"That was good."
Phronsie smiled radiantly. "Wasn't it, Grandpapa!" she cried, in delight. "And I want her to stay. May she? Oh, may she? She's my own little girl."
"We'll see about it," said old Mr. King, with a thought of the long welts on the thin arms, and the furious old woman.
"What's that noise?" asked Phronsie, suddenly lifting her head.
"Oh, a bird, maybe," said the old gentleman, carelessly looking up to the vines swinging around the veranda. "There, lay your head down again, child."
"It didn't sound like a bird, Grandpapa. I thought some one was crying." Yet she put her yellow head obediently down, and didn't lift it again till Mother Fisher stood by the side of old Mr. King's chair.
"Well, is the conference over?" he asked.
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper. Her lips had a little white line around them, too, like that on Polly's mouth, and the black eyes had a strange expression.
Phronsie popped her head up like a bird out of its nest, and piped out:
"Oh, please, Mamsie, may she stay?"
"Yes," said Mother Fisher, "she is going to stay, Phronsie."
"Oh, my goodness me!" breathed old Mr. King.
Phronsie slipped out of his arms and began to dance, clapping her hands.
"I'm going to play with her now, but I must get Clorinda first," she cried excitedly.
"See here, Phronsie," Mother Fisher called, as she was flying off, "you must not play with the little girl yet."
Phronsie stood quite still.
"Come here to mother." Mrs. Fisher opened her arms and Phronsie scuttled into them like a little rabbit. Mrs. Pepper held her so closely that Phronsie looked up quickly.
"Why, you are hurting me like Grandpapa, Mamsie."
"Oh, my child!" Mother Fisher seemed to forget herself, as she bowed her head over Phronsie's yellow hair.
"What is the matter, Mamsie?" asked Phronsie. "I wish I could see your face," and she wriggled violently.
"Nothing is the matter now," said Mamsie. "There, child, now I'll tell you. If the little girl stays here, she——"
"She's my little girl," interrupted Phronsie.
"Well, if she stays here, she must be washed and have on clean clothes. So Sarah has taken her, and is going to fix her all up nice."
"Oh—oh!" cried Phronsie, in a transport, "and can she have some of Polly's clothes, Mamsie?"
"Yes, I guess so. Anyway, we will fix her up all nicely."
"And may she stay here for ever and ever," cried Phronsie, "and not go back to that un-nice old lady? Please, Mamsie, don't let her go back," she pleaded.
Over the yellow hair the old gentleman had found out and communicated several things back and forth. One was, "I don't think she is the child's own grandmother." "Mr. Cabot can investigate," and so on.
"What are you whispering about?" at last asked Phronsie.
"Nothing that you should know, dear. Now I'm going to put you in Grandpapa's lap, Phronsie. You must be a good girl," and Mother Pepper went off.
"You must take care of me, Phronsie," said the old gentleman, "for I really think I need it now. And I guess my hair does want to be smoothed, after all."
"I'll stay and take care of you, Grandpapa," said Phronsie, delighted that her services were really to be called for, and with her heart at rest about her own poor little girl.
"Deary me!" Grandma Bascom stopped shooing out the hens from her kitchen doorway, and leaned on the broom-handle. "If here don't come Mis' Henderson! Now I shall hear about that blessed little creeter and all the rest of them childern."
"Good-afternoon." The parson's wife went swiftly up the flag-bordered path between the lilac bushes. "It's a beautiful day, Mrs. Bascom."
"Hey?" Grandma's shaking hand went up to her cap-border, so Mrs. Henderson had to say it over, that it was a beautiful day, as loud as she could.
"You've come to-day?" said Grandma.
"Yes, I see you have, an' I'm obleeged to you, I'm sure, for it's mighty lonesome since that blessed little creeter, an' all the rest of them childern went away. Come in an' set down," and she led the way into the kitchen.
Meanwhile, the hens, seeing nothing to prevent it, had employed the time in slipping in under Grandma's short gown, and were busily scratching around for any stray bits.
"Thank you." The parson's wife nimbly found a chair, while Grandma bustled into the bedroom.
"Excuse me a minute, Mis' Henderson," she called; "I'm goin' to slip on t'other cap."
"Oh, don't take the trouble," said Mrs. Henderson's pleasant voice. But she might as well have said nothing, for Grandma didn't hear a word.
"'Tain't proper to see your minister's wife in your mornin' cap, nor your petticoat neither for that matter," said Grandma to herself, looking down at her short gown. So she concluded to put on her Sunday-go-to-meeting gown, as she called her best dress. This took her so long, because she hooked it up wrong three times, that Mrs. Henderson appeared in the doorway before the operation of dressing-up could be said to be finished.
"I'm very sorry," she began.
"'Tain't a bit o' trouble," said Grandma cheerfully, pulling at the second hook, which she had been trying for some time to get into the first eye; "you set down, Mis' Henderson, an' I'll be out pretty soon."
"I must go very soon." The parson's wife came quite close to say this, up under the frill of the best cap, which stood out very stiffly, as Grandma always kept it in a covered box on top of her high bureau.
"I must go home soon. I have so many things to see to this afternoon."
It was a fatally long speech, for Grandma only attended to the last part.
"It's aft-noon? I know it. I'm comin' 's soon 's I can git this hooked up"—with another pull at the mismated hooks and eyes. Seeing this, in despair the parson's wife took the matter of hooking up into her own hands, and before long the Sunday-go-to-meeting gown could be said to be fairly on.
"Now that's something like," observed Grandma, in great satisfaction. "I hain't been hooked up by any one since Mis' Pepper went away. Deary me, how I should set by a sight o' her, an' th' blessed little creeter—there ain't none other like that child."
Mrs. Henderson nodded, being sparing of words.
"I've some letters from them," she said loudly, "and if you come out to the kitchen, I will stay and read them to you."
"What did you say was the matter in the kitchen?" demanded Grandma, in alarm. "Oh, them dirty hens, I s'pose, has got in again."
"I have letters from the Pepper children, and they ask me to come over here and read them to you," shouted Mrs. Henderson. "Dear me!"—to herself—"what shall I do? I'm all tired out already, and three letters to read—she won't hear a word."
But Grandma, having caught the word "letters," knew quite well what was in store, so, picking up her best gown by its side breadths, she waddled out and seated herself with great dignity in a big chair by the kitchen window. It was next to the little stand in whose drawer she used to let Joel Pepper look for peppermints.
When the Pepper children shut up the little brown house to go to Mr. King's, Grandma moved the small mahogany stand from its place next to the head of her bed out into the kitchen. She kept her big Bible on it, and her knitting work, where she could "have 'em handy." And it made her feel less lonesome to look up from her work to see it standing there.
"Seem's though that boy was a-comin' in every minute," she said. "My land o' Goshen, don't I wish he was!" for Grandma always had a soft spot in her heart for Joel.
Now she smoothed down her front breadth, and folded her hands in a company way. The parson's wife drew up a kitchen chair close to her side and unfolded the first letter.
"Who writ that?" asked Grandma eagerly.
"That's from Polly," said Mrs. Henderson.
"Bless her heart!" cried Grandma. "Well, what does she say?"
"Ma"—a light-haired, serious boy appeared in the doorway—"Pa wants you," he announced.
"Oh, Peletiah!" exclaimed the parson's wife, in consternation, at his unlooked-for appearance, and, "Oh, Grandma!" in the same breath, "I'm so sorry I must go."
"So sorry? What's ben a happenin' that Polly's sorry?" said Grandma, supposing that was in the letter. "Now I know that blessed little creeter has got hurt, an' they wouldn't let me know afore the rest."
"It isn't in the letter," declared Mrs. Henderson, in a loud, hasty tone, hurrying out of her chair. "Peletiah, what does your father want, do you know?"
"I don't know exactly," said Peletiah deliberately, "only Aunt Jerusha tumbled down the cellar stairs; maybe that's it."
"Oh, dear me! dear me!" cried the parson's wife, in a great fright. "Peletiah, here are the letters from the Pepper children"—thrusting them into his hand—"do you stay and read them to Grandma. And be sure to tell her why I went home," and she actually ran out of the kitchen, and down the lilac-bordered path.
Peletiah, left alone with the letters, turned them over and over in his hands, as he stood quite still in the middle of the kitchen floor. He never thought of disobeying, and presently he pulled up another chair, just in front of Grandma, and sat slowly down.
"Oh, I know she's got hurted bad," she kept groaning, "an' I shan't never see her again. Oh, the pretty creeter! Hain't she hurted bad?" she asked anxiously, bringing her cap frills to bear on the boy in front.
"Yes, I guess so," said Peletiah cheerfully; "she fell way down all over the cat sitting on the stairs."
"Where'd you say she fell?" screamed Grandma.
"Cellar stairs," Peletiah raised his voice, too, and sprawled out his hands to show how his Aunt Jerusha must have descended.
"Oh, me! oh, my!" exclaimed Grandma, in great sorrow, "that blessed little creeter! to think she's fell and got hurted!"
"She ain't little," said Peletiah, who was extremely literal, "she's awful long and bony!" And he could think of no special reason for calling her blessed, but that might be Grandma's fancy.
"Well, read them letters," said Grandma mournfully, when she could control her speech enough to say anything; "maybe they'll tell more about the accident," and she put her hand again behind her best ear.
"'Tain't in the letters," said Peletiah, "it's only just happened." But Grandma didn't hear, so he picked up Polly's letter, which was open, and began in a singsong tone:
"'Dear Mrs. Henderson—'"
"'Dear Mrs. Henderson,'" cried Peletiah, in a shrill, high key.
"Do move up closer; I'm a little hard o' hearin'—jist a mite," said Grandma. So Peletiah shoved his chair nearer, and began again:
"'Dear Mrs. Henderson, we are going to have the very loveliest thing happen, and I want to write to you now, because next week there won't be any time at all, we shall be so very busy.'"
It was impossible to stop Peletiah until he had rounded a sentence, as he considered it his duty to pay strict attention to a period. So, although Grandma screamed, and even twitched his jacket sleeve, she couldn't get him to stop. The consequence was that he had to shout this over till at last she understood it, and then she turned a bewildered face upon him, but as he was deep in his second sentence, he didn't see it, but plodded patiently on.
"'Grandpapa is going to let us have a garden party; there are tickets to be sold, for we are going to raise money to send poor children out into the country. And Jasper is getting up the post office, which Grandpapa says we may have in the Wistaria arbor. And we girls are all making fancy work, and oh, Phronsie is making a pin-cushion which Mr. Hamilton Dyce has bought already. Just think, and oh, I do believe we shall make lots and lots of money! Give my love to dear, dear Grandma Bascom, and please read this letter to her. From your loving little friend, Polly.'"
Peletiah, considering it better to read this all as one sentence, had droned it out without a break, to look up and find Grandma sunken back against her chair, her cap frills trembling with indignation.
"I hain't heard a single word," she said, "an' there's that blessed child got hurt, an' I can't seem to sense it at all."
"She ain't hurt, Polly ain't," said Peletiah, stoutly defending himself. "They're going to have a garden party."
"A what?" screamed Grandma.
"A garden party."
"Oh, then she fell in the garding, an' you said cellar stairs," she cried reproachfully.
Peletiah looked at her long; then he got out of his chair and leaned over her.
"My Aunt Jerusha fell," he screamed, so loud that Grandma started.
"Oh, an' the Pepper children ain't hurt?" she cried, in great relief.
"No, they're going to have a party." He wisely left out the garden this time.
"You don't say so!" exclaimed Grandma, greatly pleased at the hint of any festivities, no matter how distant, and the smiles began to run all over her wrinkled face again. "I wonder now," she said, "if they don't want my receet for Cousin Mirandy's weddin' cake; it's in th' Bible there"—nodding over to the little stand.
Peletiah, seeing her so absorbed, waited patiently till the second letter was called for. He never for an instant thought of sliding off; so he pulled it out of its envelope, and got ready.
At last Grandma pulled herself out of the charms of Cousin Mirandy's receet, and set her spectacles straight.
"Who writ that one?" she asked.
"Joel," said Peletiah, finding it quite to his liking to read this one, for Joel never wasted any time in preliminaries, but came to the point at once, in big, sprawly letters.
"'Dear Misses Henderson.'" Somebody must have corrected him then, for he scratched out the "Misses," and wrote on top "Mrs." "'You tell Grandma Bascom, please, that it's just prime here, but I like her peppermints, too, and I won't chase her old hens when I come back. Joel.'"
When Grandma really got this letter by heart, she laughed and said it had done her good, and she wished Joel was there this minute, in which Peletiah hardly concurred, being unable to satisfy Joel's athletic demands. And then she looked over at the little mahogany stand, and the tears rolled down her withered old cheeks.
"I'd give anythin' to see him comin' in at that door, Peletiah," she said, "an' he may chase th' hens all he wants to when he comes back"; for Grandma always cherished the conviction that the "Five Little Peppers" were to make life merry again in their "little brown house," and she went on so long in this way that Peletiah, who had glanced up at the clock many times, said at last, in a stolid way, "There's another letter." And Grandma, looking down, saw a little wad in his hand.
"Now I do believe that's from the blessed little creeter," she exclaimed, very much excited; "that must be Phronsie's."
"Yes, it is," said Peletiah.
"Why didn't you tell me that before?" cried Grandma. "You should 'a' read it first of all." She leaned forward in her chair, unable to lose a word.
"You didn't tell me to," said Peletiah, in a matter-of-fact way.
"Well, read it now," said Grandma, quavering with excitement.
"There ain't nothin' to read," said Peletiah, unfolding the paper, many times creased.
"There ain't nothin' to read," repeated Peletiah; "you can see for yourself." He held it up before her. There were many pencil marks going this way and that, by which Phronsie felt perfectly sure that her friends would understand what she was telling them. And once in a while came the great achievement of a big capital letter laboriously printed. But for these occasional slips into intelligible language, the letter presented a medium of communication peculiar to itself.
"Ain't it sweet!" said Grandma admiringly, when she had looked it all over. "The little precious creeter, to think of her writin' that, and all by herself too!"
"You can read it as well upside down," observed Peletiah.
"I know it." Grandma beamed at him.
"Just think of that child a-writin' that! Who'd ever b'lieve it?"
"I must go now," announced Peletiah, getting out of his chair and beginning to stretch slowly.
"Well, now tell your ma I thank her for comin', and for them letters from them precious childern. An' see here." Grandma leaned over and pulled out the under drawer of the little stand. It wasn't like giving peppermints to Joel Pepper, and it sent a pang through her at the remembrance, but Peletiah had been good to read those letters.
"I'm a-goin' to give you these," she said, beginning to shake therefrom into her hand three big, white peppermints and two red ones.
"No, I thank you, ma'am," said Peletiah stiffly, and standing quite still.
"Yes, you take 'em," said Grandma decidedly. "You've been real good to read them letters. Here, Peletiah."
"No, I thank you, ma'am," said Peletiah again, not offering to stir. "Well, I must be going," and he went slowly out of the kitchen, leaving Grandma with the big peppermints in her hand.
That evening, after everything was quiet at the parsonage, the minister called his wife into the study.
"We will look that letter over from Mrs. Fisher, now, my dear."
Mrs. Henderson sat down on the end of the well-worn sofa.
"Lie down, dear," he said, "and let me tuck a pillow under your head. You are all tired out."
"Oh, husband, I am sure you are quite as tired as I am," and the color flew into her cheeks like a girl. But he had his way.
"You better leave the door open"—as he went across the room to close it—"Jerusha may call."
"Jerusha won't need us," he said, and shut it.
"You know the doctor said she was not much hurt, only strained and bruised, and she's quite comfortable now. Well, my dear, now about this letter. Do you think we might take this child?"
"We?" repeated his wife, with wide eyes. "Why, husband!"
"I know it seems a somewhat peculiar thing to propose"—and the parson smiled—"with our two boys and Jerusha."
"Yes," said Mrs. Henderson, "it is, and I never thought seriously of it."
"She won't do Peletiah any harm"—and then he laughed—"and she might brighten him up, if she's the girl Mrs. Fisher's letter indicates. And as for Ezekiel, there's no harm to be thought of in that quarter. Our boys aren't the ones, wife, to be influenced out of their orbits."
"Well, there's Jerusha." Mrs. Henderson brought it out fearfully, and then shut her mouth as if she wished she hadn't said anything.
"I know, dear. You needn't be afraid to speak it out. It is always on my mind. Oh, I do wish—" and the parson began to pace the floor with troubled steps.
His wife threw back the old sofa-blanket with which he had tucked her up, and bounded to his side, passing her hand within his arm.
"Don't, dear," she begged. "Oh, why did I speak!" she cried remorsefully.
"You said no more than what is always on my mind," said the minister again, and he pressed the hand on his arm, looking at it fondly. "Poor Almira!" he said, "I didn't think how hard you would have to work to please her, when I took her here."
"But you couldn't help it, husband," she cried, looking up at him with a world of love. "After your mother died, what place was there for her to go? And she really was good to her."
"Yes," said the minister, and he sighed. "Well, it's done, and she is here; but oh, Almira, I think it's made a great difference with our boys."
Mrs. Henderson's cheek paled, but it wouldn't do to let him see her thoughts further on the subject, he was so worn and tired, so she said:
"Well, about the little girl, husband?"
"Yes, Mrs. Fisher's letter must be answered," said the parson, pulling himself out of his revery. "She asks if we can find a place in Badgertown for this child, who seems uncommonly clever, and is, so she writes, very truthful. And I'm sure, Almira, if Mrs. Fisher says so, the last word has been spoken."
"Yes, indeed," said his wife heartily.
"And they've found out a great deal about her. She's been half starved and cruelly beaten."
The parson's wife hid her tender eyes on her husband's coat sleeve.
"Oh, dear me!" she exclaimed sympathetically.
"And the old woman who pretended to be her grandmother, and who beat her because she wouldn't steal, became frightened at the investigation, and has cleared out, so there is no one to lay a claim to 'Rag.'"
"To whom?" asked Mrs. Henderson, raising her head suddenly.
"Rag—that's the only name the child says she has. But Mrs. Fisher writes they call her Rachel now. You didn't notice that when you read the letter, did you, Almira?"
"No," said his wife, "I didn't have time to read more than part of it. Don't you remember, I hurried over to Grandma Bascom's with the little Pepper letters, and you said you'd talk it over with me when I got home? And then Peletiah came after me, and I ran back here to poor Jerusha."
"Oh, I remember. I shouldn't have asked you." He nodded remorsefully. "Well, then, I'll tell you the rest. You read the first part—how they ran across the girl, and all that?"
"Yes. Oh, dear me! it gives me a shiver now to think what an awful risk that blessed child, Phronsie, ran," cried Mrs. Henderson.
"I know it; I cannot bear to think of it even in the light of her safety," said Mr. Henderson. "Well, now, Mr. King has taken upon himself to support and to educate Rag—Rachel, I mean—and the best place, at first, at any rate, to put her is Badgertown. Now what do you say, Almira, to her coming here to us?"
The parson's wife hesitated, then said, "Jerusha—" and paused.
"Will she be made unhappy by Jerusha, you mean?" asked the parson.
"No, I don't believe she will," he said decidedly. "You must remember she has had her old 'Gran' as she calls her, and after that I think she can bear Jerusha."
"Oh, yes," said Mrs. Henderson, "I forgot. Then I say, husband, we will take this child. I should really love to put the brightness into her life. And please let her come soon." A pretty glow rushed up to her cheek, and the parson's wife actually laughed at the prospect.
"Will it stop, Grandpapa?" Phronsie, kneeling on a chair, her face pressed close to the window pane, turned to old Mr. King, looking over her shoulder.
"I'm afraid not, dear," he answered.
"Doesn't God know we want to help the poor children?" she asked suddenly, a surprised look coming into her eyes.
"Yes, yes, dear; of course he knows, child."
"Then why does he let it rain?" cried Phronsie, in a hurt voice.
"Oh, because, Pet, we must have rain, else the flowers wouldn't grow, you know."
"They're all grown," said Phronsie, trying to peer out into the thick twilight between the great splashes of rain running down the window over toward the garden, "and now we can't have our party to-morrow, Grandpapa," she added sorrowfully.
"No, it would be quite too wet, after this downpour, even if it cleared to-night," said the old gentleman decidedly. "Well, Phronsie, child, we must just accept the matter philosophically."
"What's philo—that big word, Grandpapa?" she asked, turning away from her effort to catch sight of the flower-beds, off in the distance, gay with the wealth of blooms saved for the hoped-for festivities of the morrow, and she put her arm around his neck.
"Oh, that? It was a pretty large word to use to you, and that's a fact," said the old gentleman, with a little laugh. He was having rather a hard time of it to conceal his dismay at the blow to all the plans and preparations so finely in progress for the garden party. "Well, it means we must make the best of it all, and not fret."
"Oh!" said Phronsie. Then she turned back to her window again, and surveyed the driving storm.
"Perhaps the flowers like it," she said, after a pause, when nothing was heard but the beating of the rain against the glass; "maybe they are thirsty, Grandpapa."
"Yes, maybe," assented Grandpapa absently.
"And if God wants it to rain, why we must be glad, mustn't we, Grandpapa, if he really wants it?"
"Yes, yes, child," said the old gentleman hastily.
"Then I'm glad," said Phronsie, with a long sigh, and she clambered down from her chair, "and let's find Polly and tell her so, Grandpapa."
Over in the library there was a dismal group. Joel was fighting valiantly with a flood of tears, doubling up his little fists and glaring at Percy and Van at the least intimation of a remark to him. Little Davie had succumbed long ago, and now, crammed up in a small heap in the corner back of the sofa, was rivaling the storm outside, in the flood of tears he supplied.
Jasper crowded his hands in his pockets, marching up and down the long room. Polly, who was swallowing hard, as if her throat hurt her, wouldn't look at one of the boys. Little Dick was openly wailing in his mother's arms.
"Oh, shut up that, kid, will you?" cried Percy, crossly, over at him.
"Percy, Percy," said his mother gently.
"Well, he needn't boo-hoo like a baby," said Percy; "we've all got to give up the garden party."
"We can't have any garden party," mumbled little Dick between his sobs, and crying all over his mother's pretty blue silk waist.
"There, there, dear," Mrs. Whitney said soothingly, "we'll have it the next day, perhaps, Dicky boy."
"Next day is just forever," whimpered little Dick. "Oh, dear! boo-hoo-hoo!"
Percy started an impatient exclamation, thought better of it, and turned on his heel abruptly. But Van burst out:
"And the flowers'll all be gone, so what's the use of trying to have it then?"
"They won't," cried Joel, in an angry scream, and squaring round at him. "They shan't, so there, Van Whitney!" When the door opened and in walked Mr. King, and Phronsie clinging to his hand.
"Oh, hush, boys!" cried Polly hoarsely, a wave of shame rising in a rosy flush up to her brow. Oh, why hadn't she tried to keep cheerful instead of giving way to the general gloom? And now here were Phronsie and dear Grandpapa, who had ordered "just oceans of flowers" and everything else. Oh, dear, how naughty she had been! She sprang away from the big, carved table, over to take Phronsie's hand.
"The flowers are thirsty, Polly, I guess," said Phronsie, looking up at her with a smile; "and when they drink all they want to, why, we'll have the party, won't we, Polly?"
"Yes," said Polly, the flush not dying down.
"Then that'll be nice, I think," said Phronsie, smoothing down her gown in satisfaction, "and I can finish my cushion-pin now"; for there was one little corner still untraveled by the remarkable design observed by the worker. But Mr. Hamilton Dyce had protested he didn't care for any such trifling deficiency, for he could put more pins in that quarter, so he should still be its purchaser.
"So you can," cried Polly, with as much enthusiasm as she could muster, and winking furiously over at the boys.
"And we can write more letters," cried Jasper suddenly, springing over to Phronsie's side.
"Phoo!" exclaimed Joel, "we've got bushels already."
"Well, it's nice to have more yet," retorted Jasper, "so you better keep still, old fellow."
"I shall write some more," announced Van, with great pomposity, strutting up and down the room.
"Hoh-hoh!" laughed Joel, snapping his fingers in derision, "you haven't finished one yet, and beside, who can read your chicken tracks?"
"I have, too," declared Van, very red in the face, ignoring the reflection on his writing and plunging over to Jasper. "Haven't I, Jasper, written a letter for the post office? Say, haven't I?"—gripping him by the jacket-sleeve.
"Yes, you have," said Jasper. "He handed it in this afternoon," he added, nodding to the group.
"There, you see." Van rushed triumphantly up in front of Joel. "You see, Joel Pepper, so you've just got to take that back."
"Well, only one," said Joel, "and there can't any one read it, so that's no good."
"And I wrote some letters," cried Phronsie, running away from the little circle to thrust her face in between the two boys. "I did, all by myself. One, two, ten, I guess."
Little Dick at that stopped sniveling, and slipped off from his mother's lap. "I did, too, write some, ten, three, 'leven, just as many as you did." The tears trailed off from his red cheeks as he bobbed his head emphatically.
So no one heard quick steps along the hall, and the door being thrown wide by the butler, saying, "They're all in the library." In came Miss Mary Taylor and Mr. Hamilton Dyce.
"We thought we'd drop in," said the gentleman, with a quick glance at Miss Mary, as if to say, "You see, they didn't need us after all, to help cheer up."
"Why, how very jolly you all are!" observed Miss Mary. The rain-drops were glistening on her hair and cheeks, where she had scampered away from the protecting umbrella at the foot of the steps. "Oh, I'm not wet, Mrs. Fisher"—Mother Fisher at this moment coming in with her mending basket. "I left my mackintosh in the hall."
"Well, well," exclaimed Mr. Hamilton Dyce. Joel had left sparring with Van and now swarmed around the newcomer, for he was extremely fond of him. "How are the letters coming on, Jasper? By the way, I've a few belated ones, in the pockets in my coat out in the hall. I'll get them."
"Let me—let me," screamed Joel.
"All right, go ahead. In both side pockets, Joe." He didn't consider it necessary to explain that Miss Taylor and he had been busy driving their pens all the afternoon.
"Whickets!" cried Joel, rushing back, both hands overflowing, "what a lot!"
"Joel, what did you say?" Mother Fisher glanced up, the lines of worry that had settled over her face at the terrible disappointment that had befallen the family, disappearing, now that the usual cheeriness was coming back.
"I didn't mean to," said Joel, the color all over his chubby face, "but my, see what a lot! The post office won't hold 'em all!"
"We'll put them with the others," cried Jasper, "and thank you, oh, so much, Mr. Dyce; we can't have too many. Come on, all of you, and see our pile"—running out into the hall, headed for his den.
"You must thank Miss Mary," said Mr. Dyce.
But Miss Mary laughingly protesting the gratitude was not so much due to her, the whole company filed out after Jasper in great good spirits.
Little Davie, back of the sofa, poked up his head.
"Are they all gone, Mamsie?" he asked fearfully.
"Why, Davie, my boy!" exclaimed Mother Fisher, much startled, and laying down her needle, stuck in a stocking-heel, "I thought you were upstairs with Ben."
"I haven't been with Ben." said David, working his way out, to run and lay his swollen little face in his mother's lap. She cleared away her work, and took him up, to gather him close in her arms.
"There, there, Davie, mother's boy, it's all right"—smoothing the hair away from the hot brow—"we can have the garden party another day, and then perhaps there'll be all the more pleasure and good time."
"Tisn't that," said little Davie, wriggling around to look up at her, "but Polly—" and for a moment it seemed as if the floods were to descend again.
"Oh, Polly is all right," said Mrs. Fisher cheerfully.
"Is, she, Mamsie?" asked David doubtfully.
"Yes, indeed, and you must see that you keep yourself right. That's all any of us can do," said Mother Fisher. "Now, Davie, my boy, hop down and run into Jasper's den with the others."
"Oh, I can't, Mamsie," protested Davie, in horror, and burrowing in her arms, "they'll see I've been crying."
"That's the trouble with crying," observed Mother Fisher wisely; "it makes you twice sorry—once when you're doing it, and the next time when it shows. You can't help it now, Davie, so run along. Mother wants you to."
If Mother wanted them to, that was always enough for each of the "Five Little Peppers," so Davie slid slowly down from her lap, and went out and down the hall.
Meantime Miss Mary had taken Polly's arm in the procession to Jasper's den.
"Oh, Polly, how cheery you have made them!" she exclaimed. "We expected to see you all perhaps drowned in tears."
"Oh, I haven't done it—anything to make them happy," cried Polly, the wave of color again flooding her cheeks; "indeed I haven't, Miss Mary. I've been bad and wicked and horrid," she said penitently, her head drooping.
"Oh, no, Polly," protested Miss Mary, her arm around Polly's waist.
"Yes I have, Miss Mary, I——"
"Well, don't let us talk now about it; we will look at the letters." Miss Mary drew her within the den. There stood Jasper behind the table perfectly overflowing with epistles of every sort and size, while little packages, and some not so very little, either, filled up all the receptacles possible for mail matter.
"Oh, my, what a lot!" exclaimed everybody, as Joel with a dash precipitated his handfuls on the already long-suffering pile.
"This is only the beginning," laughed Jasper, waving his arms over, to compass the whole den. "Just look on the top of the bookcase, will you?"
Everybody whirled around.
"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Grandpapa, at the sight. Letters were scattered here and there in the thickest of piles all along the surface, while the Chinese vase had a whole handful poking up their faces as if to say, "Here we are, all the way from China."
"Dear me," exclaimed old Mr. King again, "when do you ever expect to sell all those, Jasper?"
"Mine is in there," announced Phronsie, hanging to his hand and pointing to the vase. "Grandpapa, it really is; Japser put it there."
"Did he, Pet?" cried the old gentleman, immensely interested.
"Yes, he did truly," said Phronsie, bobbing her head emphatically. "I saw him my own self, Grandpapa. And it's to you." She stood on her tiptoes and whispered the last bit of information.
"No, is it?" cried Grandpapa, highly gratified; and, lifting her up to a level with his face, he kissed her on both cheeks. "Now, Phronsie, I shall always keep that letter," he said, as he set her down.
"Shall you?" cried Phronsie, smoothing her gown with great satisfaction. "Then I'm so glad I wrote it, Grandpapa."
Over by the table Jasper was saying to Polly:
"Now what shall we do with this dreadfully long evening? Do hurry and think, Polly, before everybody gets dismal again."
"Oh, I don't know," said Polly, at her wit's end.
"But we must think of something," said Jasper desperately, and fumbling the letters.
Polly's eye fell on his restless fingers.
"We might sort them out, the letters, and tie them up in little packages to take out to the post office."
"The very thing!" cried Jasper enthusiastically. "Here, all you good people"—he whirled around—"if you want to help, please sit down, and we'll get this mess of letters sorted and tied up into bundles." He waved his hands over his head, and of course everybody stopped talking at once.
"Oh, whickets!" Joel screamed; then he caught Polly's eye, and his chubby face took on a lively red. "Let me—let me!" He crammed himself in between Jasper and the table.
"Hold on!" commanded Jasper, "not so fast, Joe," and he seized Joel's brown hands just grabbing a big pile.
"Wait till Jasper tells us how to begin," said Polly, her brown eyes dancing at the prospect of something to do.
"Oh, dear!" whimpered Joel, stamping in his impatience. The Whitney boys were crowding up close behind. "Do hurry up, Jasper," they teased.
"Well, how shall we begin, Polly?" Jasper wrinkled up his brows in perplexity.
"Let's ask Miss Mary," said Polly. So Jasper called, "Miss Mary!" but she didn't seem to hear, which perhaps wasn't so very strange, after all, as Mr. Dyce was telling her something which must have been very interesting, over in the corner. When at last the summons reached her, she came hurrying over with very pink cheeks. "Oh, what can I do to help?"
"We've been calling and calling for ever so long," said Joel, in a very injured tone, for he had added his voice when he saw that things were waiting for Miss Taylor.
"Oh, have you, Joel? That's too bad." Miss Mary's cheeks became pinker than ever.
"Well, you are always screaming over something, Joe, you beggar"—Mr. Dyce pulled his ear—"so it's no wonder that your cries are not attended to on the instant."
When Miss Mary saw what was wanted of her, she proposed that Jasper give out twelve letters to each person, who should tie them up neatly, and put in a big basket. Then they would be ready to take out to the post office in the Wistaria arbor, and to be sorted into the little boxes which Grandpapa had commissioned the carpenter to make all up and down the sides, leaving one end free for the delivery window. The door for the postmaster and his assistants was to be at the opposite corner.
"Oh, yes, how nice!" exclaimed Polly, hopping up and down as ecstatically as Phronsie ever did. "Jasper, I'll get a ball of twine," and she was flying off.
"No, you stay here and help me give out the letters," said Jasper.
"Oh, I want to do that," cried Joel, squeezing and crowding.
"No, you must get the big basket," said Jasper. "Go and ask Thomas to give you one."
"I don't want to get an old basket," whined Joel; "let Percy get it."
"Hoh! I'm not going to," declared Percy, drawing himself up in great state.
"Then I will go myself," said Jasper, flinging down a handful of letters, to hurry off.
"Joel," said Polly, in a sorry little voice, and turning away from the table, "now you will spoil everything, and we've just got to feeling good. How can you, Joey!"
"I didn't mean—" began Joel, turning his back on her, while he winked very hard, "I didn't mean to, Polly."
Percy dug the toe of his shoe into the rug, and looked down on the floor.
"Then run after Jasper," cried Polly; "hurry, and tell him so."
"I will," cried Joel, plunging off, and Percy, being left alone, as Van had slid away to another group when he saw how things were going on, concluded to follow. And presently Jasper came back.
"It's all right, Polly," he nodded brightly to her, and they fell to work.
And in a minute or two, Joel came back with Percy, carrying the basket, a big market affair, between them. And when he saw what fun they were having over it, for they were both laughing merrily, Van wished he had gone.
And seeing his dismal face, Jasper sent him after a ball of twine. And then Phronsie wanted to get something, and little Dick teased to go too, so Grandpapa suggested they should go after some extra pairs of scissors.
"And Mamsie will let us take hers out of her workbasket, I guess," cried Phronsie. "Let us ask her, Grandpapa dear."
"Oh, you better stop working, Mrs. Fisher." Old Mr. King popped his white head in at the library door. There sat Mother Fisher by the table, mending away as usual, for the stockings never seemed to be quite done. "And come into Jasper's den and see how fine we all are!" he added gayly.
"Yes, Mamsie, do come," chirped Phronsie, running her head in between him and the door-casing to plead.
"Yes, Mamsie, do come," echoed little Dick, who would do and say everything that Phronsie did.
"You see, you've simply got to come," laughed Grandpapa.
"And may we have your scissors, Mamsie?" Phronsie now deserted old Mr. King, to run over to the big workbasket.
"My scissors?" repeated Mother Fisher. "Why, Phronsie, child, what are you going to do with them?"
"We're going to cut letters," said Phronsie, with an important air, her fingers already in the basket, which, standing on tiptoe, she had pulled quickly over toward her in her eagerness. "And may we have your scissors, Mamsie?"
"Take care," warned Mother Fisher, but too late. Over went the big basket, and away rattled all the things, having a perfectly beautiful time by themselves over the library floor,
"Bless me!" ejaculated old Mr. King, while little Dick laughed right out.
Phronsie stood quite still, the color all out of her round cheeks. Then her bosom heaved, and she darted over to lay her head in Mother Fisher's lap.
"Oh, I didn't mean to, Mamsie," she wailed.
"Oh, deary me! bless me!" exclaimed Grandpapa, in the greatest consternation, and leaning over the two.
"There, there, don't mind it, deary." Mother Fisher was smoothing the yellow hair.
"Take me, Mamsie," begged Phronsie, holding up both hands, and she burrowed her face deeper yet in Mrs. Fisher's lap.
"Oh, dear me!" old Mr. King kept exclaiming. Then he pulled out his handkerchief and mopped his face violently. This not making him feel any better, he kept exclaiming, "Oh, dear me!" at intervals.
"I'll pick 'em up," said little Dick cheerfully, beginning to race after the spools and things over the floor.
Mother Fisher had drawn Phronsie up to her bosom, where she cuddled her to her heart's content. "Now, child," she said, after a minute, "I think you ought to help to pick up the things and put them in the basket. See how nicely Dicky is doing it."
"I'm getting all the spools," announced Dick, jamming all the chairs aside that he could move, and lifting a very hot face. "Yes, sir-ee! Come, Phronsie."
"I think you ought to help him, Phronsie."
So Phronsie slipped out of her mother's lap obediently, and wiped off her tears.
"Come on," said little Dick, in great glee. "I'm going under the table; there's a lot under there."
And in shorter time than it takes to tell it, the spools, and mending cotton, and tape measure, and, dear me! the ever-so-many things of which Mrs. Fisher's big workbasket was always full, were all collected from the nice time they were having on the floor, and snugly set up in their places again. And Mother Fisher, escorted by the children and old Mr. King, who by this time was laughing quite gayly once more, was going out into the hall, on the way to Jasper's den. And Phronsie had the big cutting-out shears, and little Dick the smaller, little snipping-thread scissors.
"Hullo!" Mr. King called out, as the butler ushered into the hall two gentlemen, in dripping mackintoshes. "Now that's fine, Cabot and Alstyne, to drop in of this dismal evening."
"We've called to condole with you all," said both gentlemen, as they were divested of their wet garments, "but it doesn't seem as if our services were needed"—with a glance at Grandpapa and his group.
"Oh, my family gets over any little disappointment such as bad weather," observed the old gentleman, with pride. "Well, come this way, the principal object of interest is in Jasper's den; no need to announce it"—as the peals of laughter and chatter sounded down the long hall.
THE GARDEN PARTY
And so, after all, it turned out to be the very best thing that the garden party did not take place until two days after, for all was then as sweet and fresh as a rose—all but one thing. And that was, on the very morning of the eventful day, Mrs. Chatterton drove up.
But then, as Jasper observed to Polly when this dire news was announced, "Cousin Eunice was always turning up when least wanted." And Polly had, as usual, to keep back her own thoughts on the subject, to comfort him. It would never do to add to his dismay.
"Why she can't stay in Europe when she's everlastingly saying that there is no place in America to compare with it, I don't, for my part, see," he cried, in a pet.
"I suppose she wants to be with her relations, Jasper," said Polly, with a sigh.
"Relations?"—Jasper turned suddenly on his heel and thrust his hands deeply in his pockets—"well, she fights with every single one of them," he said savagely.
"Oh, Jasper—fights!" exclaimed Polly, in horror, whose great grief had always been at having no relations, so to speak. "Dear me, how very dreadful!"
"Well, you know she does," said Jasper gloomily, and squaring round—"always picking and carping at something or somebody; and now Father will be all upset by her. If she had only waited till to-morrow!"
Polly felt such a dreadful sinking of her heart just then, that for a minute she didn't speak. There didn't seem to be any comfort for this.
"And just think how good Father has been," went on Jasper, too miserable to keep still, "and all those flowers he had ordered, for of course he couldn't let the florists suffer, and that he sent to the hospitals when it poured so."
"I know it," said Polly, swallowing hard.
"And now he has ordered another lot, and everything else—why, you know, Polly, there isn't anything Father hasn't done to make this fair a success, and now she has come!" Jasper flung himself into a chair and buried his face in his hands.
"Oh, Jasper," cried Polly, running over to him in the greatest distress, "don't! Oh, dear me! What can we do?"
"Nothing," said Jasper, in the depths of gloom; "nothing will do any good so long as she has come."
"Oh, there must something be done," declared Polly quite wildly, and feeling equal to anything. If she only knew what would avail! "Hush, here comes Grandpapa!"
"Oh, he mustn't see us feeling badly." Jasper sprang from his chair. "Come, Polly," and they flew out into the side hall.
"Now where are those two, Polly and Jasper?" said old Mr. King to himself, coming to the library in a great state of irritation. "I've searched this house for them, and nobody seems to have the least idea where they have gone. Polly! Jasper!" he cried loudly, and it wasn't a very pleasant voice, either.
"Oh, dear!" Jasper seized Polly's hands in a corner of the hall. "He's calling us, and we've got to go, Polly, and how we look, you and I! Whatever shall we do!"
"But we must go," breathed Polly. Then she looked up into Jasper's face. "Let's ask him to go out and help us fix the flowers," she cried suddenly.
Jasper gave her a keen glance. "All right," he said. "Come on," and before their resolution had time to cool itself, they rushed into the library.
"Oh, Grandpapa," they both cried together, "do come out and tell us how to fix the flowers."
"Hey?" The old gentleman whirled around from the table, where he had begun to throw the papers about. "Did you know Mrs. Chatterton had come back?" He glared at them over his spectacles, which he had forgotten to remove when he had been interrupted with the unwelcome news while peacefully reading the morning paper.
"Yes—oh, yes," said Jasper.
"Oh, yes, we know it," cried Polly cheerfully, "but, Grandpapa, we want you"—tugging at his hand.
"Hey? you knew it?" The old gentleman's tone softened, and he suffered himself to be led toward the door. "And you want me, eh?"—feeling with every step as if life, after all, might be worth living.
"Yes, we do indeed, Father," cried Jasper affectionately, possessing himself of the other hand.
"And oh, the flowers you sent are just too lovely for anything!" cried Polly, dancing away along by his side. "They're gorgeous, Grandpapa dear."
"Are they so?" Grandpapa beamed at her, all his happiness returned. "So you want me to tell you how to arrange them, eh?" And his satisfaction in being appealed to was so intense that he held his head high. "Well, come on," and he laughed gayly.
Mrs. Chatterton, newly arrived in the handsome suite of apartments Cousin Horatio's hospitality always allowed her, looked out of the window, and, having no one else to confide her opinions to, was not averse to chatting with her French maid.
"Isn't it perfectly absurd, Hortense, to see that old man?—and to think how particular and aristocratic he used to be! Why, I can remember when he would hardly let Jasper speak to him in some of his moods, and now just see that beggar girl actually holding his hand, and he laughing with her."
"A beggaire, is it?" cried Hortense, dropping the gown she was brushing, to run to the window. "I see no beggaire, madame"—craning her neck.
"You needn't drop your work," said Mrs. Chatterton, with asperity, "just because I made a simple remark. You know quite well whom I mean, Hortense. It's that Polly Pepper I'm speaking of."
"She is not a beggaire, madame," declared Hortense pertly, opening her black eyes very wide. "Oh!" She extended her hands and burst into a series of shrill cackles. "Why, she's like all de oder children in dis house, and I think truly, madame, de best."
"Go back to your work, I say," commanded Mrs. Chatterton, in a fury, forgetting herself enough to stamp her foot. So Hortense picked up the gown, but she continued to cackle softly to herself, with now and then a furtive glance at her mistress.
Outside, with all the sunny influence of the summer morning upon him, old Mr. King, and Polly, and Jasper went about, superintending the placing of the flowers. For there seemed to be a great many in the pots, with ferns and palms, to distribute where they would best show off and be persuaded to swell the poor children's fund,
"Oh, Grandpapa dear! what richness!" sighed Polly, clasping her hands in ecstasy. "I do think I never saw so many, and such beauties. Only look, Jasper, at that azalea!"
"I know it," said Jasper, his eyes sparkling, "and those orchids, Polly!"
"Oh, I know—I know," said Polly, spinning about to take it all in. Old Mr. King put back his head and laughed to see her.
"I'm so glad you like it, Polly, my girl," he said, heartily pleased.
"Like it, Grandpapa!" repeated Polly, standing quite still. "Oh, it's just too beautiful!" and she clasped her hands tightly together.
"Well, I think we'd best get to work," said Jasper, bursting into a laugh. "Come on, Polly, let's set about it."
"I think so, too," said Polly, coming out of her rapture. Thereupon ensued such a busy time!—especially as old Turner and two of his under-gardeners came up for directions, and Mr. King went off with them. So for the next hour Polly seemed to be on wings, here, there, and everywhere, and breathing only the sweet fragrance of the flowers.
"How Phronsie would enjoy it—the fixing and all!" she mourned, in the midst of it, as the transforming of the flower-tables into veritable bowers of beauty went on.
"But you know she had to take a long nap, else she would be all tired out. And the afternoon is going to be a long one, Polly."
"Oh, I know," said Polly, flying on with her work faster than ever, "and Mamsie was right to make her go to sleep."
"Mrs. Fisher is always right," said Jasper decidedly, "ever and always."
"Isn't she!" cried Polly, in a glow. "Well, Jasper, do you think that smilax ought to be trained up there?" She twisted her head to view the effect, and looked up at him anxiously.
"Yes—no," said Jasper critically; "I don't believe I'd put it there. It looks too much, Polly; there are so many vines about."
"So it does," said Polly, in great relief. "Heigh-ho! when one is working over any thing it looks so different, doesn't it?"
"I should say so," cried Jasper. "Oh, Polly, it can't ever in all this world be twelve o'clock."
"It can't!" exclaimed Polly, in dismay. But there was one of the white-capped maids coming across the lawn, with the summons to go in to luncheon, which was to be served at an earlier hour than usual.
And after that, no one had more than a moment in which to think, for at three o'clock the garden party was to open, and the fair to be in full progress.
Long before that time, the avenues and streets leading out to the Horatio King estate were thronged with children of all ages and sizes; most of them with their nurse-maids, all bound to the scene of the garden party, their small purses dangling by chains from their arms, or carried carefully in their hands. For wasn't this to help poor children who didn't have any pleasant homes, but lived in stuffy tenement houses, to go out into the broad, beautiful country, where they could race in the fields and play with the chickens, and pick all the flowers they wanted to? And so, ever since the announcement had been made that such a fund was to be raised, there had been much hoarding of pennies, and no slight self-denial on the part of the younger element, who would naturally be drawn into the plan.
All the society people were to drive up later; and until the early evening hours it was to be the function of the town, which every one was anxious to attend. But everybody in Mr. King's household was to be ready to receive, exactly at three o'clock.
Phronsie was in the highest of spirits, having Grandpapa's hand to cling to, trying to welcome all the guests, and keeping one eye out to see that Rachel was enjoying herself, attired in a pretty, pink cambric gown, her black hair—which now seemed, oh, so soft and pretty!—tied back with little pink bows. And Rachel's eyes—well, there! no one would ever have suspected that they had only been accustomed to the squalor of Gran's apartment, and Gran herself, but one short week ago. They now looked on the world in general, and this fair scene in particular, with all the nonchalance of one born and brought up in the midst of such conditions as could bring about a state of affairs like the present that surrounded her. And many asked, "Who is that child?" for it was clearly seen that she wasn't of the set that was thronging the grounds.
Rachel herself was wholly unconscious of the remarks that were being made, so she devoted her heart and soul to the duty assigned to her, that of waiting on Polly and her bevy of school friends in one of the flower-bowers. And she never bothered about any curious glances, or asides, until a chance remark struck her ear as she was hurrying across the lawn, which she thought needed attention; then she raised her head, and her black eyes grew sharp and intent. It was Mrs. Chatterton who was speaking.
"Yes, it's a little beggar girl he took in," and the cackle was unpleasant that accompanied the words. "Dear me! I expect she'll rob us all; such creatures are so sly." She was pointing out Rachel to one of her friends lately arrived from Europe, and who had exerted herself to come early and see the children.
"Do you mean me?" demanded Rachel, her black eyes, like gimlets, on the long, cynical face. "'Cause if you does, I can tell you that what I does, I does right out on top; an' I guess by the looks o' you, that ain't your style."
"You impertinent creature!" exclaimed Mrs. Chatterton, her long face crimson with passion, not allayed by seeing that her friend could with difficulty control her amusement. "She'll tell this everywhere," she fumed within. "I shall go and speak to my cousin, Mr. King, about you, girl." She moved her arm and shapely hand, both very beautiful still, and well exhibited on every occasion, and started off with great dignity.
"I would," said Rachel scornfully. Then she laughed, "Oh, me! oh, my! you're such a favorite, you are!" and she doubled up her thin figure, and went off in a little gust of merriment.
"Come with me." Mrs. Chatterton darted back and seized her friend's arm to drag her away. "That detestable creature makes me feel quite faint."
As soon as they had disappeared down a winding path, Rachel's amusement quite left her. She drew herself up stiffly, and hurried back to Polly, to be the same quiet, attentive, deft little maiden as before.
"You do tie flowers up so beautifully," cried Polly, handing her another big spool of baby ribbon. "Doesn't she, girls?"
"Yes, indeed," cried ever so many.
"I can't tie a bow to save myself," declared Alexia; "it all snarls up, and it looks for all the world, when I get through, as if my dog had chewed it. Oh, dear me! Yes, that basket is two dollars."
"I'll take it," said the little tot who had to stand on tiptoes to peer over the table with its blooming beauty. "I want it for my mamma," and he gave his smart little cane to the nursemaid to hold, while he opened his purse.
"Well, it's a beauty, Rick," said Alexia, picking up the basket; "the violets are so sweet," and she sniffed them two or three times as she passed them over.
"Here's Rick Halliday," called Clem, at the other end of the table. "Now I'm going to make him buy something of me. We must all make him, girls; his father's given him oceans of money to spend, of course."
It was loud enough for Polly to hear, and she dropped the box of ribbon under the table.
"No, no," she said decidedly, hurrying over, "Grandpapa said we were not to ask a single person to buy. That's the rule, you know, Clem."
"We could make ever so much more," grumbled Clem; "it's for the poor children, you know, Polly."
"Grandpapa said not," repeated Polly, her cheeks like a rose, and back she flew again to her post.
"I shan't buy anything of you, Clem Forsythe," loudly declared small Rick over to her, taking his little cane from the nursemaid's hand, "anyway. And beside, my papa said if any one teased me to spend my money, I was to come right away. But he didn't believe they would here." And with his basket of flowers for his mother, he moved off with great dignity across the lawn, swinging his cane as he had noticed the men did.
"Of all kids, I do think that Rick Halliday is the most detestable infant," exclaimed Clem, in great discomfort. "Oh, yes, Mrs. Nunn"—her face brightening—"we have heliotrope, ever so much of it." She thrust her hands into a big vase overflowing with fragrance. "How many? Oh, three dozen sprays. Yes, indeed."
And the bands—one at the end of the big lawn, and the other on the terrace at the farther side of the house—were playing their sweetest; and now the society folk began to put in an appearance among the throngs of children. Everybody was in gala attire, and the garden party was at its height.
"Joel," cried Mr. Cabot to that individual, rushing in and out among the little knots of gayly dressed visitors, "here, run over to the post office, will you, and see if there are any letters for me?"
"All right," Joel cried, as he flew along. And in an incredibly short space of time, back he rushed with three missives.
"Ten cents apiece," said Joel promptly. "I'll get change in a minute," and he was flying off again with the bill thrust into his hand.
"I don't take any change here. I don't want any; I won't be bothered with it," declared Mr. Cabot, in his most decided fashion.
"But this is ten dollars," said Joel, aghast, and stopping short to flap the bill.
"Never mind, that's my affair; go along, or I'll report you. Aren't you one of the postmen?"—pointing sternly to his badge.
"Yes," said Joel, straightening up, and puffing out his chubby cheeks with pride.
"Well, then, you'll find yourself reported if you don't march," cried Mr. Cabot "So off with yourself to the postmaster."
"Come on, Joel," called another of the postmen, who happened to be Percy, rushing along. "I'm going to get my mail bag now, there's just a crowd of folks waiting over there for letters"—pointing over to the pine grove.
"So will I get mine," shouted Joel, "and see here"—waving his ten-dollar bill—"what Mr. Cabot sent to Jasper. I guess that'll send one poor child off into the country, Percy Whitney! Won't that be prime!"
There was such a crowd around the Wistaria-arbor post office, that Percy and Joel, who much preferred being letter-carriers to helping Jasper within, had to crawl in under the vines, to find the mail bags.
"Here, Jasper," cried Joel, "take it, do"—throwing the ten-dollar bill down in a flurry, to fling the strap of his mail bag over his head before Percy should get his in order.
But Jasper, who was trying to satisfy the demands of a throng of people all clamoring at the small window for letters, didn't see it, or even hear his name called. So the ten-dollar bill lay perfectly still where it fell, until it got all tired out, and a little puff of wind, sweeping through the arbor, blew it first to one side, and then to the other, until at last it fell down among a tangle of evergreen with which the posts of the arbor were wound. And presently, Van, who much preferred being assistant to Jasper to running about as a letter carrier, came along and exclaimed, "Oh, that silly old green stuff! It takes up so much room!" And he twitched off a lot of it, and the ten-dollar bill, well crumpled up inside of the bunch, sighed and said to itself as it was flung under the counter, "Now I guess I'm dead and buried forever."
Meanwhile, Joel, as happy as a lark at the thought of Mr. Cabot's contribution, went off on the wings of the wind, distributing letters, here, there, and everywhere, and receiving lots of orders.
It was, "Oh, Joel, get me a letter,"
And, "Joel, get me one; I can't get near the post office; there's a perfect mob there,"
And, "Joel Pepper!"—from clear across the lawn—"come over here; Mrs. Singleton wants to see you about some letters," until Joel began to feel that he was about running the whole post-office department, and it seemed as if every drop of blood was in his chubby face, he was so hot. But he never thought of being tired, he was so happy, plunging on.
"Oh, my gracious, honey! you done mos' knocked de bref out o' me!" It was Candace, who had left her little shop on Temple Place to help forward the garden party, against whom he had come up, careless where he was going.
THE TEN-DOLLAR BILL
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Joel brought himself up remorsefully, trying to recover the collection of rag dolls sent spinning from her black arms.
"An' dey were sech perfec' beauties!" mourned Candace, twisting her hands sorrowfully together. "Oh, me! oh, my!"
"They aren't hurt a bit," declared Joel stoutly, precipitating the whole collection unceremoniously at her. "There they are, every single one, as nice as ever!"
"Take care," warned Candace. "Oh, my soul and body!" she mourned, "dey're all mussed up."
"You can comb it out," said Joel, longing to comfort, and forgetting it was wool from Candace's own head.
"And what'll Mis' Cabot and Mis' Alstyne say?" groaned Candace. Then she sat right down on the grass and began to pick at the dolls discontentedly. "W'y couldn't you 'a' looked whar you're goin', Mas'r Joel?"
"Have Mrs. Alstyne and Mrs. Cabot bought those dolls?" cried Joel, pointing a brown finger at them. "Oh, dear me!" He just saved himself from exclaiming, "Those horrors!"
"Yes," said Candace, smoothing a woolly head in great distress, "but I dunno's they'll want 'em now, dey've been shook up so and spilt on de groun'—oh, dear me!"
"Joel, aren't you coming with that letter bag?" and, "Joel Pepper, hurry up!" The cries were now so insistent that Joel dashed away, stopped, and rushed back tumultuously. "Oh, Candace, I'm so sorry!" He flung himself down on the grass by her side. Distress was written so plainly all over his hot face that Candace stopped in her work over the dolls to turn and regard him.
"Bress yer heart, honey," she cried, now as much worried over Joel as she had been about the dolls, "dey ain't hurt a mite—not a single grain," she added emphatically.
"Oh, Candace, are you sure?" he exclaimed delightedly.
"Not a mite," protested Candace, bobbing her own woolly head in a decided fashion. "Dear me! now I'm afraid I discomberated my turban, an' it's my spick an' span comp'ny one Mr. King give me for this yere berry occasion," and she put up both black hands to feel of it anxiously. Joel jumped to his feet and ran all around the big figure to get the most comprehensive view.
"It's all right, Candace," he reported, in great satisfaction.
"Sure, honey?" she asked doubtfully.
"Yes, yes," declared Joel quickly, prancing up in front of her. "I like you, Candace; you're just as nice as can be."
"Den gimme your hands!"—she laid the rag dolls carefully on the grass, and put out both of her black ones—"and hoist me up, honey, dat's a good chile."
So Joel stuck out his brown hands, and Candace laying hold of them, he tugged, very red in the face, till finally she set her ample gaiters on the ground and stood straight.
Up rushed Van.
"They're complaining at the post office," he squealed. "You've got to give me your bag. Folks can't get their letters. Give me the bag." He thrust out both hands.
Joel turned on him in a fury,
"You aren't going to have my bag," he screamed.
"I am, too; you're so slow, and don't give out the letters," said Van, delighted to find some chance to get the best of Joel, and quite important to be sent with a message to such an effect.
"You shan't either; I ain't slow," cried Joel, answering both statements at once, and whirling around in an endeavor to keep the bag at his back. But Van flew for it, disdaining to waste more time over arguments.
Candace stretched out a large, black hand. "See here, now, Mas'r Van, leggo dat bag." She seized him by the jacket collar with such a grip that he dismissed all thoughts of the mail bag, his one concern now being to get free from Candace.
"Ow!" he screamed, wriggling violently. "I don't want the mail bag; let me go, Candace, do!"
"See," cried little Dick, half across the lawn, to a merry party of ladies and gentlemen, who turned to follow the pointing of the small finger toward Candace and her capture.
"Oh, let me go," cried Van, very red in the face at this, and trying to duck behind her big figure, "please, Candace."
"Let him go," begged Joel, just as much distressed; "he won't touch the bag, I don't believe, again, Candace."
"Oh, I won't, I won't," promised Van wildly. "I don't want the bag; do let me go, Candace."
"Yer see, Mas'r Joel was a-helpin' me," said Candace, slowly releasing Van's jacket collar, "an' 'twarn't none 'o his fault dat he stopped kerryin' de letters." But Van was off from under her open fingers and shot across the green in the opposite direction from little Dick and his party.
"Now I'll take my dolls to de ladies," observed Candace, bundling them up in her clean, checked apron. She sent a satisfied glance after Joel, making quick time toward the post office, then waddled off.
"Boy!" called a fine, imperious voice, as Joel dashed by a group of ladies and gentlemen. As there wasn't any other boy in sight, he might be supposed to be the one wanted; but Joel by this time was frantic to get to the post office, and with his mind filled with mortification and distress at his delay from his duty, he paid no heed to the call, now repeated more insistently.
"It's a lady," then said Joel to himself, "so I must go back. Oh, dear me!" He wheeled abruptly, and, hot and red-faced, plunged up to the group.
"What is it, ma'am?" Then he saw to his disgust that it was Mrs. Chatterton. She was surrounded by friends whom she had met abroad.
"Why didn't you come when I bade you?" she exclaimed arrogantly. "Don't you know it's your place to serve me?"
"No, ma'am," said Joel bluntly, his black eyes fixed on her face. One or two of the gentlemen turned aside with a laugh.
"What, you little beggar!" Mrs. Chatterton said it between her teeth, furious at the amusement of her friends, but Joel heard.
"I'm not a beggar," he declared hotly, and squaring his shoulders. By this time he forgot all about the mail bag. "And you haven't any right to say so"—with flashing eyes.
Mrs. Chatterton, now seeing him worked up, recovered herself and smiled sweetly. She leaned back in her garden chair and swung her parasol daintily back and forth.
"Oh, yes, you are," she declared; "we all know it, so there is no use in your denying it. Well, you get us some ices and be quick about it." She dismissed him with a wave of her beautiful arm, in its flowing, lace drapery.
But Joel did not budge.
"You don't know it." He swept the whole group with his black eyes. "It isn't as she says, is it?"
"No," said one of the gentlemen who had laughed, whirling around to bring a very sharp pair of eyes on Joel's face, "it isn't, my boy."
"Well, I must say," protested Mrs. Chatterton, an angry light coming into her cold eyes, and turning around on him sharply, "that this isn't very friendly in you, Mr. Vandeusen, to pit that upstart boy against me. Now there will be no managing him hereafter."
"Well, but, Mrs. Chatterton," broke in one of the other gentlemen, in a propitiatory voice, and leaning over her chair, Mr. Vandeusen turning calmly on his heel to survey the distant lawns through his monocle, "a beggar, don't you know—well, it isn't the pleasantest thing in the world to be called that, don't you know?"
"Particularly when one isn't a beggar," said a young lady hotly. Then she turned to Joel and laid a hand on his arm. "Don't you mind it," she said.
"And as for you, Miss Tresor, I should consider it wiser for you to be silent." Mrs. Chatterton turned on her with venom. "What do you know about these miserable Peppers that infest my cousin's house, pray tell?"
"I like them," declared Miss Tresor decidedly, not turning her head. "Don't mind it, my lad."
"I don't, now," said Joel. Then the gentlemen laughed again.
"Oh, I must go." All his long neglect of his letter-carrier duties, made so much worse by this delay, now surged over him. He raised his chubby face, over which a smile ran, and bounded off.
"Isn't he a dear!" exclaimed Miss Tresor impulsively.
"Come away, Emily," begged another young lady, seizing Miss Tresor's arm, "the old cat is quite furious; just look at her face."
"We'll leave her to mamma's tender mercies," said Emily carelessly, "she knows how to handle her. Do you remember that scene, Elinor, at Geneva?"
"Don't I!" laughed Elinor, as they sauntered off.
Well, by the time that six o'clock came, there wasn't so much as a scrap of a letter left in Jasper's post office, but, instead, a box crammed full of silver pieces and banknotes. And Miss Mary Taylor and Mr. Hamilton Dyce, and some other young ladies and gentlemen whom they drilled into the service, shut themselves up in the library and wrote as fast as ever they could make their pens fly over the paper, till little white piles appeared on the table. And Percy and Joel and Van and the other boys would rush in for these same piles to put them in the post office, to earn more money, to go into the big box. So back and forth ran these letter carriers, until even Miss Mary threw down her pen.
"I can't write another word," she cried. "I've exhausted everything I can think of. I don't want to see another letter!"
And then a card was put up outside the Wistaria arbor, "Post Office Closed." And everybody who still had money, was anxious to spend it before going home; so it was just lavished on the flower-bowers, the fancy-work table, and the candy shop.
And then, when there wasn't anything more to be bought or sold, the bands moved down nearer to the center of the big lawn, making the gay little groups all move back, leaving a broad, smooth surface, for the affair was to end in dancing on the green.
Meanwhile Grandpapa was gallantly offering his arm to Madam Dyce, and leading her up to an esplanade on the upper terrace, and, word being spread about that all the guests were expected to follow, there they found seats and little tables and a bevy of waiters to serve a delicious supper. And here the dancing on the green below by the young people could be seen in all its gayety, the setting sun casting bright gleams upon the merry scene.
"Dear me! shouldn't you think those young people would be tired enough after all they have worked," observed the old gentleman, leaning back in his comfortable chair, "to sit still and take it easy with us here?"
"No, indeed!" exclaimed Madam Dyce, "my old feet are actually twitching under my gown to dance too."
"In that case," observed old Mr. King most gallantly, "let me lead you down, and will you give me the honor?" He bent his white hair to the level of her hand.
"No, indeed," laughed Madam Dyce; "I will leave the field for the young people. But it carries me back to my youth, when you and I did dance many a time together, Horatio."
"Did we not?" laughed Grandpapa, too. And then up came some merry groups, tired of dancing, after some supper, when down they would go again, fortified and refreshed, to begin it all over once more. At last, even the lingering ones were obliged to say good-bye. The evening had shut in and the brilliant garden party was a thing of the past. The King household was resting and talking it all over on the spacious veranda, luxurious in its cushions and rugs, its easy-chairs and hammocks.
"Oh, it has been so perfectly beatific!" exclaimed Polly, in a rapture. She was curled up on the top step, her head in Grandpapa's lap, who was ensconced in a big chair with Phronsie's tired little face snuggled up on his breast. "Hasn't it, Alexia?" For Alexia was going to stay over night.
"Oh, my!" Alexia gave a sigh and squeezed Polly's hand. "I never had such a good time in all my life, Polly Pepper," she declared. "The poor children won't begin to get the fun out of it that we've had."
"Oh, those dear poor children!" exclaimed Polly, stretching out her toes, which now began to ache dreadfully; "just think how perfectly lovely it's going to be for them all summer, Alexia."
Joel caught the last words. He poked up his head from one of the hammocks.
"Well, I guess Mr. Cabot has helped a poor child to go into the country," he cried, in a pleased tone.
"I guess everybody has helped," observed Ben, "the way your letters went, Jasper! Who would think so many could have been sold!"
Jasper stopped pulling Prince's ears.
"Didn't they go!" he cried, in huge satisfaction.
"I guess you were glad to get that big bill, Jasper," shouted Joel. "My, wasn't he good to send it!"
"Eh?" asked Jasper. Everybody was chatting and laughing, so it wasn't strange that things couldn't be heard the first time. So Joel shouted it again, glad to be allowed to scream such a splendid contribution over and over. "The big bill, wasn't it prime, Jasper!"
"What are you talking about, Joe?" cried Jasper, stopping his play with Prince, as he saw Joel was terribly in earnest over something.
"Why, the big bill I gave you, that Mr. Cabot sent. Hurrah! Wasn't it fine!" Joel kicked up his heels and emitted a whistle that made Polly clap her hands over her ears.
"What big bill?" exclaimed Jasper. "What on earth are you talking about, Joe?"
Joel tumbled out of the hammock and took long leaps across the piazza floor, which landed him in front of Jasper.
"Why, that ten-dollar bill I gave you that Mr. Cabot sent to the post office," he said, in a breath.
"You didn't give me any ten-dollar bill," said Jasper, all in a puzzle; "you've been dreaming, Joe."
"I—I laid it down right by you." Joe could only gasp the words now.
"I didn't see it," said Jasper.
TROUBLE FOR JOEL
There was an awful pause, for everybody caught the last words. Joel slid to the floor in a little heap. Mrs. Chatterton spoke up quickly.
"It's easy enough to see where it went," and she gave a little laugh.
"Come on, Joe." Jasper sprang up and shook Joel's arm. "We'll go and hunt for it."
"I'll go, too." Van and Percy screamed it together. Now that any trouble had come to Joel, each vied with the other to see which could work the faster to help matters.
"I laid it—right down. Oh, dear me!" Joel was pretty far gone in distress by this time, and blubbered miserably, as they all raced across the greensward, Polly and Alexia following swiftly. "Hold on there, James," ordered Jasper, to one of the three men busy dismantling the post office of its improvised trimmings of pine branches.
"Eh—eh, sor? Stop, boys," said James to the workmen within the arbor.
"We have lost something," panted Jasper, as the whole group precipitated themselves up to the spot.
"Is that so, sor?" said James, in great concern. "Well, if I'd 'a' known it, I'd 'a' kept a sharp eye out for it, sor." Polly and Alexia were already in the arbor in the thickest of the green branches scattered over the floor, and the boys were picking and pulling wildly, everywhere a banknote could be supposed to hide. "What was it, sor?"
"A banknote," said Jasper, down on his knees, prowling over the floor with both hands, while Joel, who could scarcely see for the tears that streamed down his chubby cheeks, searched desperately on all sides.
"Is that so, sor?" said James, in great distress. "Well now, that's too bad. We've taken off two loads already, sor."
"Where have you put them?" demanded Jasper, springing to his feet.
"Down in the dump, sor."
"We must look that over," said Jasper decidedly. "Send your men with lanterns; don't touch a single thing here, James, I'll come back," and he sprang off.
"No, no, sor," said James, touching his cap. "Now, boys," to the workmen, "you can leave this here; get your lanterns and help the master."
"All right," said the men.
"Polly, you and Alexia keep on hunting, won't you?" called Jasper over his shoulder, as the boys flew off.
"Yes, we will," called back Polly, who would very much have preferred the pleasures of "the dump," a big dell in process of filling up with just such debris as had now been added.
"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Alexia discontentedly, "now we're mewed up here when we might be in that dear old sweet dump, Polly Pepper; and all because we're girls."
"Well, we can't help it," said Polly, with a sigh, who wished very much sometimes that she might be a boy, "so we'd much better keep at work hunting for that ten-dollar bill, Alexia."
"And Joel is so dreadfully careless," said Alexia, determined to grumble at something, and poking aimlessly at the green branches scattered on the floor. "I don't suppose we'll ever find it in all this world, in such a mess."
"We must," said Polly, a little white line coming around her mouth.
"Well, we can't, so what's the use of saying that?" and Alexia gave a restful stretch to her long arms. "Oh, me! oh, my! I'm so tired, Polly Pepper!"
"You know we must find that ten-dollar bill, Alexia," repeated Polly hoarsely, working busily away for dear life.
"Well, we can't; it's perfectly hopeless—so do keep still. Just look at all this." Alexia waved her arms at the green draperies. "I'm going to pull the rest down anyway, though; that'll be fun," and she made a dash at it.
"No, no," said Polly, on her knees on the floor, "we must leave all that till Jasper comes back. Come, Alexia, help me look over these."
"Oh, bother!" cried Alexia, in great disdain, "I don't want to poke over those old things. You know yourself it's no earthly use; we'll never find it in all this world, Polly Pepper."
There was a queer little sound, and Alexia, whirling around, saw Polly Pepper in a little heap down in the middle of the green branches.
"Oh, misery! what have I done?"—rushing over to her and shaking her arms. "Oh, Polly, do get up, we will find it, I'm positively sure; do get up, Polly." But Polly didn't stir.
"Oh, dear me!" wailed Alexia. "Polly, please get up." She ran all around her, wringing her hands. "Oh, what did I say it for! Polly, Polly Pepper, we'll find it, as sure as anything. We can't help but find it. Polly, do get up."
She flung herself down on her knees and began to pat the white face. Polly opened her eyes and looked at her.
"What did you say such dreadful things for, Alexia?" she said reproachfully.
"Oh, I couldn't help it," exclaimed Alexia remorsefully. "There! Oh, dear me! you've scared me 'most to death, Polly Pepper. Do get up." So Polly sat straight, and Alexia fussed over her, all the while repeating, "We will find it, Polly."
"Dear me!" said Polly, "this isn't hunting for that ten-dollar bill."
"Well, what's the use?" began Alexia. "Oh, yes, of course we'll find it," she brought herself up quickly. "Now, Polly, I tell you." She sprang to her feet. "Let's clear a place in this corner"—and she rushed over to it—"and then pick up every branch and shake it, and put it over here. Then we'll know surely whether that horrid thing is on the floor or not."
"So we shall," cried Polly, getting up on her feet; "that's fine, Alexia!" And they set to work so busily they didn't hear when the boys came back from their search. But the first moment she saw Jasper's face, Polly knew that the hunt was unsuccessful, and the next minute Joel threw himself into her arms and hugged her closely.
"Oh, Polly," he sobbed, "it's gone, and it's my fault."
"Cheer up, old fellow," said Jasper, clapping him on the back; "we'll find it yet."
Van and Percy stood dismally by, knocking their heels against the arbor side, and feeling quite sure they should burst out crying in another minute, if Joel didn't stop.
Polly patted his poor head and cuddled it in her neck. "Oh, Joey, we'll find it," she said, swallowing a big lump in her throat; "don't cry, dear," while Alexia sniffed and wrung her hands, fiercely turning her back on them all.
"Now, boys," said Jasper, in his cheeriest fashion, "we'll all set to work on these vines that are left. Come on, now, and let's see who will work the fastest."
"I will," announced Van, rushing over to twitch down the green drapery that had been such a piece of work for the gardeners to put up. Percy said nothing, but set to work quietly, lifting each branch to peer under it.
"Take care," warned Jasper, pausing a minute in his own work to look over at Van's reckless fingers; "you must shake each one as you pull it down, before you throw it out on the grass, else we'll have all our work to do over again. Oh, Alexia, are you coming to help?"
"Of course I am," declared Alexia. "Oh, Van, what a piece of work you are making!"
Polly was whispering to Joel, "We ought to help," when Van gave a shout, "I've found it! I've found it!"
"Hurrah!" Jasper leapt down from the railing and plunged up in great excitement to Polly and Joel. "There, old fellow, what did I tell you?" he cried with glowing face, and clapping Joel on the back again.
"Phoh!" exclaimed Percy, in great contempt, "he hasn't, either; it's only a bit of green paper."
"I thought I had," said Van, quite crestfallen, and flinging down the dingy bit; "it looked just like it."
It was too much; and Joel, who had hopped out of Polly's lap, flung himself on the floor and cried as if his heart would break. They couldn't get him out of it, so Jasper just picked him up and marched off to the house with him to give him to Mother Fisher.
And the next morning, search as hard as they could—and everybody was hunting by that time—not a trace of the ten-dollar bill could be discovered. And Mrs. Chatterton took pains to waylay Joel in the hall or on the stairs at all possible opportunities, and ask him, with a smile at his swollen nose and eyes (for he had cried so he could hardly see), if he had found it yet. But these chances became very few, for it was Jasper's and Polly's very especial business to keep guard over Joel, and try to divert him in every way. Meantime the hunt went on. And the third day, when it became perfectly apparent to the entire household that the banknote was in such a clever hiding-place that no one could find it, Joel, his tears all gone, marched into Mr. King's writing-room and up to his big table, and without a bit of warning burst out:
"I want to sell tin!"
"Eh, what?" exclaimed the old gentleman, looking over his glasses. "What is that you are saying, Joey, my boy?"
"I want to sell tin," said Joel bluntly.
"Want to sell tin!" ejaculated old Mr. King, in amazement.
"Yes, sir, just like Mr. Biggs; he got lots of money. May I, Grandpapa? Please say I may." Joel ran around the writing-table to plant himself by the old gentleman's chair.
"Oh, my goodness!" exclaimed Mr. King, leaning back in dismay, "whatever can you mean, my boy?"
"Grandpapa"—Joel laid a brown hand on the velvet morning-jacket, and brought his black eyes very close to the gentleman's face—"I've got to earn that ten dollars; I've got to, Grandpapa, 'cause I lost it." Joel's voice broke here, but he recovered it and dashed on, "And I can't do it unless you will let me sell tin. Please, Grandpapa dear. Mr. Biggs used to, in Badgertown, you know, and he took me with him sometimes on his cart, so I know how; and I can sell a lot. I can wheel it in my express wagon, and—" Joel by this time was running on so glibly, under the impression that if he didn't stop, Mr. King would be induced to say yes, that the old gentleman was forced to put up his hand peremptorily.
"There, there, Joey, my boy," he said, settling his glasses that had slipped to the end of his nose, and taking Joel's hand. "Now, then, let's hear all about the matter."
And in a minute or two Joel was perched on the old gentleman's knee, and they were having the most sociable time possible. And before long Joel forgot he hadn't laughed for oh, such a long while, and lo and behold! Grandpapa said something so very funny that they both burst out into a merry peal, that rang out into the wide hall beyond.
"Joel is actually laughing," exclaimed Polly, coming soberly down the stairs; and she was so overcome by the joyful sound that she sat right down on the step. "Oh, dear me, how perfectly lovely!" she breathed, folding her hands in delight.
"Isn't it!" Jasper slipped into a seat on the step by her side. "Now everything is going to be fine when Joe can laugh!"
"Just hear him," cried Polly, pricking up her ears to catch the blissful sound, "and Grandpapa, too. Oh, Jasper!"
"I know it," said Jasper, in great satisfaction. "Father has been so pulled down because Joe took it so hard."
"Well, you see, Joel couldn't help it," cried Polly, "because it was careless, just as Mamsie said, to leave anything without handing it to the person."
"Of course," assented Jasper quickly. "Mrs. Fisher is right; but I'm sure any one is likely to do it, and Joel was in such a hurry that day, everybody pulling at him this way and that to get letters."
"I know it," said Polly, delighted to hear Joel's part taken, "and just think how he worked before, Jasper. He helped such a perfect lot getting the flower-table ready."
"He helped everywhere," declared Jasper, bringing down his hand with emphasis on his knee. "I never saw anybody work as Joe did."
"And now to think that he has lost that money!" mourned Polly, her head drooping sorrowfully over her closed hands. "Oh, dear me, Jasper!"
"But just hear him laugh," cried Jasper, springing up; "it's going to be all right now, Polly, I do believe. Come, let's go and hunt some more for the banknote."
So they both flew off from the stairs to begin the search for the money again. For no one stopped—dear me, not a bit of it!—the hunt for the hidden ten-dollar bill. Everybody but Phronsie and little Dick searched and prowled in every nook and corner where there was the least possible chance that the ten-dollar bill could be in hiding. They had both been so sleepy on the evening of the garden party when the loss had been announced, that it fell unheeded on their ears. And afterward all the household was careful to keep the bad news from them. So the two children went on in blissful unconsciousness of Joel's trouble, while the grand hunt proceeded all around them.