidery.
"Why," said Polly, "how could I! I don't see—but I've forgotten to write to mamsie to-day; it's Wednesday, you know, and there's Monsieur coming." And poor Polly looked out in despair to see the lively little music teacher advancing towards the house at an alarming rate of speed.
"That is because you were helping Van so long last evening over his lessons," said Mrs. Whitney; "I am so sorry."
"Oh, no," cried Polly honestly, "I had plenty of time—but I forgot 'twas mamsie's day. What will she do!"
"You will have to let it go now till the afternoon, dear; there's no other way; it can go in the early morning mail."
"Oh, dear," sighed Polly, "I suppose I must." And she went down to meet Monsieur with a very distressed little heart.
Phronsie laid down the note of invitation she was scribbling, and stopped to think; and a moment or two after, at a summons from a caller, Mrs. Whitney left the room.
"I know I ought to," said Phronsie to herself and the dolls, "yes, I know I had; mamsie will feel, oh! so bad, when she don't get Polly's letter; and I know the way, I do, truly."
She got up and went to the window, where she thought a minute; and then, coming back, she took up her little stubby pencil, and bending over a small bit of paper, she commenced to trace with laborious efforts and much hard breathing, some very queer hieroglyphics that to her seemed to be admirable, as at last she held them up with great satisfaction.
"Good-bye," she said then, getting up and bowing to the dolls who sat among the interrupted invitations, "I won't be gone but a little bit of one minute," and she went out determinedly and shut the door.
Nobody saw the little figure going down the carriage drive, so of course nobody could stop her. When Phronsie got to the gateway she looked up and down the street carefully, either way.
"Yes," she said, at last, "it was down here, I'm very sure, I went with grandpa," and immediately turned down the wrong way, and went on and on, grasping carefully her small, and by this time rather soiled bit of paper.
At last she reached the business streets; and although she didn't come to the Post Office, she comforted herself by the thought—"it must be coming soon. I guess it's round this corner."
She kept turning corner after corner, until, at last, a little anxious feeling began to tug at her heart; and she began to think—"I wish I could see Polly—" And now, she had all she could do to get out of the way of the crowds of people who were pouring up and down the thoroughfare. Everybody jostled against her, and gave her a push. "Oh dear!" thought Phronsie, "there's such a many big people!" and then there was no time for anything else but to stumble in and out, to keep from being crushed completely beneath their feet. At last, an old huckster woman, in passing along, knocked off her bonnet with the end of her big basket, which flew around and struck Phronsie's head. Not stopping to look into the piteous brown eyes, she strode on without a word. Phronsie turned in perfect despair to go down a street that looked as if there might be room enough for her in it. Thoroughly frightened, she plunged over the crossing, to reach it!
"Look out!" cried a ringing voice. "Stop!"
"The little girl'll be killed!" said others with bated breath, as a powerful pair of horses whose driver could not pull them up in time, dashed along just in front of her! With one cry, Phronsie sprang between their feet, and reached the opposite curbstone in safety!
The plunge brought her up against a knot of gentlemen who were standing talking on the corner.
"What's this!" asked one, whose back being next to the street, hadn't seen the commotion, as the small object dashed into their midst, and fell up against him.
"Didn't you see that narrow escape?" asked a second, whose face had paled in witnessing it. "This little girl was nearly killed a moment ago—careless driving enough!" And he put out his hand to catch the child.
"Bless me!" cried a third, whirling around suddenly, "Bless me! you don't say so! why—" With a small cry, but gladsome and distinct in its utterance, Phronsie gave one look—"Oh, grandpa!" was all she could say.
"Oh! where—" Mr. King couldn't possibly have uttered another word, for then his breath gave out entirely, as he caught the small figure.
"I went to the Post Office," said the child, clinging to him in delight, her tangled hair waving over the little white face, into which a faint pink color was quickly coming back. "Only it wouldn't come; and I walked and walked—where is it, grandpa?" And Phronsie gazed up anxiously into the old gentleman's face.
"She went to the Post Office!" turning around on the others fiercely, as if they had contradicted him—"Why, my child, what were you going to do?"
"Mamsie's letter," said Phronsie, holding up for inspection the precious bit, which by this time, was decidedly forlorn, "Polly couldn't write; and Mamsie'd feel so bad not to get one—she would really" said the child, shaking her head very soberly, "for Polly said so."
"And you've been—oh! I can't think of it," said Mr. King, tenderly taking her up on his shoulder, "well, we must get home now, or I don't know what Polly will do!" And without stopping to say a word to his friends, he hailed a passing carriage, and putting Phronsie in, he commanded the driver to get them as quickly as possible to their destination.
In a few moments they were home. Mr. King pushed into the house with his burden. "Don't anybody know," he burst out, puffing up the stairs, and scolding furiously at every step, "enough to take better care of this child, than to have such goings on!"
"What is the matter, father?" asked Mrs. Whitney, coming up the stairs, after him. "What has happened out of the way?"
"Out of the way!" roared the old gentleman, irascibly, "well, if you want Phronsie racing off to the Post Office by herself, and nearly getting killed, poor child! yes, Marian, I say nearly killed!" he continued.
"What do you mean?" gasped Mrs. Whitney.
"Why, where have you been?" asked the old gentleman, who wouldn't let Phronsie get down out of his arms, under any circumstances; so there she lay, poking up her head like a little bird, and trying to say she wasn't in the least hurt, "where's everybody been not to know she'd gone?" he exclaimed, "where's Polly—and Jasper—and all of 'em?"
"Polly's taking her music lesson," said Mrs. Whitney. "Oh, Phronsie darling!" and she bent over the child in her father's arms, and nearly smothered her with kisses.
"Twas a naughty horse," said Phronsie, sitting up straight and looking at her, "or I should have found the Post Office; and I lost off my bonnet, too," she added, for the first time realizing her loss, putting her hand to her head; "a bad old woman knocked it off with a basket—and now mamsie won't get her letter!" and she waved the bit, which she still grasped firmly between her thumb and finger, sadly towards Mrs. Whitney.
"Oh, dear," groaned that lady, "how could we talk before her! But who would have thought it! Darling," and she took the little girl from her father's arms, who at last let her go, "don't think of your mamma's letter; we'll tell her how it was," and she sat down in the first chair that she could reach; while Phronsie put her tumbled little head down on the kind shoulder and gave a weary little sigh.
"It was so long," she said, "and my shoes hurt," and she thrust out the dusty little boots, that spoke pathetically of the long and unaccustomed tramp.
"Poor little lamb!" said Mr. King, getting down to unbutton them. "What a shame!" he mumbled pulling off half of the buttons in his frantic endeavors to get them off quickly.
But Phronsie never heard the last of his observations, for in a minute she was fast asleep. The tangled hair fell off from the tired little face; the breathing came peaceful and regular, and with her little hand fast clasped in Mrs. Whitney's she slept on and on.
Polly came flying up-stairs, two or three at a time, and humming a scrap of her last piece that she had just conquered.
"Phronsie," she called, with a merry little laugh, "where—"
"Hush!" said Mr. King, warningly, and then just because he couldn't explain there without waking Phronsie up, he took hold of Polly's two shoulders and marched her into the next room, where he carefully closed the door, and told her the whole thing, using his own discretion about the very narrow escape she had passed through. He told enough, however, for Polly to see what had been so near them; and she stood there so quietly, alternately paling and flushing as he proceeded, till at last, when he finished, Mr. King was frightened almost to death at the sight of her face.
"Oh, goodness me, Polly!" he said, striding up to her, and then fumbling around on the table to find a glass of water, "you are not going to faint, are you? Phronsie's all well now, she isn't hurt in the least, I assure you; I assure you—where is a glass of water! Marian ought to see that there's some here—that stupid Jane!" and in utter bewilderment he was fussing here and there, knocking down so many things in general, that the noise soon brought Polly to, with a little gasp.
"Oh, don't mind me, dear Mr. King—I'm—all well."
"So you are," said the old gentleman, setting up a toilet bottle that he had knocked over, "so you are; I didn't think you'd go and tumble over, Polly, I really didn't," and he beamed admiringly down on her.
And then Polly crept away to Mrs. Whitney's side where she threw herself down on the floor, to watch the little sleeping figure. Her hand was gathered up, into the kind one that held Phronsie's; and there they watched and watched and waited.
"Oh, dear," said Phronsie, suddenly, turning over with a little sigh, and bobbing up her head to look at Polly; "I'm so hungry! I haven't had anything to eat in ever an' ever so long, Polly!" and she gazed at her with a very injured countenance.
"So you must be," said Mrs. Whitney, kissing the flushed little face. "Polly must ring the bell for Jane to bring this little bird some crumbs.
"Can I have a great many?" asked Phronsie, lifting her eyes, with the dewy look of sleep still lingering in them, "as many as two birdies?"
"Yes, dear," said Mrs. Whitney, laughing; "I think as many as three little birdies could eat, Phronsie."
"Oh," said Phronsie, and leaned back satisfied, while Polly gave the order, which was presently followed by Jane with a well-filled tray.
"Now," said Jappy, when he heard the account of the adventure, "I say that letter ought to go to your mother, Polly."
"Oh," said Polly, "it would scare mamsie most to death, Jappy!"
"Don't tell her the whole," said Jasper, quickly, "I didn't mean that—about the horses and all that—but only enough to let her see how Phronsie tried to get it to her."
"And I'm going to write to your brother Joel," said Van, drawing up to the library table; "I'll scare him, Polly, I guess; he won't tell your mother."
"Your crow-tracks'll scare him enough without anything else," said Percy, pleasantly, who really could write very nicely, while Polly broke out in an agony:
"Oh, no, Van, you mustn't! you mustn't!"
"If Van does," said Jasper, decidedly, "it'll be the last time he'll write to the 'brown house,' I can tell him; and besides, he'll go to Coventry." This had the desired effect.
"Let's all write," said Polly.
So a space on the table was cleared, and the children gathered around it, when there was great scratching of pens, and clearing of ideas; which presently resulted in a respectable budget of letters, into which Phronsie's was lovingly tucked in the centre; and then they all filed out to put it into the letterbox in the hall, for Thomas to mail with the rest in the morning.
GETTING READY FOR MAMSIE AND THE BOYS
"And I'll tell you, Marian, what I am going to do."
Mr. King's voice was pitched on a higher key than usual; and extreme determination was expressed in every line of his face. He had met Mrs. Whitney at the foot of the staircase, dressed for paying visits. "Oh, are you going out?" he said, glancing impatiently at her attire. "And I'd just started to speak to you on a matter of great importance! Of the greatest importance indeed!" he repeated irritably, as he stood with one gloved hand resting on the balustrade.
"Oh, it's no matter, father," she replied pleasantly; "if it's really important, I can postpone going for another day, and—"
"Really important!" repeated the old gentleman irascibly. "Haven't I just told you it's of the greatest importance? There's no time to be lost; and with my state of health too, it's of the utmost consequence that I shouldn't be troubled. It's very bad for me; I should think you would realize that, Marian."
"I'll tell Thomas to take the carriage directly back," said Mrs. Whitney stepping to the door. "Or stay, father; I'll just run up and send the children out for a little drive. The horses ought to be used too, you know," she said lightly, preparing to run up to carry out the changed plan.
"Never mind that now," said Mr. King abruptly. "I want you to give me your attention directly." And walking towards the library door, getting a fresh accession of impatience with every step, he beckoned her to follow.
But his progress was somewhat impeded by little Dick—or rather, little Dick and Prince, who were standing at the top of the stairs to see Mrs. Whitney off. When he saw his mother retrace her steps, supposing her yielding to the urgent entreaties that he was sending after her to stay at home, the child suddenly changed his "Good-byes" to vociferous howls of delight, and speedily began to plunge down the stairs to welcome her.
But the staircase was long, and little Dick was in a hurry, and besides, Prince was in the way. The consequence was, nobody knew just how, that a bumping noise struck into the conversation that made the two below in the hall look up quickly, to see the child and dog come rolling over the stairs at a rapid rate.
"Zounds!" cried the old gentleman. "Here, Thomas, Thomas!" But as that individual was waiting patiently outside the door on the carriage box, there was small hope of his being in time to catch the boy, who was already in his mother's arms, not quite clear by the suddenness of the whole thing, as to how he came there.
"Oh! oh! Dicky's hurt!" cried somebody up above—followed by every one within hearing distance, and all came rushing to the spot to ask a thousand questions all in the same minute.
There sat Mrs. Whitney in one of the big carved chairs, with little Dick in her lap, and Prince walking gravely around and around him with the greatest expression of concern on his noble face. Mr. King was storming up and down, and calling on everybody to bring a "bowl of water, and some brown paper; and be quick!" interpolated with showers of blame on Prince for sitting on the stairs, and tripping people up! while Dick meanwhile was laughing and chatting, and enjoying the distinction of making so many people run, and of otherwise being the object of so much attention!
"I don't think he was sitting on the stairs, father," said Jasper, who, when he saw that Dicky was really unhurt, began to vindicate his dog. "He never does that; do you Sir?" he said patting the head that was lifted up to him, as if to be defended.
"And I expect we shall all be killed some day, Jasper," said Mr. King, warming with his subject; and forgetting all about the brown paper and water which he had ordered, and which was now waiting for him at his elbow, "just by that creature."
"He's the noblest—" began Jasper, throwing his arms around his neck; an example which was immediately followed by the Whitney boys, and the two little Peppers. When Dick saw this, he began to struggle to get down to add himself to the number.
"Where's the brown paper?" began Mr. King, seeing this and whirling around suddenly. "Hasn't any body brought it yet?"
"Here 'tis sir," said Jane, handing him a generous supply. "Oh, I don't want to," cried little Dick in dismay, seeing his grandfather advance with an enormous piece of paper, which previously wet in the bowl of water, was now unpleasantly clammy and wet—"oh, no, I don't want to be all stuck up with old horrid wet paper!"
"Hush, dear!" said his mamma, soothingly. "Grandpapa wants to put it on—there—" as Mr. King dropped it scientifically on his head, and then proceeded to paste another one over his left eye.
"And I hope they'll all drop off," cried Dick, savagely, shaking his head to facilitate matters. "Yes, I do, every single one of 'em!" he added, with an expression that seen under the brown bits was anything but benign.
"Was Prince on the stairs, Dick?" asked Jasper, coming up and peering under his several adornments. "Tell us how you fell!"
"No," said little Dick, crossly, and giving his head another shake. "He was up in the hall—oh, dear, I want to get down," and he began to stretch his legs and to struggle with so much energy, that two or three pieces fell off, and landed on the floor to his intense delight.
"And how did you fall then?" said Jasper, perseveringly. "Can't you remember, Dicky, boy?"
"I pushed Princey," said Dick, feeling, with freedom from some of his encumbrances, more disposed for conversation, "and made him go ahead—and then I fell on top of him—that's all."
"I guess Prince has saved him, father," cried Jasper, turning around with eyes full of pride and love on the dog, who was trying as hard as he could to tell all the children how much he enjoyed their caresses.
And so it all came about that the consultation so summarily interrupted was never held. For, as Mrs. Whitney was about retiring that evening, Mr. King rapped at her door, on his way to bed.
"Oh," he said popping in his head, in response to her invitation to come in, "it's nothing—only I thought I'd just tell you a word or two about what I've decided to do."
"Do you mean what you wanted to see me about this afternoon?" asked Mrs. Whitney, who hadn't thought of it since. "Do come in, father."
"It's no consequence," said the old gentleman; "no consequence at all," he repeated, waving his hand emphatically, "because I've made up my mind and arranged all my plans—it's only about the Peppers—"
"The Peppers?" repeated Mrs. Whitney.
"Yes. Well, the fact of it is, I'm going to have them here for a visit—the whole of them, you understand; that's all there is to it. And I shall go down to see about all the arrangements—Jasper and I—day after to-morrow," said the old gentleman, as if he owned the whole Pepper family inclusive, and was the only responsible person to be consulted about their movements.
"Will they come?" asked Mrs. Whitney, doubtfully.
"Come? of course," said Mr. King, sharply, "there isn't any other way; or else Mrs. Pepper will be sending for her children—and of course you know, Marian, we couldn't allow that—well, that's all; so good night," and the door closed on his retreating footsteps.
And so Polly and Phronsie soon knew that mamsie and the boys were to be invited! And then the grand house, big as it was, didn't seem large enough to contain them.
"I declare," said Jasper, next day, when they had been laughing and planning till they were all as merry as grigs, "if this old dungeon don't begin to seem a little like 'the little brown house,' Polly."
"Twon't," answered Polly, hopping around on one toe, followed by Phronsie, "till mamsie and the boys get here, Jasper King!"
"Well, they'll be here soon," said Jappy, pleased at Polly's exultation over it, "for we're going to-morrow to do the inviting."
"And Polly's to write a note to slip into Marian's," said Mr. King, putting his head in at the door. "And if you want your mother to come, child, why, you'd better mention it as strong as you can."
"I'm going to write," said Phronsie, pulling up after a prolonged skip, all out of breath. "I'm going to write, and beg mamsie dear. Then she'll come, I guess."
"I guess she will," said Mr. King, looking at her. "You go on, Phronsie, and write; and that letter shall go straight in my coat pocket alone by itself."
"Shall it?" asked Phronsie, coming up to him, "and nobody will take it out till you give it to mamsie?"
"No, nobody shall touch it," said the old gentleman, stooping to kiss the upturned face, "till I put it into her own hand."
"Then," said Phronsie, in the greatest satisfaction, "I'm going to write this very one minute!" and she marched away to carry her resolve into immediate execution.
Before they got through they had quite a bundle of invitations and pleadings; for each of the three boys insisted on doing his part, so that when they were finally done up in an enormous envelope and put into Mr. King's hands, he told them with a laugh that there was no use for Jappy and himself to go, as those were strong enough to win almost anybody's consent.
However, the next morning they set off, happy in their hopes, and bearing the countless messages, which the children would come up every now and then to intrust to them, declaring that they had forgotten to put them in the letters.
"You'd had to have had an express wagon to carry the letters if you had put them all in," at last cried Jasper. "You've given us a bushel of things to remember."
"And oh! don't forget to ask Ben to bring Cherry," cried Polly, the last minute as they were driving off although she had put it in her letter at least a dozen times; "and oh, dear! of course the flowers can't come."
"We've got plenty here," said Jasper. "You would not know what to do with them, Polly."
"Well, I do wish mamsie would give some to kind Mrs. Henderson, then," said Polly, on the steps, clasping her hands anxiously, while Jasper told Thomas to wait till he heard the rest of the message, "and to grandma—you know Grandma Bascom; she was so good to us," she said impulsively. "And, oh! don't let her forget to carry some to dear, dear Dr. Fisher; and don't forget to give him our love, Jappy; don't forget that!" and Polly ran down the steps to the carriage door, where she gazed up imploringly to the boy's face.
"I guess I won't," cried Jasper, "when I think how he saved your eyes, Polly! He's the best fellow I know!" he finished in an impulsive burst.
"And don't let mamsie forget to carry some in to good old Mr. and Mrs. Beebe in town—where Phronsie got her shoes, you know; that is, if mamsie can," she added, remembering how very busy her mother would be.
"I'll carry them myself," said Jasper; "we're going to stay over till the next day, you know."
"O!" cried Polly, radiant as a rose, "will you, really, Jappy? you're so good!"
"Yes, I will," said Jasper, "everything you want done, Polly; anything else?" he asked, quickly, as Mr. King, impatient to be off, showed unmistakable symptoms of hurrying up Thomas.
"Oh, no," said Polly, "only do look at the little brown house, Jasper, as much as you can," and Polly left the rest unfinished. Jasper seemed to understand, however, for he smiled brightly as he said, looking into the brown eyes, "I'll do it all, Polly; every single thing." And then they were off.
Mamsie and the boys! could Polly ever wait till the next afternoon that would bring the decision?
Long before it was possibly time for the carriage to come back from the depot, Polly, with Phronsie and the three boys, who, improving Jasper's absence, had waited upon her with the grace and persistence of cavaliers of the olden time, were drawn up at the old stone gateway.
"Oh, dear," said Van with an impatient fling; "they never will come!"
"Won't they, Polly?" asked Phronsie, anxiously, and standing quite still.
"Dear me, yes," said Polly, with a little laugh, "Van only means they'll be a good while, Phronsie. They're sure to come some time."
"Oh!" said Phronsie, quite relieved; and she commenced her capering again in extreme enjoyment.
"I'm going," said little Dick, "to run down and meet them." Accordingly off he went, and was immediately followed by Percy, who started with the laudable desire of bringing him back; but finding it so very enjoyable, he stayed himself and frolicked with Dick, till the others, hearing the fun, all took hold of hands and flew off to join them.
"Now," said Polly, when they recovered their breath a little, "let's all turn our backs to the road; and the minute we hear the carriage we must whirl round; and the one who sees 'em first can ask first 'Is mamsie coming?"
"All right," cried the boys.
"Turn round, Dick," said Percy, with a little shove, for Dick was staring with all his might right down the road. And so they all flew around till they looked like five statues set up to grace the sidewalk.
"Suppose a big dog should come," suggested Van, pleasantly, "and snap at our backs!"
At this little Dick gave a small howl, and turned around in a fright.
"There isn't any dog coming," said Polly. "What does make you say such awful things, Van?"
"I hear a noise," said Phronsie; and so they all whirled around in expectation. But it proved to be only a market wagon coming at a furious pace down the road, with somebody's belated dinner. So they all had to whirl back again as before. The consequence was that when the carriage did come, nobody heard it.
Jasper, looking out, was considerably astonished to see, drawn up in solemn array with their backs to the road, five children, who stood as if completely petrified.
"What in the world!" he began, and called to Thomas to stop, whose energetic "Whoa!" reaching the ears of the frozen line, caused it to break ranks, and spring into life at an alarming rate.
"Oh, is she coming Jappy? Is she? Is she?" they all screamed together, swarming up to the carriage door, and over the wheels.
"Yes," said Jasper looking at Polly.
At that, Phronsie made a little cheese and sat right down on the pavement in an ecstasy.
"Get in here, all of you;" said Jasper merrily; "help Polly in first. For shame Dick! don't scramble so."
"Dick always shoves," said Percy, escorting Polly up with quite an air.
"I don't either," said Dick; "you pushed me awful, just a little while ago," he added indignantly.
"Do say awfully," corrected Van, crowding up to get in. "You leave off your lys so," he finished critically.
"I don't know anything about any lees," said little Dick, who, usually so good natured, was now thoroughly out of temper; "I want to get in and go home," and he showed evident symptoms of breaking into a perfect roar.
"There," said Polly, lilting him up, "there he goes! now—one, two, three!" and little Dick was spun in so merrily that the tears changed into a happy laugh.
"Now then, bundle in, all the rest of you," put in Mr. King, who seemed to be in the best of spirits. "That's it; go on, Thomas!"
"When are they coming?" Polly found time to ask in the general jumble.
"In three weeks from to-morrow," said Jasper. "And everything's all right, Polly! and the whole of them, Cherry and all, will be here then!"
"Oh!" said Polly.
"Here we are!" cried Van, jumping out almost before the carriage door was open. "Mamma; mamma," he shouted to Mrs. Whitney in the doorway, "the Peppers are coming, and the little brown house too!—everything and everybody!"
"They are!" said Percy, as wild as his brother; "and everything's just splendid! Jappy said so."
"Everything's coming," said little Dick, tumbling up the steps—"and the bird—and—and—"
"And mamsie!" finished Phronsie, impatient to add her part—while Polly didn't say anything—only looked.
Three weeks! "I can't wait!" thought Polly at first, in counting over the many hours before the happy day would come. But on Jasper's suggesting that they should all do something to get ready for the visitors, and have a general trimming up with vines and flowers beside—the time passed away much more rapidly than was feared.
Polly chose a new and more difficult piece of music to learn to surprise mamsie. Phronsie had aspired to an elaborate pin-cushion, that was nearly done, made of bits of worsted and canvas, over whose surface she had wandered according to her own sweet will, in a way charming to behold.
"I don't know what to do," said Van in despair, "cause I don't know what she'd like."
"Can't you draw her a little picture?" asked Polly. "She'd like that."
"Does she like pictures?" asked Van with the greatest interest.
"Yes indeed!" said Polly, "I guess you'd think so if you could see her!"
"I know what I shall do," with a dignified air said Percy, who couldn't draw, and therefore looked down on all Van's attempts with the greatest scorn. "And it won't be any old pictures either," he added.
"What is it, old fellow?" asked Jasper, "tell on, now, your grand plan."
"No, I'm not going to tell," said Percy, with the greatest secrecy, "until the very day."
"What will you do, sir?" asked Jasper, pulling one of Dick's ears, who stood waiting to speak, as if his mind was made up, and wouldn't be changed for anyone!
"I shall give Ben one of my kitties—the littlest and the best!" he said, with heroic self-sacrifice.
A perfect shout greeted this announcement.
"Fancy Ben going round with one of those awful little things," whispered Jappy to Polly, who shook at the very thought.
"Don't laugh! oh, it's dreadful to laugh at him, Jappy," she said, when she could get voice enough.
"No, I sha'n't tell," said Percy, when the fun had subsided; who, finding that no one teased him to divulge his wonderful plan, kept trying to harrow up their feelings by parading it.
"You needn't then," screamed Van, who was nearly dying to know. "I don't believe it's so very dreadful much, anyway."
"What's yours, Jappy?" asked Polly, "I know yours will be just splendid."
"Oh, no, it isn't," said Jasper, smiling brightly, "but as I didn't know what better I could do, I'm going to get a little stand, and then beg some flowers of Turner to fill it, and—"
"Why, that's mine!" screamed Percy, in the greatest disappointment. "That's just what I was going to do!"
"Hoh, hoh!" shouted Van; "I thought you wouldn't tell, Mr. Percy! hoh, hoh!"
"Hoh, hoh!" echoed Dick.
"Hush," said Jappy. "Why, Percy, I didn't know as you had thought of that," he said kindly. "Well, then, you do it, and I'll take something else. I don't care as long as Mrs. Pepper gets 'em."
"I didn't exactly mean that," began Percy; "mine was roots and little flowers growing."
"He means what he gets in the woods," said Polly, explaining; "don't you, Percy?"
"Yes," said the boy. "And then I was going to put stones and things in among them to make them look pretty."
"And they will," cried Jasper. "Go ahead, Percy, they'll look real pretty, and then Turner will give you some flowers for the stand, I know; I'll ask him to-morrow."
"Will you?" cried Percy, "that'll be fine!"
"Mine is the best," said Van, just at this juncture; but it was said a little anxiously, as he saw how things were prospering with Percy; "for my flowers in the picture will always be there, and your old roots and things will die."
"What will yours be, then, Jappy?" asked Polly very soberly. "The stand of flowers would have been just lovely! and you do fix them so nice," she added sorrowfully.
"Oh, I'll find something else," said Jappy, cheerfully, who had quite set his heart on giving the flowers. "Let me see—I might carve her a bracket."
"Do," cried Polly, clapping her hands enthusiastically. "And do carve a little bird, like the one you did on your father's."
"I will," said Jasper, "just exactly like it. Now, we've got something to do, before we welcome the 'little brown house' people—so let's fly at it, and the time won't seem so long."
And at last the day came when they could all say—To-morrow they'll be here!
Well, the vines were all up; and pots of lovely climbing ferns, and all manner of pretty green things had been arranged and re-arranged a dozen times till everything was pronounced perfect; and a big green "Welcome" over the library door, made of laurel leaves, by the patient fingers of all the children, stared down into their admiring eyes as much as to say, "I'll do my part!"
"Oh, dear," said Phronsie, when evening came, and the children were, as usual, assembled on the rug before the fire, their tongues running wild with anticipation and excitement, "I don't mean to go to bed at all, Polly; I don't truly."
"Oh, yes, you do," said Polly laughing; "then you'll be all fresh and rested to see mammy when she does come."
"Oh, no," said Phronsie, shaking her head soberly, and speaking in an injured tone. "I'm not one bit tired, Polly; not one bit."
"You needn't go yet, Phronsie," said Polly. "You can sit up half an hour yet, if you want to."
"But I don't want to go to bed at all," said the child anxiously, "for then I may be asleep when mamsie comes, Polly."
"She's afraid she won't wake up," said Percy, laughing. "Oh, there'll be oceans of time before they come, Phronsie."
"What is oceans," asked Phronsie, coming up and looking at him, doubtfully.
"He means mamsie won't get here till afternoon," said Polly, catching her up and kissing her; "then I guess you'll be awake, Phronsie, pet."
So Phronsie allowed herself to be persuaded, at the proper time, to be carried off and inducted into her little nightgown. And when Polly went up to bed, she found the little pin-cushion, with its hieroglyphics, that she had insisted on taking to bed with her, still tightly grasped in the little fat hand.
"She'll roll over and muss it," thought Polly; "and then she'll feel bad in the morning. I guess I'd better lay it on the bureau."
So she drew it carefully away, without awaking the little sleeper, and placed it where she knew Phronsie's eyes would rest on it the first thing in the morning.
It was going on towards the middle of the night when Phronsie, whose exciting dreams of mamsie and the boys wouldn't let her rest quietly, woke up; and in the very first flash she thought of her cushion.
"Why, where—" she said, in the softest little tones, only half awake, "why, Polly, where is it?" and she began to feel all around her pillow to see if it had fallen down there.
But Polly's brown head with its crowd of anticipations and busy plans was away off in dreamland, and she breathed on and on perfectly motionless.
"I guess I better," said Phronsie to herself, now thoroughly awake, and sitting up in bed, "not wake her up. Poor Polly's tired; I can find it myself, I know I can."
So she slipped out of bed, and prowling around on the floor, felt all about for the little cushion.
"'Tisn't here, oh, no, it isn't," she sighed at last, and getting up, she stood still a moment, lost in thought. "Maybe Jane's put it out in the hall," she said, as a bright thought struck her. "I can get it there," and out she pattered over the soft carpet to the table at the end of the long hall, where Jane often placed the children's playthings over night. As she was coming back after her fruitless search, she stopped to peep over the balustrade down the fascinating flight of stairs, now so long and dark. Just then a little faint ray of light shot up from below, and met her eyes.
"Why!" she said in gentle surprise, "they're all down-stairs! I guess they're making something for mamsie—I'm going to see."
So, carefully picking her way over the stairs with her little bare feet, and holding on to the balustrade at every step, she went slowly down, guided by the light, which, as she neared the bottom of the flight, she saw came from the library door.
"Oh, isn't it funny!" and she gave a little happy laugh. "They won't know I'm comin'!" and now the soft little feet went pattering over the thick carpet, until she stood just within the door. There she stopped perfectly still.
Two dark figures, big and powerful, were bending over something that Phronsie couldn't see, between the two big windows. A lantern on the floor flung its rays over them as they were busily occupied; and the firelight from the dying coals made the whole stand out distinctly to the gaze of the motionless little figure.
"Why! what are you doing with my grandpa's things?"
The soft, clear notes fell like a thunderbolt upon the men. With a start they brought themselves up, and stared—only to see a little white-robed figure, with its astonished eyes uplifted with childlike, earnest gaze, as she waited for her answer.
For an instant they were powerless to move; and stood as if frozen to the spot, till Phronsie, moving one step forward, piped forth:
"Naughty men, to touch my dear grandpa's things!"
With a smothered cry one of them started forward with arm uplifted; but the other sprang like a cat and intercepted the blow.
"Stop!" was all he said. A noise above the stairs—a rushing sound through the hall! Something will save Phronsie, for the household is aroused! The two men sprang through the window, having no time to catch the lantern or their tools, as Polly, followed by one and another, rushed in and surrounded the child.
"What!" gasped Polly, and got no further.
"STOP, THIEF!" roared Mr. King, hurrying over the stairs. The children, frightened at the strange noises, began to cry and scream, as they came running through the halls to the spot. Jasper rushed for the men-servants.
And there stood Phronsie, surrounded by the pale group. "Twas two naughty men," she said, lifting her little face with the grieved, astonished look still in the big brown eyes, "and they were touching my grandpa's things, Polly!"
"I should think they were," said Jasper, running over amongst the few scattered tools and the lantern, to the windows, where, on the floor, was a large table cover hastily caught up by the corners, into which a vast variety of silver, jewelry, and quantities of costly articles were gathered ready for flight. "They've broken open your safe, father!" he cried in excitement, "see!"
"And they put up their hand—one man did," went on Phronsie. "And the other said 'Stop!'—oh, Polly, you hurt me!" she cried, as Polly, unable to bear the strain any longer, held her so tightly she could hardly breathe.
"Go on," said Jasper, "how did they look?"
"All black," said the child, pushing back her wavy hair and looking at him, "very all black, Jasper."
"And their faces, Phronsie?" said Mr. King, getting down on his old knees on the floor beside her. "Bless me! somebody else ask her, I can't talk!"
"How did their faces look, Phronsie, dear?" asked Jasper, taking one of the cold hands in his. "Can't you think?"
"Oh!" said Phronsie—and then she gave a funny little laugh, "two big holes, Jasper, that's all they had!"
"She means they were masked," whispered Jasper.
"What did you get up for?" Mrs. Whitney asked. "Dear child, what made you get out of bed?"
"Why, my cushion-pin," said Phronsie looking worried at once. "I couldn't find it, and—"
But just at this, without a bit of warning, Polly tumbled over in a dead faint.
And then it was all confusion again.
And so, on the following afternoon, it turned out that the Peppers, about whose coming there had been so many plans and expectations, just walked in as if they had always lived there. The greater excitement completely swallowed up the less!
WHICH TREATS OF A GOOD MANY MATTERS
"Phooh!" said Joel a few mornings after the emptying of the little brown house into the big one, when he and Van were rehearsing for the fiftieth time all the points of the eventful night, "phooh! if I'd been here they wouldn't have got away, I guess!"
"What would you have done?" asked Van, bristling up at this reflection on their courage, and squaring up to him. "What would you have done, Joel Pepper?"
"I'd a-pitched right into 'em—like—everything!" said Joel valiantly; "and a-caught 'em! Yes, every single one of the Bunglers!"
"The what?" said Van, bursting into a loud laugh.
"The Bunglers," said Joel with a red face. "That's what you said they were, anyway," he added positively.
"I said Burglars," said Van, doubling up with amusement, while Joel stood, a little sturdy figure, regarding him with anything but a sweet countenance.
"Well anyway, I'd a-caught 'em, so there!" he said, as Van at last showed signs of coming out of his fit of laughter, and got up and wiped his eyes.
"How'd you have caught 'em?" asked Van, scornfully surveying the square little country figure before him. "You can't hit any.
"Can't?" said Joel, the black eyes flashing volumes, and coming up in front of Van. "You better believe I can, Van Whitney!"
"Come out in the back yard and try then," said Van hospitably, perfectly delighted at the prospect, and flying alone towards the door. "Come right out and try."
"All right!" said Joel, following sturdily, equally delighted to show his skill.
"There," said Van, taking off his jacket, and flinging it on the grass, while Joel immediately followed suit with his little homespun one. "Now we can begin perfectly splendid! I won't hit hard," he added patronizingly, as both boys stood ready.
"Hit as hard as you've a-mind to," said Joel, "I'm a-going to."
"Oh, you may," said Van politely, "because you're company. All right—now!"
So at it they went. Before very many minutes were over, Van relinquished all ideas of treating his company with extra consideration, and was only thinking how he could possibly hold his own with the valiant little country lad. Oh, if he could only be called to his lessons—anything that would summon him into the house! Just then a window above their heads was suddenly thrown up, and his mamma's voice in natural surprise and distress called quickly: "Children what are you doing? Oh, Van, how could you!"
Both contestants turned around suddenly. Joel looked up steadily. "We're a-hitting, ma'am; he said I couldn't, and so we came out and—"
"Oh, Vanny," said Mrs. Whitney reproachfully, "to treat a little guest in this way!"
"I wanted to," said Joel cheerfully; "twas great fun. Let's begin again, Van!"
"We mustn't," said Van, readily giving up the charming prospect, and beginning to edge quickly towards the house. "Mamma wouldn't like it you know. He hits splendidly, mamma," he added generously, looking up. "He does really."
"And so does Van," cried Joel, his face glowing at the praise. "We'll come out every day," he added slipping into his jacket, and turning enthusiastically back to Van.
"And perhaps he could have pitched into the Burglars," finished Van, ignoring the invitation, and tumbling into his jacket with alarming speed.
"I know I could!" cried Joel, scampering after him into the house. "If I'd only a-been here!"
"Where's Ben?" said Van, bounding into the hall, and flinging himself down on one of the chairs. "Oh dear, I'm so hot! Say, Joe, where do you s'pose Ben is?"
"I don't know," replied Joel, who didn't even puff.
"I saw him a little while ago with master Percy," said Jane, who was going through the hall.
"There now! and they've gone off somewhere," cried Van in extreme irritation, and starting up quickly. "I know they have. Which way did they go, Jane? And how long ago?"
"Oh, I don't know," replied Jane carelessly, "half an hour maybe; and they didn't go nowhere as I see, at least they were talking at the door, and I was going up-stairs."
"Right here?" cried Van, and stamping with his foot to point out the exact place; "at this door, Jane?"
"Yes, yes," said Jane; "at that very door," and then she went into the dining-room to her work.
"Oh dear me!" cried Van, and flying out on the veranda, he began to peer wildly up and down the drive. "And they've gone to some splendid place, I know, and wouldn't tell us. That's just like Percy!" he added vindictively, "he's always stealing away! don't you see 'em, Joel? oh, do come out and look!"
"'Tisn't any use," said Joel coolly, sitting down on the chair Van had just vacated, and swinging his feet comfortably; "they're miles away if they've been gone half an hour. I'm goin' up-stairs," and he sprang up, and energetically pranced to the stairs.
"They aren't up-stairs!" screamed Van, in scorn, bounding into the hall. "Don't go; I know that they've gone down to the museum!"
"The what?" exclaimed Joel, nearly at the top, peering over the railing. "What's that you said—what is it?"
"A museum," shouted Van, "and it's a perfectly elegant place, Joel Pepper, and Percy knows I like to go; and now he's taken Ben off; and he'll show him all the things! and they'll all be old when I take him—and—and—oh! I hope the snakes will bite him!" he added, trying to think of something bad enough.
"Do they have snakes there?" asked Joel, staring.
"Yes, they do," snapped out Van. "They have everything!"
"Well, they shan't bite Ben!" cried Joel in terror. "Oh! do you suppose they will?" and he turned right straight around on the stairs, and looked at Van.
"No," said Van, "they won't bite—what's the matter, Joe?"
"Oh, they may," said Joel, his face working, and screwing both fists into his eyes; at last he burst right out into a torrent of sobs. "Oh, don't let 'em Van—don't!"
"Why, they can't," said Van in an emphatic voice, running up the stairs to Joel's side, frightened to death at his tears.
Then he began to shake his jacket sleeve violently to bring him back to reason, "Wait Joe! oh, do stop! oh, dear, what shall I do! I tell you, they can't bite," he screamed as loud as he could into his ear.
"You said—you—hoped—they—would," said Joel's voice in smothered tones.
"Well, they won't anyway," said Van decidedly. "Cause they're all stuffed—so there now!"
"Ain't they alive—nor anythin'?" asked Joel, bringing one black eye into sight from behind his chubby hands.
"No," said Van, "they're just as dead as anything, Joel Pepper—been dead years! and there's old crabs there too, old dead crabs—and they're just lovely! Oh, such a lots of eggs as they've got! And there are shells and bugs and stones—and an awful old crocodile, and—" "Oh, dear!" sighed Joel, perfectly overcome at such a vision, and sitting down on the stairs to think. "Well, mamsie'll know where Ben is," he said, springing up. "And then I tell you Van, we'll just tag 'em!"
"So she will," cried Van. "Why didn't we think of that before? I wanted to think."
"I did," said Joel. "That was where I was goin'."
Without any more ado they rushed into Mrs. Pepper's big, sunny room, there to see, seated at the square table between the two large windows, the two lost ones bending over what seemed to be an object of the greatest importance, for Polly was hanging over Ben's shoulder with intense pride and delight, which she couldn't possibly conceal, and Davie was crowded as near as he could get to Percy's elbow.
Phronsie and little Dick were perched comfortably on the corner of the table, surveying the whole scene in quiet rapture; and Mrs. Pepper with her big mending basket, was ensconced over by the deep window seat just on the other side of the room, underneath Cherry's cage, and looking up between quick energetic stitches, over at the busy group, with the most placid expression on her face.
"Oh!—what you doin'?" cried Joel, flying up to them. "Let us see, do Ben!"
"What is it?" exclaimed Van, squeezing in between Percy and Ben.
"Don't—" began Percy. "There, see, you've knocked his elbow and spoilt it!"
"Oh no, he hasn't," said Ben, putting down his pencil, and taking up a piece of rubber. "There, see it all comes out—as good as ever."
"Isn't it just elegant?" said Percy in the most pleased tone, and wriggling his toes under the table to express his satisfaction.
"Yes," said Van, craning his neck to get a better view of the picture, now nearly completed, "It's perfectly splendid. How'd you do it, Ben?"
"I don't know," replied Ben with a smile, carefully shading in a few last touches. "It just drew itself."
"Tisn't anything to what he can do," said Polly, standing up as tall as she could, and beaming at Ben, "He used to draw most beautiful at home."
"Better than this?" asked Van, with great respect and taking up the picture, after some demur on Percy's part, and examining it critically. "I don't believe it, Polly."
"Phooh; he did!" exclaimed Joel, looking over his shoulder at a wonderful view of a dog in an extremely excited state of mind running down an interminable hill to bark at a locomotive and train of cars whizzing along a curve in the foreground. "Lots better'n that! Ben can do anything!" he added, in an utterly convincing way.
"Now give it back," cried Percy, holding out his hand in alarm. "I'm going to ask mamma to have it framed; and then I'm going to hang it right over my bed," he finished, as Van reluctantly gave up the treasure.
"Did you draw all the time in the little brown house?" asked Van, lost in thought. "How I wish I'd been there!"
"Dear, no!" cried Polly with a little skip, turning away to laugh. "He didn't have hardly any time, and—"
"Why not?" asked Percy.
"Cause there was things to do," said Polly. "But sometimes when it rained, and he couldn't go out and work, and there wasn't anything to do in the house—then we'd have—oh!" and she drew a long breath at the memory, "such a time, you can't think!"
"Didn't you wish it would always rain?" asked Van, still gazing at the picture.
"Dear, no!" began Polly.
"I didn't," broke in Joel, in horror. "I wouldn't a-had it rain for anything!—only once in a while," he added, as he thought of the good times that Polly had spoken of.
"'Twas nice outdoors," said little Davie, reflectively; "and nice inside, too." And then he glanced over to his mother, who gave him a smile in return. "And 'twas nice always."
"Well," said Van, returning to the picture, "I do wish you'd tell me how to draw, Ben. I can't do anything but flowers," he said in a discouraged way.
"Flowers aren't anything," said Percy, pleasantly. "That's girls' work; but dogs and horses and cars—those are just good!"
"Will you, Ben?" asked Van, looking down into the big blue eyes, so kindly turned up to his.
"Yes, indeed I will," cried Ben, "that is, all I know; 'tisn't much, but everything I can, I'll tell you."
"Then I can learn, can't I?" cried Van joyfully.
"Oh, tell me too, Ben," cried Percy, "will you? I want to learn too."
"And me!" cried Dick, bending forward, nearly upsetting Phronsie as he did so. "Yes, say I may, Ben, do!"
"You're too little," began Percy. But Ben nodded his head at Dick, which caused him to clap his hands and return to his original position, satisfied.
"Well, I guess we're going to, too," said Joel. "Dave an' me; there isn't anybody goin' to learn without us."
"Of course not," said Polly, "Ben wouldn't leave you out, Joey."
Phronsie sat quite still all this time, on the corner of the table, her feet tucked up under her, and her hands clasped in her lap, and never said a word. But Ben looking up, saw the most grieved expression settling on her face, as the large eyes were fixed in wonder on the faces before her.
"And there's my pet," he cried in enthusiasm, and reaching over the table, he caught hold of one of the little fat hands. "Why we couldn't think of getting along without her! She shall learn to draw—she shall!"
"Really, Bensie?" said Phronsie, the sunlight breaking all over the gloomy little visage, and setting the brown eyes to dancing. "Real, true, splendid pictures?"
"Yes, the splendidest," said Ben, "the very splendidest pictures, Phronsie Pepper, you ever saw!"
"Oh!" cried Phronsie; and before any one knew what she was about, she tripped right into the middle of the table, over the papers and everything, and gave a happy little whirl!
"Dear me, Phronsie!" cried Polly catching her up and hugging her; "you mustn't dance on the table."
"I'm going to learn," said Phronsie, coming out of Polly's embrace, "to draw whole pictures, all alone by myself—Ben said so!"
"I know it," said Polly, "and then you shall draw one for mamsie—you shall!"
"I will," said Phronsie, dreadfully excited; "I'll draw her a cow, and two chickens, Polly, just like Grandma Bascom's!"
"Yes," whispered Polly, "but don't you tell her yet till you get it done, Phronsie."
"I won't," said Phronsie in the loudest of tones—but putting her mouth close to Polly's ear. "And then she'll be so s'prised, Polly! won't she?"
Just then came Jasper's voice at the door. "Can I come in?"
"Oh, do, Jappy," cried Polly, rushing along with Phronsie in her arms to open the door. "We're so glad you've got home!"
"So am I," said Jasper, coming in, his face flushed and his eyes sparkling; "I thought father never would be through downtown, Polly!"
"We're going to learn to draw," said Percy, over by the table, who wouldn't on any account leave his seat by Ben, though he was awfully tired of sitting still so long, for fear somebody else would hop into it. "Ben's going to teach us."
"Yes, he is," put in Van, bounding up to Jasper and pulling at all the buttons on his jacket he could reach, to command attention.
"And us," said Joel, coming up too. "You forgot us, Van."
"The whole of us—every single one in this room," said Van decidedly, "all except Mrs. Pepper."
"Hulloa!" said Jasper, "that is a class! Well, Professor Ben, you've got to teach me then, for I'm coming too."
"You?" said Ben, turning around his chair, and looking at him; "I can't teach you anything, Jappy. You know everything already."
"Let him come, anyway," said Polly, hopping up and down.
"Oh, I'm coming, Professor," laughed Jasper. "Never you fear, Polly; I'll be on hand when the rest of the class comes in!"
"And Van," said Mrs. Pepper, pausing a minute in her work, and smiling over at him in a lull in the chatter—"I think flowers are most beautiful!" and she pointed to a little framed picture on the mantel, of the bunch of buttercups and one huge rose that Van had with infinite patience drawn, and then colored to suit his fancy.
"Do you?" cried Van, perfectly delighted; and leaving the group he rushed up to her side. "Do you really think they're nice, Mrs. Pepper?"
"Of course I do," said Mrs. Pepper briskly, and beaming on him; "I think everything of them, and I shall keep them as long as I live, Van!"
"Well, then," said Van, very much pleased, "I shall paint you ever so many more—just as many as you want!"
"Do!" said Mrs. Pepper, taking up her work again. "And I'll hang them every one up."
"Yes, I will," said Van; "and I'll go right to work on one to-morrow. What you mending our jackets for?" he asked abruptly as a familiar hole caught his attention.
"Because they're torn," said Mrs. Pepper cheerfully, "an' they won't mend themselves."
"Why don't you let Jane?" he persisted. "She always does them."
"Jane's got enough to do," replied Mrs. Pepper, smiling away as hard as she could, "and I haven't, so I'm going to look around and pick up something to keep my hands out of mischief as much as I can, while I'm here."
"Do you ever get into mischief?" asked little Dick, coming up and looking into Mrs. Pepper's face wonderingly. "Why, you're a big woman!"
"Dear me, yes!" said Mrs. Pepper. "The bigger you are, the more mischief you can get into. You'll find that out, Dickey."
"And then do you have to stand in a corner?" asked Dick, determined to find out just what were the consequences, and reverting to his most dreaded punishment.
"No," said Mrs. Pepper laughing. "Corners are for little folks; but when people who know better, do wrong, there aren't any corners they can creep into, or they'd get into them pretty quick!"
"I wish," said little Dick, "you'd let me get into your lap. That would be a nice corner!"
"Do, mamsie," said Polly, coming up, "that's just the way I used to feel; and I'll finish the mending."
So Mrs. Pepper put down her work, and moved the big basket for little Dick to clamber up, when he laid his head contentedly back in her motherly arms with a sigh of happiness. Phronsie regarded him with a very grave expression. At last she drew near: "I'm tired; do, mamsie, take me!"
"So mamsie will," said Mrs. Pepper, opening her arms, when Phronsie immediately crawled up into their protecting shelter, with a happy little crow.
"Oh, now, tell us a story, Mrs. Pepper," cried Van; "please, please do!"
"No, no;" exclaimed Percy, scuttling out of his chair, and coming up, "let's talk of the little brown house. Do tell us what you used to do there—that's best."
"So 'tis!" cried Van; "ALL the nice times you used to have in it! Wait just a minute, do." And he ran back for a cricket which he placed at Mrs. Pepper's feet; and then sitting down on it, he leaned on her comfortable lap, in order to hear better.
"Wait for me too, till I get a chair," called Percy, starting. "Don't begin till I get there."
"Here, let me, Percy," said Ben; and he drew forward a big easy-chair that the boy was tugging at with all his might.
"Now I'm ready, too," said Polly, setting small finishing stitches quickly with a merry little flourish, and drawing her chair nearer her mother's as she spoke.
"Now begin, please," said Van, "all the nice times you know."
"She couldn't tell all the nice times if she had ten years to tell them in, could she, Polly?" said Jasper.
"Well, in the first place then," said Mrs. Pepper, clearing her throat, "the little brown house had got to be, you know, so we made up our minds to make it just the nicest brown house that ever was!"
"And it was!" declared Jasper, with an emphatic ring to his voice. "The very nicest place in the whole world!"
"Oh dear," broke in Van enviously; "Jappy's always said so. I wish we'd been there, too!"
"We didn't want anybody but Jappy," said Joel not very politely.
"Oh Joey, for shame!" cried Polly.
"Jappy used to bake," cried little Davie; "an' we all made pies; an' then we sat round an' ate 'em, an' then told stories."
"Oh what fun!" cried Percy. "Do tell us!"
So the five little Peppers and Jasper flew off into reminiscences and accounts of the funny doings, and Mrs. Pepper joined in heartily till the room got very merry with the glee and enthusiasm called forth; so much so, that nobody heard Mrs. Whitney knock gently at the door, and nobody answering, she was obliged to come in by herself.
"Well, well," she cried, merrily, looking at the swarm of little ones around Mrs. Pepper and the big chair. "You are having a nice time! May I come and listen?"
"Oh, if you will, sister," cried Jasper, springing off from his arm of the chair, while Ben flew from the other side, to hurry and get her a chair.
Percy and Van rushed too, knocking over so many things that they didn't help much; and little Dick poked his head out from Mrs. Pepper's arms when he saw his mamma sitting down to stay and began to scramble down to get into her lap.
"There now," said Mrs. Whitney, smiling over at Mrs. Pepper, who was smiling at her. "You have your baby, and I have mine! Now children, what's it all about? What has Mrs. Pepper been telling you?"
"Oh, the little brown house," cried Dicky, his cheeks all a-flame. "The dearest little house mamma! I wish I could live in one!
"Twouldn't be the same without the Peppers in it," said Jasper. "Not a bit of it!"
"And they had such perfectly elegant times," cried Percy, enviously, drawing up to her side. "Oh, you can't think, mamma!"
"Well now," said his mamma, "do go on, and let me hear some of the nice times."
So away they launched again, and Mrs. Whitney was soon enjoying it as hugely as the children, when a heavy step sounded in the middle of the room, and a voice spoke in such a tone that everybody skipped.
"Well, I should like to know what all this means! I've been all over the house, and not a trace of anybody could I find."
"Oh father!" cried Mrs. Whitney. "Van, dear, get up and get grandpapa a chair."
"No, no!" said the old gentleman, waving him off impatiently. "I'm not going to stay; I must go and lie down. My head is in a bad condition to-day; very bad indeed," he added.
"Oh!" said Phronsie, popping up her head and looking at him. "I must get right down."
"What's the matter, Phronsie?" asked Mrs. Pepper, trying to hold her back.
"Oh, but I must," said Phronsie, energetically wriggling. "My poor sick man wants me, he does." And flying out of her mother's arms, she ran up to Mr. King, and standing on tiptoe, said softly, "I'll rub your head, grandpa dear, poor sick man; yes I will."
"And you're the best child," cried the old gentleman, catching her up and marching over to the other side of the room where there was a lounging chair. "There now, you and I, Phronsie, will stay by ourselves. Then my head will feel better."
And he sat down and drew her into his arms.
"Does it ache very bad?" said Phronsie, in a soft little voice. Then reaching up she began to pat and smooth it gently with one little hand, "Very bad, dear grandpa?"
"It won't," said the old gentleman, "if you only keep on taking care of it, little Phronsie."
"Then," said the child, perfectly delighted, "I'm going to take all care of you, grandpa, always!"
"So you shall, so you shall!" cried Mr. King, no less delighted than she was. "Mrs. Pepper!"
"Sir?" said Mrs. Pepper, trying to answer, which she couldn't do very well surrounded as she was by the crowd of little chatterers. "Yes, Sir; excuse me what is it, sir?"
"We've got to come to an understanding about this thing," said the old gentleman, "and I can't talk much to-day, because my headache won't allow it."
Here the worried look came into Phronsie's face again, and she began to try to smooth his head with both little hands.
"And so I must say it all in as few words as possible," he continued.
"What is it, sir?" again asked Mrs. Pepper, wonderingly.
"Well, the fact is, I've got to have somebody who will keep this house. Now Marian, not a word!" as he saw symptoms of Mrs. Whitney's joining in the conversation. "You've been good; just as good as can be under the circumstances; but Mason will be home in the fall, and then I suppose you'll have to go with him. Now I," said the old gentleman, forgetting all about his head, and straightening himself up suddenly in the chair, "am going to get things into shape, so that the house will be kept for all of us; so that we can come or go. And how can I do it better than to have the Peppers—you, Mrs. Pepper, and all your children—come here and live, and—"
"Oh, father!" cried Jasper, rushing up to him; and flinging his arms around his neck, he gave him such a hug as he hadn't received for many a day.
"Goodness, Jasper!" cried his father, feeling of his throat. "How can you express your feelings so violently! And, besides, you interrupt."
"Beg pardon, sir," said Jasper, swallowing his excitement, and trying to control his eagerness.
"Do you say yes, Mrs. Pepper?" queried the old gentleman impatiently. "I must get this thing fixed up to-day. I'm really too ill to be worried ma'am."
"Why sir," stammered Mrs. Pepper, "I don't know what to say. I couldn't think of imposing all my children on you, and—"
"Imposing! Who's talking of imposing!" said Mr. King in a loud key. "I want my house kept; will you live here and keep it? That is the question."
"But sir," began Mrs. Pepper again, "you don't think—"
"I do think; I tell you, ma'am, I do think," snapped the old gentleman. "It's just because I have thought that I've made up my mind. Will you do it Mrs. Pepper?"
"What are you goin' to do, mamsie?" asked Joel quickly.
"I don't know as I'm going to do anything yet," said poor Mrs. Pepper, who was almost stunned.
"To come here and live!" cried Jasper, unable to keep still any longer—and springing to the children. "Don't you want to, Joe?"
"To live!" screamed Joel. "Oh whickety, yes! Do ma, do come here and live—do!"
"To live?" echoed Phronsie, over in the old gentleman's lap. "In this be-yew-ti-ful place? Oh, oh!"
"Oh, mamsie!" that was all Polly could say.
And even Ben had his arms around his mother's neck, whispering "Do" into her ear, while little Davie got into her lap and teased her with all his might.
"What shall I do!" cried the poor woman. "Did ever anybody see the like?"
"It's the very best thing you could possibly do," cried the old gentleman. "Don't you see it's for the children's advantage? They'll get such educations, Mrs. Pepper, as you want for them. And it accommodates me immensely. What obstacle can there be to it?"
"If I was only sure 'twas best?" said Mrs. Pepper doubtfully.
"Oh, dear Mrs. Pepper," said Mrs. Whitney, laying her hand on hers. "Can you doubt it?"
"Then," said Mr. King, getting up, but still holding on to Phronsie, "we'll consider it settled. This is your home, children," he said, waving his hand at the five little Peppers in a bunch. And having thus summarily disposed of the whole business, he marched out with Phronsie on his shoulder.
POLLY'S DISMAL MORNING
Everything had gone wrong with Polly that day. It began with her boots.
Of all things in the world that tried Polly's patience most were the troublesome little black buttons that originally adorned those useful parts of her clothing, and that were fondly supposed to be there when needed. But they never were. The little black things seemed to be invested with a special spite, for one by one they would hop off on the slightest provocation, and go rolling over the floor, just when she was in her most terrible hurry, compelling her to fly for needle and thread on the instant. For one thing Mrs. Pepper was very strict about—and that was, Polly should do nothing else till the buttons were all on again, and the boots buttoned up firm and snug.
"Oh dear!" said Polly, sitting down on the floor, and pulling on her stockings. "There now, see that hateful old shoe, mamsie!" And she thrust out one foot in dismay.
"What's the matter with it?" said Mrs. Pepper straightening the things on the bureau. "You haven't worn it out already, Polly?"
"Oh no," said Polly, with a little laugh. "I hope not yet, but it's these dreadful hateful old buttons!" And she twitched the boot off from her foot with such an impatient little pull, that three or four more went flying under the bed. "There now—there's a lot more. I don't care! I wish they'd all go; they might as well!" she cried, tossing that boot on the floor in intense scorn, while she investigated the state of the other one.
"Are they all off?" asked Phronsie, pulling herself up out of a little heap in the middle of the bed, and leaning over the side, where she viewed Polly sorrowfully. "Every one, Polly?"
"No," said Polly, "but I wish they were, mean old things; when I was going down to play a duet with Jasper! We should have had a good long time before breakfast. Oh, mayn't I go just once, mamsie? Nobody'll see me if I tuck my foot under the piano; and I can sew 'em on afterwards—there'll be plenty of time. Do, just once, mamsie!"
"No," said Mrs. Pepper firmly, "there isn't any time but now. And piano playing isn't very nice when you've got to stick your toes under it to keep your shoes on."
"Well then," grumbled Polly, hopping around in her stocking-feet, "where is the work-basket, mamsie? Oh—here it is on the window-seat." A rattle of spools, scissors and necessary utensils showed plainly that Polly had found it, followed by a jumble of words and despairing ejaculations as she groped hurriedly under chairs and tables to collect the scattered contents.
When she got back with a very red face, she found Phronsie, who had crawled out of bed, sitting down on the floor in her little nightgown and examining the boot with profound interest.
"I can sew 'em, Polly," she said, holding up her hand for the big needle that Polly was trying to thread—"I can now truly; let me, Polly, do!"
"Dear no!" said Polly with a little laugh, beginning to be very much ashamed. "What could you do with your little mites of hands pulling this big thread through that old leather? There, scamper into bed again; you'll catch cold out here.
"Tisn't very cold," said Phronsie, tucking up her toes under the night-gown, but Polly hurried her into bed, where she curled herself up under the clothes, watching her make a big knot. But the knot didn't stay; for when Polly drew up the long thread triumphantly to the end—out it flew, and away the button hopped again as if glad to be released. And then the thread kinked horribly, and got all twisted up in disagreeable little snarls that took all Polly's patience to unravel.
"It's because you're in such a hurry," said Mrs. Pepper, who was getting Phronsie's clothes. And coming over across the room she got down on one knee, and looked over Polly's shoulder. "There now, let mother see what's the matter."
"Oh dear," said Polly, resigning the needle with a big sigh, and leaning back to take a good stretch, followed by Phronsie's sympathizing eyes; "they never'll be on! And there goes the first bell!" as the loud sounds under Jane's vigorous ringing pealed up over the stairs. "There won't be time anyway, now! I wish there wasn't such a thing as shoes in the world!" And she gave a flounce and sat up straight in front of her mother.
"Polly!" said Mrs. Pepper sternly, deftly fastening the little buttons tightly into place with quick, firm stitches, "better be glad you've got them to sew at all. There now, here they are. Those won't come off in a hurry!"
"Oh, mamsie!" cried Polly, ignoring for a moment the delights of the finished shoe to fling her arms around her mother's neck and give her a good hug. "You're just the splendidest, goodest mamsie in all the world. And I'm a hateful, cross old bear, so I am!" she cried remorsefully, buttoning herself into her boots. Which done, she flew at the rest of her preparations and tried to make up for lost time.
But 'twas all of no use. The day seemed to be always just racing ahead of her, and turning a corner, before she could catch up to it, and Ben and the other boys only caught dissolving views of her as she flitted through halls or over stairs.
"Where's Polly?" said Percy at last, coming with great dissatisfaction in his voice to the library door. "We've called her, I guess a million times, and she won't hurry."
"What do you want to have her do?" asked Jasper, looking up from the sofa where he had flung himself with a book.
"Why, she said she'd make Van and me our sails you know," said Percy, holding up a rather forlorn looking specimen of a boat, but which the boys had carved with the greatest enthusiasm, "and we want her now."
"Can't you let her alone till she's ready to come?" said Jasper quickly. "You're always teasing her to do something," he added.
"I didn't tease," said Percy indignantly, coming up to the sofa, boat in hand, to enforce his words. "She said she'd love to do 'em, so there, Jasper King!"
"Coming! coming!" sang Polly over the stairs, and bobbing into the library, "Oh—here you are, Percy! I couldn't come before; mamsie wanted me. Now, says I, for the sails." And she began to flap out a long white piece of cotton cloth on the table to trim into just the desired shape.
"That isn't the way," said Percy, crowding up, the brightness that had flashed over his face at Polly's appearance beginning to fade. "Hoh! those won't be good for anything—those ain't sails."
"I haven't finished," said Polly, snipping away vigorously, and longing to get back to mamsie. "Wait till they're done; then they'll be good—as good as can be!"
"And it's bad enough to have to make them," put in Jasper, flinging aside his book and rolling over to watch them, "without having to be found fault with every second, Percy."
"They're too big," said Percy, surveying them critically, and then looking at his boat.
"Oh, that corner's coming off," cried Polly cheerfully, giving it a sharp cut that sent it flying on the floor. "And they won't be too big when they're done, Percy, all hemmed and everything. There," as she held one up for inspection, "that's just the way I used to make Ben's and mine, when we sailed boats."
"Is it?" asked Percy, looking with more respect at the piece of cloth Polly was waving alluringly before him. "Just exactly like it, Polly?"
"Yes," said Polly, laying it down again for a pattern—"oh, how does this go—oh—that's it, there—yes, this is just exactly like Bensie's and mine—that was when I was ever so little; and then I used to make Joel's and Davie's afterwards and—"
"And were theirs just like this?" asked Percy, laying his hand on the sail she had finished cutting out.
"Pre-cisely," said Polly, with a pin in her mouth. "Just as like as two peas, Percy Whitney."
"Then I like them," cried Percy, veering round and regarding them with great satisfaction—as Van bounded in with a torrent of complaints, and great disappointment in every line of his face.
"Oh now, that's too bad!" he cried, seeing Polly fold up the remaining bits of cloth, and pick up the scraps on the floor. "And you've gone and let her cut out every one of 'em, and never told me a word! You're a mean, old hateful thing, Percy Whitney!"
"Oh don't!" said Polly, on her knees on the floor.
"I forgot—" began Percy, "and she cut 'em so quick—and—"
"And I've been waiting," said Van, in a loud wrathful key, "and waiting—and waiting!"
"Never mind, Van," said Jasper consolingly, getting off from the sofa and coming up to the table.
"They're done and done beautifully, aren't they?" he said, holding up one.
But this only proved fresh fuel for the fire of Van's indignation.
"And you shan't have 'em, so!" he cried, making a lunge at the one on the table, "for I made most of the boat, there!"
"Oh no, you didn't!" cried Percy in the greatest alarm, hanging on to the boat in his hand. "I cut—all the keel—and the bow—and—"
"Oh dear!" said Polly, in extreme dismay, looking at Jasper. "Come, I'll tell you what I'll do, boys."
"What?" said Van, cooling off a little, and allowing Percy to edge into a corner with the beloved boat and one sail. "What will you, Polly?"
"I'll make you another pair of sails," said Polly groaning within herself as she thought of the wasted minutes, "and then you can see me cut 'em, Van."
"Will you really," he said, delight coming all over his flushed face.
"Yes, I will," cried Polly, "wait a minute till I get some more cloth." And she started for the door.
"Oh now, that's too bad!" said Jasper. "To have to cut more of those tiresome old things! Van, let her off!"
"Oh no, I won't! I won't!" he cried in the greatest alarm, running up to her as she stood by the door. "You did say so, Polly! You know you did!"
"Of course I did, Vanny," said Polly, smiling down into his eager face, "and we'll have a splendid pair in just—one—minute!" she sang.
And so the sails were cut out, and the hems turned down and basted, and tucked away into Polly's little work-basket ready for the sewing on the morrow. And then Mr. King came in and took Jasper off with him; and the two Whitney boys went up to mamma for a story; and Polly sat down in mamsie's room to tackle her French exercise.
POLLY'S BIG BUNDLE
The room was very quiet; but presently Phronsie strayed in, and seeing Polly studying, climbed up in a chair by the window to watch the birds hop over the veranda and pick up worms in the grass beside the carriage drive. And then came Mrs. Pepper with the big mending basket, and ensconced herself opposite by the table; and nothing was to be heard but the "tick, tick" of the clock, and an occasional dropping of a spool of thread, or scissors, from the busy hands flying in and out among the stockings.
All of a sudden there was a great rustling in Cherry's cage that swung in the big window on the other side of the room. And then he set up a loud and angry chirping, flying up and down, and opening his mouth as if he wanted to express his mind, but couldn't, and otherwise acting in a very strange and unaccountable manner.
"Dear me!" said Mrs. Pepper, "what's that?"
"It's Cherry," said Polly, lifting up her head from "Fasquelle," "and—oh, dear me!" and flinging down the pile of books in her lap on a chair, she rushed across the room and flew up to the cage and began to wildly gesticulate and explain and shower down on him every endearing name she could think of.
"What is the matter?" asked her mother, turning around in her chair in perfect astonishment. "What upon earth, Polly!"
"How could I!" cried Polly, in accents of despair, not heeding her mother's question. "Oh, mamsie, will he die, do you think?"
"I guess not," said Mrs. Pepper, laying down her work and coming up to the cage, while Phronsie scrambled off from her chair and hurried to the scene. "Why, he does act queer, don't he? P'raps he's been eating too much?"
"Eating!" said Polly, "oh mamsie, he hasn't had anything." And she pointed with shame and remorse to the seed-cup with only a few dried husks in the very bottom.
"Oh, Polly," began Mrs. Pepper; but seeing the look on her face, she changed her tone for one more cheerful. "Well, hurry and get him some now; he'll be all right, poor little thing, in a minute. There, there," she said, nodding persuasively at the cage, "you pretty creature you! so you sha'n't be starved."
At the word "starved," Polly winced as though a pin had been pointed at her.
"There isn't any, mamsie, in the house," she stammered; "he had the last yesterday."
"And you forgot him to-day?" asked Mrs. Pepper, with a look in her black eyes Polly didn't like.
"Yes'm," said poor Polly in a low voice.
"Well, he must have something right away," said Mrs. Pepper, decidedly. "That's certain."
"I'll run right down to Fletcher's and get it," cried Polly.
"Twon't take me but a minute, mamsie; Jasper's gone, and Thomas, too, so I've got to go," she added, as she saw her mother hesitate.
"If you could wait till Ben gets home," said Mrs. Pepper, slowly. "I'm most afraid it will rain, Polly."
"Oh, no, mamsie," cried Polly, feeling as if she could fly to the ends of the earth to atone, and longing beside for the brisk walk down town. Going up to the window she pointed triumphantly to the little bit of blue sky still visible. "There, now, see, it can't rain yet awhile."
"Well," said Mrs. Pepper, while Phronsie, standing in a chair with her face pressed close to the cage, was telling Cherry through the bars "not to be hungry, please don't!" which he didn't seem to mind in the least, but went on screaming harder than ever! "And besides, 'tisn't much use to wait for Ben. Nobody knows where he'll get shoes to fit himself and Joe and Davie, in one afternoon! But be sure, Polly, to hurry, for it's getting late, and I shall be worried about you.
"Oh, mamsie," said Polly, turning back just a minute, "I know the way to Fletcher's just as easy as anything. I couldn't get lost."
"I know you do," said Mrs. Pepper, "but it'll be dark early on account of the shower. Well," she said, pulling out her well-worn purse from her pocket, "if it does sprinkle, you get into a car, Polly, remember."
"Oh, yes, I will," she cried, taking the purse.
"And there's ten cents for your bird seed in that pocket," said Mrs. Pepper, pointing to a coin racing away into a corner by itself.
"Yes'm," said Polly, wild to be off.
"And there's a five-cent piece in that one for you to ride up with," said her mother, tying up the purse carefully. "Remember, for you to ride up with. Well, I guess you better ride up anyway, Polly, come to think, and then you'll get home all the quicker."
"Where you going?" asked Phronsie, who on seeing the purse knew there was some expedition on foot, and beginning to clamber down out of the chair. "Oh, I want to go too, I do. Take me, Polly!"
"Oh, no. Pet, I can't," cried Polly, "I've got to hurry like everything!"
"I can hurry too," cried Phronsie, drawing her small figure to its utmost height, "oh, so fast, Polly!"
"And it's ever so far," cried Polly, in despair, as she saw the small under lip of the child begin to quiver. "Oh, dear me, mamsie, what shall I do!"
"Run right along," said Mrs. Pepper, briskly. "Now, Phronsie, you and I ought to take care of Cherry, poor thing."
At this Phronsie turned and wiped away two big tears, while she gazed up at the cage in extreme commiseration.
"I guess I'll give him a piece of bread," said Mrs. Pepper to herself. At this word "bread," Polly, who was half way down the hall, came running back.
"Oh, mamsie, don't," she said. "It made him sick before, don't you know it did—so fat and stuffy."
"Well, hurry along then," said Mrs. Pepper, and Polly was off.
Over the ground she sped, only intent on reaching the bird store, her speed heightened by the dark and rolling bank of cloud that seemed to shut right down suddenly over her and envelop her warningly.
"It's good I've got the money to ride up with," she thought to herself, hurrying along through the busy streets, filled now with anxious crowds homeward rushing to avoid the threatening shower. "Well, here I am," she said with a sigh of relief, as she at last reached Mr. Fletcher's big bird store.
Here she steadily resisted all temptations to stop and look at the new arrivals of birds, and to feed the carrier-pigeons who seemed to be expecting her, and who turned their soft eyes up at her reproachfully when she failed to pay her respects to them. Even the cunning blandishments of a very attractive monkey that always had entertained the children on their numerous visits, failed to interest her now. Mamsie would be worrying, she knew; and besides, the sight of so many birds eating their suppers out of generously full seed-cups, only filled her heart with remorse as she thought of poor Cherry and his empty one.
So she put down her ten cents silently on the counter, and took up the little package of seed, and went out.
But what a change! The cloud that had seemed but a cloud when she went in, was now fast descending in big ominous sprinkles that told of a heavy shower to follow. Quick and fast they came, making everybody fly to the nearest shelter.
"I don't care," said Polly to herself, holding fast her little package. "I'll run and get in the car—then I'll be all right."
So she went on with nimble footsteps, dodging the crowd, and soon came to the corner. A car was just in sight—that was fine! Polly put her hand in her pocket for her purse, to have it all ready—but as quickly drew it out again and stared wildly at the car, which she allowed to pass by. Her pocket was empty!
"Oh, dear," she said to herself, as a sudden gust of wind blew around the corner, and warned her to move on, "now what shall I do! Well, I must hurry. Nothing for it but to run now!"
And secretly glad at the chance for a good hearty run along the hard pavements, a thing she had been longing to do ever since she came to the city, Polly gathered her bundle of seed up under her arm, and set out for a jolly race. She was enjoying it hugely, when—a sudden turn of the corner brought her up against a gentleman, who, having his umbrella down to protect his face, hadn't seen her till it was too late.
Polly never could tell how it was done; but the first thing she knew she was being helped up from the wet, slippery pavement by a kind hand; and a gentleman's voice said in the deepest concern:
"I beg your pardon; it was extremely careless in me."
"It's no matter," said Polly, hopping up with a little laugh, and straightening her hat. "Only—" and she began to look for her parcel that had been sent spinning.
"What is it?" said the gentleman, bending down and beginning to explore, too, in the darkness.
"My bundle," began Polly. "Oh, dear!"
No need to ask for it now! There lay the paper wet and torn, down at their feet. The seed lay all over the pavement, scattered far and wide even out to the puddles in the street. And not a cent of money to get any more with! The rain that was falling around them as they stood there sent with the sound of every drop such a flood of misery into Polly's heart!