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´╗┐Title: Five Little Peppers and their Friends
Author: Sidney, Margaret, 1844-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Five Little Peppers and their Friends" ***

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FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND THEIR FRIENDS

By MARGARET SIDNEY

AUTHOR OF "FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS ABROAD," "A LITTLE MAID OF CONCORD TOWN,"
"SALLY, MRS. TUBBS," ETC.


Illustrated by Eugenie M. Wireman


[Illustration: "What are you doing, Phronsie, sitting down in the middle
of the stairs?"--(See page 46.)]



  To my daughter Margaret,
    who to her friends embodies
    "Polly Pepper" in her
    girlhood, I dedicate most
    lovingly this book.



PREFACE.


  There were so many interesting friends of the Five Little Peppers,
  whose lives were only the faintest of outlines in the series ending
  when Phronsie was grown up, that a volume devoted to this outer
  circle has been written to meet the persistent demand.

  Herein the author records many happenings that long ago Ben and Polly,
  Joel and David told her. And even Phronsie whispered some of it
  confidentially into the listening ear. "Tell about Rachel, please,"
  she begged; and Margaret Sidney promised to write it all down some
  day.

  And that day seems to have arrived in which it all should be recorded
  and the promise fulfilled. For the Five Little Peppers loved their
  friends very dearly, and were loyal and true to them. And hand in
  hand, the circle widening ever, they lived and loved as this history
  records.

  MARGARET SIDNEY.



CONTENTS


I. A FIVE-O'CLOCK TEA

II. PHRONSIE

III. CLEM FORSYTHE

IV. MISS TAYLOR'S WORKING BEE

V. "SHE'S MY LITTLE GIRL"

VI. GRANDMA BASCOM

VII. THE DISAPPOINTMENT

VIII. THE GARDEN PARTY

IX. THE TEN-DOLLAR BILL

X. TROUBLE FOR JOEL

XI. RACHEL

XII. DOINGS AT THE PARSONAGE

XIII. "SHE'S GOING TO STAY HERE FOREVER"

XIV. "CAN'T GO," SAID JOEL

XV. UP IN ALEXIA'S PRETTY ROOM

XVI. THE ACCIDENT

XVII. JOEL'S ADVENTURE

XVIII. THE COMFORT COMMITTEE

XIX. JOEL'S NEW FRIEND

XX. THE COOKING CLUB

XXI. OF MANY THINGS IN GENERAL

XXII. RACHEL'S VISIT TO MISS PARROTT

XXIII. THE OLD PARROTT HOMESTEAD

XXIV. RACHEL'S FUTURE

XXV. JACK PARISH

XXVI. MR. HAMILTON DYCE A TRUE FRIEND

XXVII. A PIECE OF GOOD NEWS

XXVIII. THE LITTLE STONE CUPBOARD



ILLUSTRATIONS

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING, PHRONSIE, SITTING DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STAIRS?"

FIVE-O'CLOCK TEA

"BUT THIS IS TEN DOLLARS," SAID JOEL

"ON, LARRY," SAID MISS TAYLOR GENTLY, BENDING OVER HIM

"YES, SIR," CALLED JOEL BACK, FROM THE ALCOVE

THE UNLUCKY OAR WAS SEIZED BY THE TRIUMPHANT CREW

"I USED TO PLAY WITH IT," SHE SAID SOFTLY

HE STOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LITTLE SHOP



I

A FIVE-O'CLOCK TEA


"I wish," said Phronsie slowly, "that you'd come in, little girl."

"Can't." The girl at the gate peered through the iron railings, pressing
her nose quite flat, to give the sharp, restless, black eyes the best
chance.

"Please do," begged Phronsie, coming up quite close; "I very much wish you
would."

"Can't," repeated the girl on the outside. "Cop won't let me."

"Who?" asked Phronsie, much puzzled and beginning to look frightened.

"Perlice." The girl nodded briefly, taking her face away from the iron
railings enough to accomplish that ceremony. Then she plastered her nose up
against its support again, and stared at Phronsie with all her might.

"Oh," said Phronsie, with a little laugh that chased away her fright,
"there isn't any big policeman here. This is Grandpapa's garden."

"'Tain't, it's the perliceman's; everything's the perliceman's,"
contradicted the girl, snapping one set of grimy fingers defiantly.

"Oh, no," said Phronsie, softly but very decidedly, "this is my dear
Grandpapa's home, and the big policeman can't get in here, ever."

"Oh, you ninny!" The girl staring at her through the railings stopped a
minute to laugh, covering both hands over her mouth to smother the sound.
"The perlice can go everywheres they want to. I guess some of 'em's in
heaven now, spyin' round."

Phronsie dropped the doll she was carrying close to her bosom, to
concentrate all her gaze up toward the sky, in wide-eyed amazement that
allowed her no opportunity to carry on the conversation.

"An' I couldn't no more get into this 'ere garden than I could into
heaven," the girl on the outside said at last, to bring back the blue eyes
to earth, "so don't you think it, you. But, oh, my, don't I wish I could,
though!"

There was so much longing in the voice that Phronsie brought her gaze down
from the policemen in their heavenly work to the eyes staring at her. And
she clasped her hands together tightly, and hurried up to lay her face
against the big iron gate and close to that of the girl.

"He won't hurt you, the big policeman won't," she whispered softly. "I'll
take hold of your hand, and tell him how it is, if he gets in. Come."

"Can't," the girl was going to say, but her gaze rested upon the doll lying
on the grass where it fell from Phronsie's hand. "Lawks! may I just have
one good squint at that?" she burst out.

"You may hold it," said Phronsie, bobbing her head till her yellow hair
fell over her flushed cheeks.

The gate flew open suddenly, nearly overthrowing her; and the girl, mostly
all legs and arms, dashed through, picking up the doll to squeeze it to her
neck so tightly that Phronsie rushed up, quite alarmed.

"Oh, don't," she cried, "you'll frighten her. I'll tell her how it is, and
then she'll like you."

"I'll make her like me," said the girl, with savage thrusts at the doll,
and kissing it all over.

"Oh, my, ain't you sweet!" and she cuddled it fiercely in her scrawny neck,
her tangled black hair falling around its face.

"Oh, dear!" wailed Phronsie, standing quite still, "she's my child, and
she's dreadfully frightened. Oh, please, little girl, don't do so."

"She's been your child forever, and I've never had a child." The girl
raised her black head to look sternly at Phronsie. "I'll give her back; but
she's mine now."

"Haven't you ever had a child?" asked Phronsie, suddenly, two or three
tears trailing off her round cheeks to drop in the grass, and she drew a
long breath and winked very fast to keep the others back.

"Not a smitch of one," declared the other girl decidedly, "an' I'm a-goin'
to hold this one, and pretend I'm its mother."

Phronsie drew a long breath, and drew slowly near.

"You may," she said at last.

The new mother didn't hear, being hungrily engaged in smoothing her child's
cheeks against her own dirty ones, first one side of the face and then the
other, and twitching down the dainty pink gown, gone awry during the
hugging process, and alternately scolding and patting the little figure.
This done, she administered a smart slap, plunged over to the nearest tree,
and set the doll with a thud on the grass to rest against its trunk.

"Sit up like a lady," she commanded.

"Oh, don't!" cried Phronsie, quite horror-stricken, and running over on
distressed feet. "She's my child," she gasped.

"No, she's mine, an' I'm teachin' her manners. I ain't through pretendin'
yet," said the girl. She put out a long arm and held Phronsie back.

"But you struck her." Phronsie lifted a pale face, and her blue eyes
flashed very much as Polly's brown ones did on occasion.

The new mother whirled around and stared at her.

"Why, I had to, just the same as you're licked when you're bad," she said,
in astonishment.

"What's 'licked'?" asked Phronsie, overcome with curiosity, yet keeping her
eyes on her child, bolt upright against the tree.

"Why, whipped," said the girl, "just the same as you are when you're bad."

Phronsie drew a long breath.

"I've never been whipped," she said slowly.

"Oh, my Lord!" The girl tumbled down to the grass and rolled over and over,
coming up suddenly to sit straight, wipe her tangled black hair out of her
eyes, and stare at Phronsie. "Well, you are a reg'lar freak, you are," was
all she could say.

"What's a 'freak'?" asked Phronsie, actually turning her back on her child
to give all her attention to this absorbing conversation, with its most
attractive vocabulary.

"It's--oh, Jumbo!" and over she flopped again, to roll and laugh. "Well,
there!" and she jumped to her feet so quickly she nearly overthrew
Phronsie, who had drawn closer, unable to miss a bit of this very strange
proceeding. "Now I'm through pretending an' I haven't got any child, an'
you may have her back." She wrung her grimy hands together, and turned her
back on the object of so much attention. "Take her, quick; she's yours."

Phronsie hurried over to the doll, sitting up in pink loveliness against
the tree, knelt down on the grass, and patted her with gentle hand, and
smoothed down her curls. A curious sound broke in upon her work, and she
looked up and listened. "I must go back," she whispered to her child, and
in a minute she was running around the figure of the girl, to stare into
her face.

"Ow--get out!" cried the girl crossly, and she whirled off, pulling up her
ragged dress to her face.

"I thought I heard you cry," said Phronsie in a troubled voice, and
following her in distress.

"Phoo!" cried the girl, snapping her fingers in derision, and spinning
around on the tips of her toes, "'twas the cat."

"No," said Phronsie decidedly, and shaking her head, "it couldn't be the
cat, because she doesn't hardly ever cry, and besides she isn't here"--and
she looked all around--"don't you see she isn't?"

"Well, then, 'twas that bird," said the girl, pointing up to a high branch.
"Ain't you green, not to think of him!"

"I don't _think_ it was the bird," said Phronsie slowly, and peering
up anxiously, "and he doesn't cry again, so I 'most know he couldn't have
cried then."

"Well, he will, if you wait long enough," said the girl defiantly.

"Chee, chee, chee," sang the bird, with delicious little trills, and
shaking them out so fast his small throat seemed about to burst with its
efforts.

"There, you see he couldn't cry," began Phronsie, in a burst of delight;
"you see, little girl," and she hopped up and down in glee.

"He's got the 'sterics, an' he'll cry next, like enough," said the girl.

"What's 'the 'sterics'?" asked Phronsie, coming out of her glee, and
drawing nearer. "Oh, I see some tears," and she looked soberly up into the
thin, dirty face, and forgot all about her question.

"No, you don't, either." The girl twitched away angrily. "There ain't never
no tears you could see on me; 'twas the cat or the bird. Ain't you green,
though! You're green as that grass there," and she spun round and round,
snapping her fingers all the while.

Phronsie stood quite still and regarded her sorrowfully.

"Don't you believe I cried!" screamed the girl, dashing up to her, to snap
her fingers in Phronsie's face; "say you don't this minute."

"But I think you did," said Phronsie. "Oh. I'm very sure you did, and you
may hold my child again, if you only won't cry any more," and she clasped
her hands tightly together. The other girl started and ran toward the big
iron gate.

"Oh, don't!" Phronsie called after her, and ran to overtake the flying
feet. "Please stay with me. I like you; don't go."

The girl threw her head back as if something hurt her throat, then leaned
her face against the iron railings and stuck her fingers in her ears.

"Don't! lemme alone! go 'way, can't you!" She wriggled off from Phronsie's
fingers. "I'll lick you if you don't lemme be!"

"I wish you'd play with me," said Phronsie, having hard work to keep out of
the way of the flapping shoes all down at the heel, "and you may have
Clorinda for your very own child as long as you stay--you may really."

"Ow! see here!" Up came the girl's face, and with a defiant sweep of her
grimy hands she brushed both cheeks. "Do you mean that, honest true, black
and blue?"

"Yes," said Phronsie, very much relieved to see the effect of her
invitation, "I do mean it, little girl. Come, and I'll tell Clorinda all
how it is."

"I'm goin' outside to walk up and down a bit. Bring on your doll."

"But you must come here," said Phronsie, moving off slowly backward over
the grass. "Come, little girl"--holding out her hand.

"Now I know you didn't mean it," said the girl scornfully. "You wouldn't
let me touch that nasty old doll of yours again for nothin' you wouldn't,"
she shrilled at her.

"Oh, yes, I would," declared Phronsie, in great distress; "see, I'm going
to get her now," and she turned around and hurried over the grass to pick
Clorinda off from her resting-place and run back. "There, see, little
girl," she cried breathlessly, thrusting the doll into the dirty hands;
"take her now and we'll go and play."

For answer, the girl clutched the doll and sped wildly off through the
gateway.

"Oh!" cried Phronsie, running after with pink cheeks and outstretched arms,
"give me back my child; stop, little girl."

But there wras no stop to the long, thin figure flying down the path on the
other side of the tall hedge. It was a back passage, and few pedestrians
used the path; in fact, there were none on it this afternoon, so the
children had it all to themselves. And on they went, Phronsie, with but one
thought--to rescue her child from the depths of woe such as being carried
off by a strange mother would produce--blindly plunging after.

At last the girl with the doll stopped suddenly, flung herself up against a
stone fence, and drew a long breath.

"Well, what you goin' to do about it?" she cried defiantly, clutching the
doll with a savage grip.

Phronsie, too far gone for words, sank panting down to the curbstone, to
watch her with wild eyes.

"You said I might take her," the girl blurted out. "I hain't took nothin'
but what you give me. I want to play with her to my home. You come with me,
and then you can take her back with you."

"I can't," said Phronsie, in a faint little voice. Her cheeks were very
red, and she wiped her hot face on her white apron. "You must give me
Clorinda, and I must go home," and she held out a shaking hand.

But the girl danced off, and Phronsie, without a thought beyond the rescue
of her child, stumbled on after her, scarcely seeing one step before her
for the tears that, despite all her efforts, now began to stream down her
round cheeks.

At last, in trying to turn out for a baker's boy with a big basket, she
caught her foot and fell, a tired little heap, flat in a mud puddle in the
middle of the brick pavement.

"My eye!" cried the baker's boy, lifting her up. "Here, you girl, your
sister's fell, ker-squash!"

At this, the flying girl in front whirled suddenly and came running back,
and took in the situation at once.

"Come on, you lazy thing, you!" she exclaimed; then she burst into a laugh.
"Oh, how you look!"

"Give me back--" panted Phronsie, rubbing away the tears with her muddy
hands, regardless of her splashed clothes and dirty shoes.

"Keep still, can't you?" cried the girl, gripping her arm, as two or three
pedestrians paused to stare at the two. "Come on, sister," and she seized
Phronsie's hand, and bore her off. But on turning the corner, she stopped
abruptly, and, still holding the doll closely, she dropped to one knee and
wiped off the tears from the muddy little cheeks with a not ungentle hand.
"You've got to be my sister," she said, in a gush, "else the hoodlums will
tear you from neck to heels." And seizing Phronsie's hand again, she bore
her off, dodging between rows of dwellings, that, if her companion could
have seen, would have certainly proved to be quite novel. But Phronsie was
by this time quite beyond noticing any of the details of her journey, and
after turning a corner or two, she was hauled up several flights of rickety
steps, strange to say without the usual accompaniment of staring eyes and
comments of the various neighbors in the locality.

"There!" The girl, still clutching the doll, flung wide the rickety door.
"My, ain't I glad to get here, though!" and she drew a long breath,
releasing Phronsie's hand, who immediately slid to the floor in a collapsed
little heap. "Well, this is my home--ain't it pretty, though!"

Phronsie, thus called on for a reply, tried very hard to answer, but the
words wouldn't come.

"You needn't try," said the girl, slamming the door, "'tain't likely you
can praise it enough," and she broke out into a hard, sarcastic laugh,
which shrilled its way out of the one window, whose broken glass was
adorned with nondescript fillings.

"See here now, you're all beat out," she exclaimed suddenly; then rushing
across the room, she dragged up a broken chair, and jammed it against the
door. "There now, we're by ourselves, an' you can rest."

"I must go home," said Phronsie faintly, and holding up her tired arms.
"Give me my child; I must go home."

"Did you think I didn't know what was proper?" cried the girl scornfully,
and tossing her head. "I'm going to have five-o'clock tea 'fore you go.
There, I'm a lady, an' a swell one too, I'd have you know."

She ran over to the corner of the slatternly room, and set the doll on a
bed, over which were tossed the clothes in a dirty heap, Phronsie following
every movement with anxious eyes.

"Now she's my child, remember," she said, turning her sharp, black eyes on
the small figure huddled up on the floor, "as long as she stays here."

Then she hurried about, twitching a box out here and there from a cupboard,
whose broken door hung by one hinge.

"Here's my silver spoons--ain't they beautiful!" she cried, running up with
a few two-tined forks and a bent and battered knife. These she placed, also
the cracked cups, with great gusto, on the rickety table, propped for
support against the wall, as one of its legs was gone entirely and another
on the fair road to departure.

"'Tain't stylish to have yer table agin the wall," she broke out, "at a
five-o'clock tea; I know, 'cause I've peeked in the windows up on the
avenoo, an' I've seen your folks, too." She nodded over at Phronsie. "I
know what I'll do." She tossed her head with its black, elfish locks, and
darted off in triumph, dragging up from another corner a big box, first
unceremoniously dumping out the various articles, such as dirty clothes, a
tin pan or two, a skillet, an empty bottle--last of all, a nightcap, which
she held aloft. "Gran's," she shouted; "it's been lost a mighty long time.
Now I'm goin' to wear it to my five-o'clock tea. It's a picter hat, same's
that lady had on to your house once--I seen her." She threw the old
nightcap over her hair, tied the ragged strings with an air, and soon, by
dint of pulling and hauling, had the table in the very center of the
apartment, the box securely under its most delicate and unreliable portion.

"There--my! ain't we fine, though!" She surveyed her work with great
delight, her hands on her hips. "Now, says I, for our ice cream an' cake,
with white on top, an' choc'late."

She gave a flirt of her ragged gown and darted here and there with her
elfish movements; and presently a cold potato, shivering in its skin, a
slice or two of hard, moldy bread, and some turnips and carrots, uncooked,
were set about the dirty table, with empty spools in between. "Them's the
flowers," she explained, as she put the last-mentioned articles in their
places. "Now it's all ready, except the choc'late." And waving an old tin
coffeepot, whose nose was a thing of the past, she filled it at the faucet
over the wooden sink, and put it down with a flourish at one end of the
table. "Now we're ready, an' I'm the beautiful lady up to your house--I
seen her, once when I was peekin' through the fence"--she nodded shrewdly,
her little eyes snapping--"her an' your sister."

[Illustration: Five O'Clock Tea]

"Oh, I want Polly," broke out Phronsie, with such a wail, as she sat, a
frozen little heap, not daring to stir, that the girl screamed out:

"Well, I'm goin' to take you to her, when I've given you my five-o'clock
tea; that is, if you don't cry. An' I ain't goin' to be the beautiful lady
up at your house; I'll be Mrs. somebody else. No, I'll be a Dukess--the
Dukess of Marlbrer--I've seen her in the paper. Oh, you've got to have the
best chair," and she dragged up the sole article of furniture of that name,
minus its back, away from the door; then helping Phronsie up from the
floor, she wiped off the tears on her pinafore, no longer white, and soon
had her installed on it. "Now you're comp'ny." Thereupon she ran and
fetched the doll from the bed, and put her on a small, old barrel, from
which the articles were dumped out, and, with a box for her back, Clorinda
was soon in great state on one side of the feast. The Dukess then slipped
into her own seat, an inverted tub, somewhat low, to be sure, but still
allowing the view of the festive cup to be seen. "She's my child, now. Will
you have some choc'late?"--with a winning smile that ran all over her dirty
face and wrinkled it up alarmingly.

"Oh, no, she's my child," protested Phronsie, the tears beginning again.

"I mean till I get through my five-o'clock tea," cried the girl; "can't you
understand? Then she'll be yours, an' I'll take you home. Will you have
choc'late?--you must, Lady--what's your name, anyway?" she demanded
abruptly, bringing her black eyes to bear on Phronsie.

Phronsie could hardly stammer it out for the tears she was choking back.

"Oh, my eye, what a name!" laughed the Dukess, in derision. "Well, you can
be Lady Funsie--Fornsie--whatever you call it. Now, will you have some
choc'late? 'Taint perlite not to answer."

"I'd rather have some milk," said Phronsie faintly, "if you please."

"Oh, 'tain't no trouble," said the Dukess airily, quirking out her little
finger with grace; and poising the tin coffeepot with an elegant air, she
inverted it over a cracked cup, which, when generously full of water, she
passed to her guest. "Help yourself to th' cakes. Lady Fonsie," she said
graciously, "an' what beyewtiful weather we are havin'!"

Phronsie put forth a trembling hand, as it seemed to be expected of her,
and took the cup of water, spilling about half of it, which ran off the
table-edge and down her little brown gown, the Dukess greeting this mishap
with a shout of laughter, checking it suddenly with a start and a dismayed
glance in the direction of the broken window.

"It's time fer you to talk some," she said. "You should say, 'Yes, I think
so, too.'"

"I think so, too," murmured Phronsie, viewing her cup of milk gravely.

"An' you must say, 'I think, Dukess, you have the most splendid milk.'"

"It isn't milk," said Phronsie gravely, and she turned serious eyes on the
lady of quality opposite.

"Oh, yes, it is," said the Dukess, "an' you orter go on an' say, 'An' all
them perfectly beyewtiful flowers, I never see any so fine!'"--pointing to
the empty spools in between the eatables.

"But they aren't flowers," said Phronsie.

This occasioned so much discussion that there was no lack of conversation,
and was the reason that steps over the stairway were not heard. The door
was thrown open, and an old, stout, sodden woman, in a dirty, green shawl
and battered bonnet stood transfixed with amazement in the entrance. She
hadn't a pleasant eye beneath her straggling, white hair, and her first
words were not altogether agreeable nor appropriate at five-o'clock tea.

"So this is the way," she said gruffly, "when I sends you out, Rag, to pick
up somethin' you eat me out o' house an' home with brats you bring in"; for
she hadn't seen through the dirt on Phronsie's face and clothes what manner
of child was present.

The Dukess twitched off the nightcap, and sprang up, upsetting the tin
coffeepot, which rolled away by itself, and put herself over by Phronsie,
covering her from view. In passing, she had grasped the doll off from the
barrel and hidden her in the folds of her tattered gown with a quick, sharp
thrust.

"'Tain't nothin' 'f I do have some fun once in a while, Gran," she
grumbled. She pinched Phronsie's arm. "Keep still." And while the old woman
swayed across the room, for she wasn't quite free from the effects of a
taste from a bottle under her arm, which she couldn't resist trying before
she reached home, Phronsie and Rag were working their way over toward the
door.

"Stop!" roared the old woman at them, in a fury, and she held up the
nightcap. Involuntarily Rag paused, through sheer force of habit, and stood
paralyzed, till her grandmother had come quite close.

"Hey, what have we got here?" She eyed Phronsie sharply. "Oh, well, you
ain't acted so badly after all; maybe the pretty little lady has come to
see me, hey?" and she seized Phronsie's small arm.

"Gran," cried Rag hoarsely, waking up from her unlucky paralysis, "let her
go; only let her go, an' I'll--I'll do anythin' you want me to. I'll steal,
an' pick an' fetch, and do anything Gran."

The old woman leered at her, and passed her hand to the beads on Phronsie's
neck; and in doing so she let the little arm slip, that she might use both
hands to undo the clasp the better. One second of time--but Rag, knowing
quite well what could be done in it, seized Phronsie, rushed outside,
slammed the door, and was down over the rickety stairs in a twinkling,
through the dirty courtyard and alley--which luckily had few spectators,
and those thought she was carrying a neighbor's child--around a corner,
darting here and there, till presently she set Phronsie down, and drew a
long breath.

"Oh, my eye!" she panted, "but wasn't that a close shave, though!"



II

PHRONSIE


"There now, here you are!" There was a little click in the girl's throat.
Phronsie looked up.

"Yes, and your child, too." Clorinda and all her pink loveliness was thrust
into her own little mother's arms, and the sharp, black eyes peered down
upon the two. "I've brung you home, and you're on your own grassplot,
same's you were." Still she stood in her tracks.

"I'm sorry I brung you to my house; but you've had a five-o'clock tea, and
now you're home, an' got your child." Still she did not stir.

"Well, I've got to go. Say, don't you call no one, nor tell no one, till
I've had time to shake my feet down street." She thrust out one flapping
shoe, then the other, gave a scornful laugh, and brushed her hand across
the sharp eyes. "Promise now, black and blue, 'I promise true, hope to die
if I do'. Hurry up! Do you promise?" she cried sharply.

"Yes," said Phronsie, hugging Clorinda tightly.

"All right. Now for Gran!" She shut her teeth tightly and was off and
through the big gateway.

"I've got my child," said Phronsie, putting up a sleepy hand to pat
Clorinda's head, but it fell to her side, while her yellow hair slipped
closer over her flushed cheek. She tried to say, "Clorinda, we've got home,
and my foots are tired," swayed, held her child tighter to her bosom, and
over she went in a heap, fast asleep before her head touched the soft
grass.

Polly Pepper, hurrying home from Alexia's, ran in by the gateway, and down
by a short cut over the grass, her feet keeping time to a merry air that
had possessed her all the afternoon. "How fine," she cried to herself, "our
garden party will be!--and we've gotten on splendidly with our fancy things
this afternoon. It will be too perfectly elegant for--" the flying feet
came to a standstill that nearly threw her over the sleeping figure, the
doll tightly pressed to the dirty little pinafore and the flushed cheeks.

"Oh, my goodness me!" cried Polly, down on her knees. "Why, Phronsie, just
look at your pinafore!" But Phronsie had no idea of looking at anything,
and still slept on.

"Dear me!" exclaimed Polly, in consternation, "whatever in the world has
she been doing! Well, I must get her up to the house."

"Hullo!" It was Jasper's voice. Polly flew up to her feet and hulloed back.
He took a short cut, with a good many flying leaps, across the grass. "Oh,
Polly, I've been looking for you!"

"Just see there." cried Polly, pointing tragically to the little heap.

"Well, dear me!" said Jasper. "Why, Polly"--as his eyes fell on the soiled
pinafore and the little face where the tears had made muddy streaks.

"I know it," said Polly. "Did you ever in all this world, Jasper! What do
you suppose she has been doing?"

"Oh, making mud pies, perhaps," said Jasper, unwilling to worry Polly;
"don't look so, Polly. Here, we'll carry her to the house."

"Lady-chair," said Polly, the worry dropping out of her eyes at the fun of
carrying Phronsie in. But Phronsie was beyond the charms of "lady-chair" or
"pick-a-back," her yellow head bobbing so dismally when they lifted her up,
that Jasper at last picked her up in his arms, and marched off with her.

"You bring the doll, Polly."

So Polly ran along by his side with Clorinda dangling by one arm.

Mother Fisher said never a word when she received her baby, but wisely
soothed and washed and tucked her away in bed; and little Doctor Fisher, as
soon as he got home, viewed her critically through his big spectacles, and
said, "The child is all right. Let her sleep." Which she did, until every
one of the household, creeping in and out, declared she could not possibly
sleep any longer, and that they must wake her up. This last was from Polly.

"What do you suppose it is, Mamsie?" she asked, for about the fiftieth
time, hanging over Phronsie's little bed.

"Nothing," said Mrs. Fisher, with firm lips. Polly must not be worried by
unnecessary alarm, and really there seemed to be nothing amiss with
Phronsie, who was sleeping peacefully, with calm little face and even
breath. "It's the best thing for her to sleep till she's rested."

"But what could have tired her so?" said Polly, with a puzzled face.

"That's just what we can't find out now," said her mother, diving into her
basket for another of Van's stockings. "Oh, here is the mate. When she
wakes up, she'll tell us."

"Well, Joanna is going, isn't she, Mamsie?" asked Polly, deserting the
little bed to fling herself down on the floor at Mrs. Fisher's feet, to
watch the busy fingers.

"Yes, she is," said Mother Fisher decidedly.

"I'm so very glad of that," said Polly, with a sigh of relief, "because you
know, Mamsie, she might go off again and leave Phronsie when she ought to
be watching her."

"Say no more about it, Polly," said her mother, setting even, firm
stitches, "for Mr. King is very angry with Joanna; and you needn't be
afraid that Phronsie will ever be left again, until we do get just the
right person to be with her. Now you better go out and forget it all, and
busy yourself about something."

"I've got to practice," said Polly with a yawn, and stretching her arms. "I
haven't done a bit this whole afternoon, and Monsieur comes tomorrow."

"Best fly at it, then," said Mrs. Fisher, smiling at her. So Polly, with a
parting glance at the figure on the little bed, went downstairs and into
the big drawing-room, wishing that Phronsie was there, as usual, where she
dearly loved to stay, tucked up in a big damask-covered chair, one of her
dolls in her arms, waiting patiently till the practice hour should be over.

But when Phronsie at last turned over, and said without a bit of warning,
"I want something to eat, I do." with an extremely injured expression,
Mother Fisher was so thankful that she had no time to question her, if,
indeed, she had considered it wise to do so. And Sarah was called, and
laughed with delight at the summons, and ran off to get the tray ready,
Phronsie watching her with hungry eyes in which the dew of sleep still
lingered. But old Mr. King was not so patient.

When he saw, as he soon did, his visits to the side of the little bed being
as frequent as Polly's own, that Phronsie was really awake and sitting up,
he could keep still no longer, but putting his arms around her, fumed out:

"Oh, that careless Joanna! Poor lamb! There, there! Grandpapa will take
care of his little girl himself, after this."

"I'm hungry," announced Phronsie, looking up into his face. "Indeed I am,
Grandpapa dear, very hungry."

"Oh, to think of it! Yes, Pet"--soothing her. "Where is that Sarah? Can't
some one get this poor child a bit to eat?" he cried irascibly.

"Sarah will hurry just as fast as she can," said Mrs. Fisher, coming up
with a dainty white gown over her arm. "Phronsie must be a good girl and
wait patiently."

Phronsie wriggled her toes under the bedclothes.

"I wish you'd take me, Grandpapa dear," she said, holding up her arms.

"So I will--so I will, Pet!" cried old Mr. King, very much delighted; and
lifting her up to rest her head on his shoulder, he walked up and down the
room. "There, there, dear! Oh, why doesn't that Sarah hurry!"--when in
walked that individual with a big tray, and on it everything that a hungry
child could be supposed to desire. But Phronsie had no eyes for anything
but the glass of milk.

"Oh, Grandpapa," she piped out at sight of it, "Sarah's got me some milk,"
and she gave a happy little crow.

"So she has," he laughed as gayly, "Well, now, we'll sit right down here
and have some of these good things," and, Mrs. Fisher drawing up a big easy
chair in front of the table where Sarah deposited the tray, he sat down,
with Phronsie on his knee. "Now, child----"

"Oh, Grandpapa, may I have the milk?" she begged, holding out a trembling
hand.

"Bless you, yes, child." He put the glass into her hand. "Take care,
Phronsie, don't drink so fast."

"Honey will choke herself," cried Sarah, in alarm, holding up warning black
fingers. "Oh, my! she's done drunk it mos' all up a'ready."

"There, there, Phronsie!" Grandpapa took hold of the glass.

"Phronsie," said Mother Fisher, and it was her hand that took the glass
away from the eager lips. "You must eat a roll now, or a little bit of
toast."

"But I want some more milk," said Phronsie, and her lips quivered.

"Not yet, Phronsie." Mother Fisher was cutting up the toast, and now held
up a morsel on the spoon. "See how very nice it is."

"We'll play it is five-o'clock tea," said old Mr. King, at his wit's end to
bring the smiles into her face. Phronsie turned and gave him one look, then
buried her face in his waistcoat and cried as hard as she could.

"There, there!" The old gentleman got up to his feet and began to pace the
floor again, his white hair bent over her face, his hand patting her back
gently. "Don't cry, poor little lamb." And as a sudden thought struck him,
"Just look at your mother, Phronsie; you are making her sick."

Up popped Phronsie's yellow head, the tears trailing off from the round
cheeks till they fell on the floor. There stood Mother Fisher, quite still.

"I'm sorry, Mamsie," said Phronsie, and she put out a little hand, "I'll
eat the toast." So down old Mr. King sat again, with her on his lap, and
Mother Fisher cut up more toast, and Phronsie opened her mouth obediently,
and after the first mouthful she smiled: "I like it, I do." And Mother
Fisher smiled too, and said, "I knew you would, Phronsie." And Grandpapa
laughed, he was so happy, and Sarah kept crying, "Bress de Lawd! yer maw
knew best." And pretty soon Mrs. Fisher nodded to old Mr. King, and he
said, "Now for the rest of the milk, Phronsie," and the glass was put into
her happy hand.

And then more toast, and more laughing, for Grandpapa by that time told a
funny story, and everything got so very merry that the gayety brought all
the rest of the houseful of children up to see if Phronsie were really
awake.

"Why didn't you tell us before?" cried Joel, in a dudgeon, revolving around
the table. "She's been eating ever so long, and we thought she was asleep."

"That's the reason she's had a little peace," retorted the old gentleman.

"Catch them telling you, Joe!" said Percy Whitney, glad to pitch in with a
word.

"Well, you didn't know it, either," said Joel, in great satisfaction. "Say,
Phronsie, where were you all this morning?"

"Ugh!" cried Van, with a warning dig in his ribs.

"Let me alone," cried Joel, squaring around on him savagely.

"Look at Phronsie's face," said Percy, with a superior manner, as if no one
needed to tell him when to speak.

Polly was on her knees cuddling up Phronsie's toes, and begging to feed
her, when she felt her give a shiver, and try to hide her face on her neck.

"Don't, Joey," begged Polly. But Joel, not hearing her, and hating to be
dictated to by Percy, cried out persistently:

"Say, Phron, what were you doing all the morning?"

Phronsie at this gave a loud sob. "Take me, Polly," was all she said. So
Polly sat down on the floor, and Phronsie snuggled up closer into her neck,
and was rocked back and forth to her heart's content, while Joel, perfectly
aghast at the mischief he had done, was taken in tow by Mother Fisher, to
sob out, his head in her lap, that he "didn't mean to, he didn't mean to."

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed old Mr. King, in dismay, "this is a pretty state
of things! Polly, my child"--he leaned over her--"can't you think up
something to get us out of it?"

"I'm going to talk about the garden party," cried Polly, an inspiration
seizing her. "Oh, Phronsie, now you must sit up; you can't think what plans
we have for it." But Phronsie burrowed deeper in her nest.

"If you don't sit up, Phronsie," said Polly quite decidedly, "I shall have
to put you off from my lap, and go out of the room."

"Oh, no, no, Polly!" cried Phronsie, clutching her around the neck.

"Yes, I shall, Phronsie," declared Polly, in her most decided fashion, "so
you must sit right up, and hear all about it. Now, Jasper, you begin."

So Phronsie sat up and let Polly wipe her face; and then she folded her
hands in her lap, while Jasper began:

"You see that we thought that we'd take the Wistaria arbor, Father, if
you'd let us, for our post office. May we?"

"Yes, yes, certainly," said the old gentleman, who would have been quite
willing to promise anything just then.

"Oh, that's no end jolly!" cried Jasper, throwing back his dark hair from
his forehead with a quick thrust. "Now we can do splendidly. Polly, only
think!" His eyes shone, and Polly screamed out, "Oh, Grandpapa, how
lovely!" and the others joined in, not quite knowing what they were so
happy about, until Joel popped up his head from his mother's lap to hear
what all the noise was about over there.

"I'm going to be postmaster," he announced, wiping the tears off with the
back of his hand, and plunging across the room.

"No, sir-ee!" declared Ben, seizing his jacket-end, "don't think it, Joe.
Jasper is going to fill that important office."

"Yes, Jasper is," shouted Percy and Van together, delighted at anything
that could keep Joel out. Davie stood perfectly still in the midst of the
uproar.

"Why couldn't Joey be a letter carrier, to help give out the letters?" he
said at last, in the midst of the noise. "Couldn't he, Ben?" and he ran to
twitch that individual's sleeve.

"Hey--what?"

"Couldn't he be the one to give out some of the letters, and help Jasper?"
asked David anxiously.

"I don't know--yes, maybe"--as he saw David's face fall. "You best ask
Jasper, he's to be the postmaster."

So David ran over and precipitated himself into the middle of the group,
with his question; when immediately the rest began to clamor to help Jasper
give out the letters, so the babel was worse than at first.

Phronsie by this time was begging with the others, while she sat straight
in Polly's lap, with very red cheeks and wide eyes. Now she slipped out,
and rushed up to Jasper.

"And I, too, Japser; I want to give out letters, too," she cried,
dreadfully excited.

"So you shall, Pet," he cried, seizing her to toss her up in the air, the
others all circling around them, Phronsie's happy little crows going up
high above the general din.

"Well, I think if we are going to have such a fine post office, we'll have
to work pretty hard to write the letters," said Polly, after they had
sobered down a bit.

"Ugh!" cried Joel with a grimace, "I'm not going to write a single scrap of
one."

"Indeed you are," retorted Polly; "everybody has absolutely got to write
some letters. Why, we must have a bushel of them."

"Oh, Polly Pepper!" cried the others, "a bushel of letters!"

"And no one can have a letter who doesn't write some," announced Polly
firmly--"the very idea! So we must all work like everything to get ready
for the post office."



III

CLEM FORSYTHE


Phronsie sat on the stairs, halfway down the long flight. It was the same
staircase on which Jasper had found her, with Polly waiting patiently on
the lower step, when she first came to Grandpapa King's. Now she held
Clorinda in her arms, tightly pressed to her bosom.

"I do wish," she said softly, "that I could see my poor little girl, I do."

Clorinda not replying, Phronsie smoothed down the pink gown.

"It wasn't very nice at that little girl's house"--and a troubled
expression swept over her face--"but the little girl was nice, and she
hadn't any child."

Clorinda's countenance expressed no sorrow, but stared up at her mother
unblinkingly. Phronsie bent over and dropped a kiss on the red lips.

"Maybe she'll come again some day, if I watch by the big gate."

"My goodness me!" Polly, running along the upper hall, peered over the
railing. "What are you doing, Phronsie, sitting down in the middle of the
stairs?"

"I'm thinking," said Phronsie, looking up.

"Well, I should say!" cried Polly, running down to sit beside her. "Oh,
Pet, I've an invite for you." She seized Phronsie's hand and cuddled it in
both of her own. "It's perfectly splendid."

"What's an 'invite'?" asked Phronsie, coming slowly out of her thoughts, to
peer into Polly's face.

"Oh, I forgot, Mamsie didn't want me to say that," said Polly, with a
little blush. "Well, it's an invitation, Pet, and to Miss Mary Taylor's, to
go with us girls this afternoon to work on our fancy things for the fair.
Only think of that, Phronsie Pepper!" And Polly threw her arms around the
small figure, and hugged her, to the imminent danger of both falling down
the rest of the flight.

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Polly, "we almost went over."

"Can I really go, Polly?" cried Phronsie, as soon as she could get her
breath, "when you all take your bags and work on things?" She set Clorinda
carefully down on the stair above, and stood up to look into Polly's face.

"Yes, child. Take care, you'll tumble over backward," warned Polly, with a
restraining hand. "And oh, Phronsie! I'm going to make you a little silk
bag, and you can take your pin-cushion to work on."

This was such a height of bliss that it quite overcame Phronsie, and she
sat down on her stair again to think it over. To have a little silk bag to
hang on her arm to carry her work in, just as Polly and the other girls did
when they went to each other's houses with their fancy work, was more than
she ever imagined was coming to her till she got as big as they were. And
to put her "cushion-pin" in it, and go to Miss Mary Taylor's with them all,
sent her into such a dream of delight that she sat quite still, her hands
in her lap.

"Don't you like it, Pet?" cried Polly, disappointed at her silence.

Phronsie drew a long breath, then stood up and began to hop up and down on
her stair.

"Oh, Polly," she cried, clapping her hands, "I'm going to have a little
silk bag, I truly am, Polly, all my own--oh!"

"My goodness me, Phronsie!" cried Polly, seizing her arms, "you'll roll
down and break your neck, most likely."

"And I'll take my cushion-pin"--Phronsie leaned over and put her face close
to Polly's cheek--"and I'll sew on it for the poor children, I will," and
she began to hop up and down again.

"Take care, and stop dancing," laughed Polly.

"And it shall be a pink bag," said Phronsie, dreadfully excited; "make it a
pink bag, do, Polly."

"Oh, I don't know that I can do that," said Polly slowly, "because you know
I took my piece of pink ribbon Auntie gave me, for that sachet case I'm
making for the fair. But never mind, child"--as she saw a sorry little
droop to Phronsie's mouth--"I'll find another somewhere, and it will be
nice, even if it isn't pink."

"It will be nice," echoed Phronsie confidently, as long as Polly said so,
and she clasped her hands.

"And come on, Pet, we'll go and find the ribbon and make the bag now, so as
to be all ready." Polly flew up from her stair. "Pick up your doll, and
give me your hand. Here we are!"--as they ran up to the top.

"I very much wish you wouldn't call her my doll," panted Phronsie, as they
reached the last step; "she's my child, Polly."

"I know; I won't forget," laughed Polly. "Now, says I, Phronsie, for my
piece-box!"

The invitation of Miss Mary Taylor to all the girls who were getting up the
fair for the poor children's week, plunged them into such a state of
excitement that those who had been lagging over their fancy work now
spirited up on it, or ran down-street to get more materials and begin anew.
One of these was Clem Forsythe.

"Oh, dear me!" cried Polly, looking up from the floor of her room, where
Phronsie and she had thrown themselves, the piece-box of ribbons between
them, "here comes Clem up the drive; now I 'most know she wants me to help
her on that sofa-pillow," and she twitched a square of yellow silk into a
tighter tangle. "How in the world did that spool get in here?" she
exclaimed, in vexation.

"I'll get it out, let me," begged Phronsie, dropping a fascinating bunch of
gay ribbons she was sorting in the hope of finding a pink one.

"Oh, you can't, child," cried Polly, her impatient fingers making sad work
of the snarl. "There, I'll break the old thing, there's no other way"--as
Clem ran over the stairs and into the room.

"Oh, I'm so glad to find you!" panted Clem. "Dear me! what _are_ you
doing?" And not waiting for an answer, she plunged on: "I stopped at
Alexia's--thought you might be there. And she's just as mad as can be
because I was coming over here for you. You see, her aunt has something for
her to do this morning. I'm tickled to death that for once I got ahead of
her. Whew! I'm so hot! I ran every step of the way." She threw herself down
on the floor beside the two. "My, what a sight of ribbons, Polly Pepper!"

"I'm going to have a silk bag, Clem," confided Phronsie, dropping the
little bunch of ribbons in her lap, to lean over to look into the tall
girl's face, "and I'm going to take my cushion-pin in it."

"Are you, really?" said Clem. "Oh, Polly, you see, I want you to----"

"Yes, I am." Phronsie nodded her yellow head. "Polly is going to make it
right now, she is."

"Is she? Oh, dear!" Clem gave a groan. "Oh, Polly, I did want you to----"

"You see, I promised her this," Polly was guilty of interrupting. "She's
been invited to Miss Mary's this afternoon with us girls, and she wants a
silk bag to carry her work in, too, the same as we big girls have, don't
you, Pet?" Polly stopped long enough in the final tussle with the snarl to
set a kiss on Phronsie's round cheek.

"Yes, I do, Polly," laughed Phronsie, with a wriggle of delight, "and I'm
going to carry my cushion-pin in it, I am."

"So you see I can't help you on your sofa-pillow, Clem," said Polly
hurriedly, feeling dreadfully ashamed to have to say no.

"Oh, I don't want any help on it," said Clem; "I finished that old thing,
Polly."

"Finished your sofa-pillow, Clem!" Polly dropped her snarl in her lap.
"Why, how could you?--and you hadn't the dog worked, except one leg, and
none of the filling in."

"Oh, I don't mean I finished it in that way," said Clem carelessly. "I mean
I'm done with it forever. I just hate that old dog, Polly, and so I gave
the whole thing to our second girl, and she's going to work it for
Christmas and send it to her mother."

"Dear me!" exclaimed Polly, "and now you won't give anything to the fair,"
and her mouth drooped sorrowfully.

"Oh, yes, I will, too," declared Clem cheerfully; "I'll give something ten
times better than that old dog sitting up on a cushion. And nobody would
have bought it when it was done, except my mother--I'd made her--so what's
the use of finishing it? Anyway, I've given it to Bridget; and now I'm
going to make the most elegant thing--you can't guess, Polly Pepper."

"What is it?" cried Polly, with sparkling eyes.

"Oh, that's telling," said Clem, in a tantalizing way. "You must guess."

"Polly," said Phronsie, with a gentle little twitch on her arm, "can you
find any pink ribbon?"

"Yes, yes; I mean no, not yet," said Polly, in a preoccupied way, her eyes
on Clem's face. "Oh, I can't guess; it might be anything, you know, Clem."

"But it isn't; I mean it's something," declared Clem, in great triumph.
"Oh, do hurry, you're so slow, Polly; it's too elegant for anything!"

Polly leaned her face in her hands, and her elbows on her knees. "Mm,
mm--oh, I know!" She brought up suddenly, nearly overthrowing Phronsie, who
had bent anxiously over her. "Take care, Pet, I came near bumping your
nose. It's a workbag."

"A workbag!" exclaimed Clem, in great scorn. "Well, I guess not, Polly
Pepper. What I'm going to make is ever so much better than an old workbag.
Guess again."

At the mention of the workbag, Phronsie had gently pulled Polly's arm. But
Polly was too deep in thought to notice, and she wrinkled her brows, and
bent her head again in her hands. What could it possibly be that Clem was
to make?

"Well, I think it is a sachet bag, then," she said at last.

"An old sachet bag, when all the girls are making oceans of 'em! I should
think you'd be perfectly ashamed, Polly Pepper, to sit there and guess such
things. I'm going to make a most beautiful, embroidered handkerchief case,
with little violets all----"

"Why, you can't, Clem Forsythe!" Polly flew to her feet, sending the ribbon
box flying, and nearly oversetting Phronsie. "You ought not to do any such
thing," she ran on passionately, a little red spot coming on either cheek,
"when you know it'll be just like mine. It would be too mean for anything."

"It won't be just like it," said Clem, twisting uncomfortably, and not
looking up into Polly's face, "for mine is to be a wreath, and yours is a
bunch."

"But it'll be the same thing," cried Polly, too angry to think what she was
saying, "and you're perfectly mean and hateful to copy mine."

"Polly," cried Phronsie, in a distressed little voice. She had gotten up to
her feet, and now hurried over to hold Polly's gown. "Oh, don't, Polly,
don't!"

"Go away," commanded Polly, angrily twitching her gown free; "you don't
know what you are doing, Phronsie, to stop me. She's gone and chosen the
very thing I thought of all by myself."

"I guess there are other violet handkerchief cases in the shops," said Clem
coldly. She was getting over her uncomfortable fit, and now she sprang to
her feet. "And I think you are mean and stingy, too, Polly Pepper"--she
tossed her head high in the air--"to expect to keep all the best things to
yourself, and we're all working ourselves most to death over this old fair.
And I did come to ask you to go down-town with me to buy my materials.
Mother's given me five dollars to spend just as I like--but I shan't ask
you now, so there!" She gave her head another toss, and walked off toward
the door.

Phronsie deserted Polly and ran on unsteady little feet after her.

"Polly isn't mean and stingy," she quavered; "she couldn't be."

Clem looked down at her, and little uncomfortable thrills ran all over her.

"Well, anyway, she's mad at me," she said, with great decision.

"Oh, no, Polly isn't mad," declared Phronsie. She clasped her hands, and
swallowed very hard to keep the tears back, but two big drops escaped and
rolled down her cheeks. When Clem saw those, she turned away.

"Well, anyway, I'm going down-street by myself," she said, without a
backward glance at Polly, and off she went.

"And if she thinks I'm going with her, or care what she does, after this,"
cried Polly, magnificently, with her head in the air, "she'll make a
mistake."

"Polly, Polly!" The tears were rolling fast now, and Phronsie could
scarcely see to stumble back across the room to her side.

"And you don't know anything about it, child. To think of making a violet
handkerchief case, and mine is almost done, and none of the girls would
copy mine! And Jasper drew the flowers on purpose." She was going on so
fast now that she couldn't stop herself.

"Mamsie wouldn't like it," wailed Phronsie, clear gone in distress now, and
hiding her face in Polly's gown.

"Mamsie would say--" began Polly decidedly. Then she stopped suddenly. "Oh,
what have I said!" she cried. "Oh, what can I do!" She clasped her hands
tightly together. She was now in as much distress as Phronsie, and, seeing
this, Phronsie came out of her tears at once.

"You might run after her," she said. "Oh, Polly, do."

"She won't speak to me," said Polly, with a little shiver, and covering her
eyes. "Oh, dear, dear, how could I!"

"Yes, she will, I do believe," said Phronsie, putting down a terrible
feeling at her throat. Not speak to Polly?--such a thing could never be!
"Do run after her, Polly," she begged.

Polly took down her hands and went off with wavering steps to the door.

"I'll get your hat," cried Phronsie, running to the closet.

But Polly, once having decided to make the attempt at a reconciliation, was
off, her brown braids flying back of her in the wind.



IV

MISS TAYLOR'S WORKING BEE


Looking both sides of the road, not daring to think what she would say if
she really did see Clem, Polly sped on. But not a glimpse of the tall
girl's figure met her eyes, and at last she turned in at a gateway and ran
up the little path to the door. Mrs. Forsythe saw her through the window
that opened on the piazza.

"Why, Polly Pepper," she cried, "what a pity that Clem didn't find you! She
went over to your house."

"Oh, I know, I know," panted Polly, with scarlet cheeks.

"Don't try to talk," said Mrs. Forsythe, "you are all out of breath. Come
in, Polly."

"Oh, I can't. I mean I would like to see Clem," mumbled Polly, with an
awful dread, now that she was on the point of finding her, of what she
should say. It was all she could do to keep from running down the piazza
steps and fleeing home as fast as she had come.

"Why, Clem isn't at home," said Mrs. Forsythe, in a puzzled way; "you know
I told you she had gone over to your house. She wanted you to go down-town
with her, to buy some materials to take over to Miss Mary's this afternoon
and begin something new for the fair."

"Oh!" said Polly, in a faint voice, and hanging to the piazza railing.

"You see, she was all tired out over that sofa-pillow. I told her it was
quite too ambitious a piece to do, and she was so discouraged I gave her
some more money, and advised her to get something fresh. She had almost
made up her mind to give up working for the fair altogether."

"Oh, dear me!" gasped Polly, quite overcome.

"Yes." Mrs. Forsythe leaned comfortably against the door-casing. It was
such a comfort to tell her worries to Polly Pepper. "Clem said all the
other girls were making such pretty things, and it was no use for her to
try. She can't get up new ideas quickly, you know, and she was ashamed not
to take in something nice, and so she said she didn't mean to do anything.
I couldn't bear to have her give it up, for she ought to keep with you
girls." Mrs. Forsythe's face fell into anxious lines. "She gets unhappy by
herself, with no young people in the house and only my mother and me to
brighten her up. So I talked with her a long while this morning, and at
last got her to be willing to try again. Well, it's all right now, for
she's started to find you, and go down-town to buy the things," and Mrs
Forsythe smiled happily.

Polly sank to the piazza steps and buried her face in her hands.

"Why, my dear, are you ill?" Clem's mother deserted the door-casing and
came quickly out. "Let me get you something."

"Oh, no, no!" Polly sprang to her feet and hurried down the steps. "I must
go home," she said hoarsely; and not pausing to think, only to get to
Mamsie, she sped away on the wings of the wind, not stopping until she had
turned in at the little green wicket-gate where she wouldn't be likely to
meet any one.

"Oh, dear, dear!"--and she hurried across the grass--"supposing Mamsie
isn't at home! She was going out for Auntie. What _shall_ I do?"

In her despair she raced over the greensward and plunged into the Wistaria
arbor--to stand face to face with Clem!

Polly was too far gone in distress to say anything. Clem jerked up her head
from the table, and raised a defiant pair of cheeks, wet and miserable.
"Oh, dear, dear!" was all Polly could get out. But she stumbled in and put
her arms around her neck, and down went the two heads together.

"I'm awfully sorry," blubbered Clem. "Oh, dear! I forgot my handkerchief."

"Take mine." Polly put a wet little wad into her hand. "Oh, Clem, if you
don't let me go down-town with you and buy that handkerchief case!"

"Let you!" cried Clem. "You won't want to go with me, Polly. But I'm not
going to work a handkerchief case."

"Oh, yes, you are," declared Polly positively. "If you don't, Clem
Forsythe!"

"It was mean in me to choose it," said Clem, beginning to sniffle again,
now that she had a handkerchief.

"Oh, no, no!" said Polly in alarm. "Now I know you won't forgive me when
you say such things. For it was all my fault; I was stingy mean to want to
keep it to myself."

"You aren't ever mean, Polly Pepper!" Clem hugged her so tightly by the
neck that the neat little ruffle Mamsie sewed in that very morning was
quite crushed. When she saw that, Clem was in worse distress than ever.

"See here! Why, Clem Forsythe!" Polly Pepper flew up to her feet so
suddenly, that Clem started in amazement, and stared at her as well as she
could with her eyes full of tears.

"Why, can't you see? Haven't we been two goosies--geese, I mean--not to
think of it before!"

"What?" asked Clem helplessly.

"Why, you might make a violet _glove_ case," said Polly, in a burst.
Then she began to dance around the arbor. "Oh, Clem, how perfectly lovely!"

"I don't see," began Clem dismally, "and I don't know how to make a glove
case."

"Why, make it just like my handkerchief case, only long," flung Polly over
her shoulder, as she danced away.

"But I don't want to copy yours," protested Clem, "for it really would be
mean."

"But this would make a set, yours and mine," said Polly breathlessly, and
coming up to shake the downcast shoulders, "don't you see? Oh, you goosie!
and I've been another, not to think of it before. And oh, such a set! Why,
it would sell for a lot of money. And I'll ask Jasper to draw you the same
kind of bunch of violets on your glove case, and we'll go right down-town,
now. I can make Phronsie's bag when I get home. Come on!"

When Clem once had the idea in her mind, she got off from the bench, and
Phronsie, watching anxiously from Polly's window for her return, saw the
two girls hurrying across the lawn, their arms around each other and
talking busily. And it wasn't but a moment or two, and she was flying over
the grass to meet them. Polly had explained that the little ribbon bag was
to be made just as soon as the materials for the new glove case were
bought. Polly had run up for her hat, and to get her little purse, for she
just remembered that her green silk for the violet stems was nearly out,
and Phronsie had said good-bye and gone back to the house on happy feet, to
tell Clorinda and watch at the window till Polly should come again.

And just after luncheon, for they must start early in order to have a good
long afternoon at Miss Mary's, Polly and Phronsie set forth, the new little
bag hanging from Phronsie's arm. Jasper went with them as far as the
corner, where he turned off to go to Jack Rutherford's, for the boys were
to meet there to write letters for the post office. They had promised to be
there bright and early.

"Oh, Jasper, it was so good of you to draw that dear bunch of violets for
Clem," said Polly for about the fiftieth time; "it was too sweet for
anything."

"Too sweet for anything," hummed Phronsie, all her eyes on her bag,
dangling as she walked.

"Take care, you came near falling on your nose, Phronsie." Jasper put out a
warning hand.

"I think it's so nice there's a pink stripe in it, Polly," said Phronsie,
patting her bag affectionately.

"Yes, isn't it, Pet!" cried Polly, glad she hadn't snipped up that very
ribbon for little sachet bags. "And the green stripe, too, is pretty,
Phronsie."

"It's pretty," cooed Phronsie, "and my cushion-pin is inside, Japser," she
announced.

"Is it really?" said Jasper.

"Yes, it is really and truly, Japser, and I'm going to work on it," she
added, with a very important air.

"You don't say so, Pet!" he cried. "Why, you are going to a working bee
just the same as the big girls, aren't you?"

"I'm very big," said Phronsie, stepping so high she nearly fell into a
mud-puddle. Whereat Jasper picked her up, bag and all, and marched off,
laughing, not to set her down till they reached the corner.

"Well, good-bye. Take care now, Phronsie," and he gave her a kiss.
"Good-bye, Polly, and good luck to your bee."

"And I do hope you'll have splendid success with the letters, Jasper,"
Polly craned her neck around the corner to say, the last thing. Then she
took Phronsie's hand and hurried along to meet a throng of girls, all bound
for Miss Mary's.

There on the big stone steps was Mr. Hamilton Dyce.

"I heard there was to be a bee here this afternoon," he said, looking down
at them all with a smile, "so I thought I'd come."

"I'm coming," announced Phronsie, breaking away from Polly and holding up
her bag; and she began to mount the steps.

"So I perceive," said Mr. Dyce, running down to meet her. "Well, Phronsie,
I must tell you I came partly to see you."

"And I've got a cushion-pin inside," said Phronsie confidingly, as she
toiled up.

"Have you, though?" cried Mr. Dyce. "Take care, don't go so fast. Let some
of these girls race ahead of us; we'll take our time. How d'ye, Polly, and
Alexia, and all the rest of you?"

"But I must hurry," said Phronsie, with a very pink face, as the bevy
rushed by, "for I'm going to work on my cushion-pin."

"So you must. Well, then, here goes!" Mr. Dyce swung her up to his shoulder
and went, two steps at a time, in through the crowd of girls, so that he
arrived there first when the door was opened. There in the hall stood Miss
Mary Taylor, as pretty as a pink.

"I heard there was to be a bee here this afternoon, and I've brought
Phronsie; that's my welcome," he announced.

"See, I've got a bag," announced Phronsie from her perch, and holding it
forth.

So the bag was admired, and the girls trooped in, going up into Miss Mary's
pretty room to take off their things. And presently the big library, with
the music-room adjoining, was filled with the gay young people, and the
bustle and chatter began at once.

"I should think you'd be driven wild by them all wanting you at the same
minute." Mr. Dyce, having that desire at this identical time, naturally
felt a bit impatient, as Miss Mary went about inspecting the work, helping
to pick out a stitch here and to set a new one there, admiring everyone's
special bit of prettiness, and tossing a smile and a gay word in every
chance moment between.

"Oh, no," said Miss Mary, with a little laugh, "they're most of them my
Sunday-school scholars, you know."

"That's all the more reason that you ought not to be bothered with them
week days," observed Mr. Dyce. "Now why can't you sit down here and amuse
me?" He pushed up an easy-chair into a cosy-corner, then drew up an
ottoman, on which he sat down.

"Oh, look at that Mr. Dyce," said Clem, quite in a flow of spirits, as she
threaded her needle with a strand of violet silk; "he's going to keep Miss
Mary off there all to himself. What did make him come this afternoon?"

"Well, he isn't going to have Miss Mary!" cried Alexia Rhys, twitching her
pink worsted with an impatient hand. "Horrors! Now I've gone and gotten
that into a precious snarl. The very idea! She's our Sunday-school teacher.
Oh, Miss Mary!" she called suddenly.

Miss Taylor, just sitting down in the easy-chair, turned. "What is it,
Alexia?"--while Mr. Dyce frowned. At which Alexia laughed over at him.

"Please show me about my work," she begged.

"You little tyrant!" called Mr. Dyce, as Miss Mary went over.

"Do I slip one stitch and then knit two?" asked Alexia innocently. Polly,
next to her on a cricket, opened wide eyes.

"Yes," said Miss Mary, "just the same as you have been knitting all along,
Alexia."

"Well, I couldn't think of anything else to ask," said Alexia coolly. Then
she laid hold of Miss Mary's pretty, gray gown.

"Oh, don't go back to him," she implored. "Do stay with us girls, we're all
your Sunday-school class--that is, most of us. _Please_ stay with us,
Miss Mary."

Miss Mary cast an imploring glance over at the gentleman, which he seemed
to see, although apparently he wasn't looking.

"Phronsie, you and I will have to move over, I think"; for by this time he
had her in his lap; and so he bundled her across the room unceremoniously.

"Oh, I've lost my needle!" cried Phronsie, peering out from his arms in
great distress.

"Dear me!" exclaimed Mr. Dyce; so he set her down and dropped to all-fours
to peer about for the shining little implement, Phronsie getting down on
her knees to assist the search.

Alexia, seeing the trouble, deserted her knitting, and flew out of her
chair to help look for it.

"You little tyrant!" exclaimed Mr. Dyce, as she added herself to the group,
"to call Miss Mary over there! I should think it was quite bad enough to
have you Sundays, Alexia."

"Miss Mary thinks a great deal of me," said Alexia composedly. "Dear me,
what a plaguey little thing that needle is! Never mind, Phronsie, don't
feel badly. I guess--oh, here it is, and sticking straight up."

"And all this would never have happened but for your calling Miss Mary
away," observed Mr. Dyce, getting up straight again. "What a little
nuisance you are, Alexia!" All of which she had heard from him so many
times before that it failed to disturb her, so she went back to her seat in
high spirits, Phronsie hopping over like a small rabbit to a little cricket
at Polly's feet. At this there was a bustle among the girls.

"Sit next to me, Miss Mary," begged Silvia Horne, sweeping a chair clear.

"No, no," cried Amy Garrett, "she's coming here!"

"I call that nice," exclaimed Alexia decidedly, "when I asked her to come
across the room! I'm going to sit next to her of course."

"You'd much better have stayed with me," laughed Mr. Hamilton Dyce, "since
there'll be one long fight over you. Better come back."

But Miss Mary, protesting that the girls needed her, finally settled it by
getting her chair into the middle of the group, which she made into a
circle.

"There, now, we're all comfy together," she announced. "Now, Mr. Dyce, you
must read us something."

"Oh, tell us a story," put in Alexia, who didn't relish listening to
reading.

"Oh, yes, a story, a story," they one and all took it up. Even Phronsie
laid down her big needle which she was patiently dragging back and forth,
with a very long piece of red worsted following its trail across the face
of her "cushion-pin" in a way to suit her own design, to beg for the story.

"Oh, Phronsie!" exclaimed Polly, for the first time catching sight of this,
"you can't work with such a long thread. Let me cut off some of it, do."

"Oh, no, no," protested Phronsie, edging off in alarm.

"Why, it'll get all knotted up," said Polly, in concern; "you better let me
take off a little--just a little, teenty bit, Phronsie."

"No, no," declared Phronsie decidedly, "I must hurry and get my cushion-pin
done."

"She thinks she'll get it done faster with a great, long thread," giggled
one of the girls over in the corner. Mr. Dyce turning to fix her with a
stare, she subsided, ducking behind her neighbor's back.

"Phronsie, I must buy that cushion-pin at the fair," he announced. "I want
such an one very much indeed."

Phronsie got off from the little cricket where he had placed her, and went
straight over to him, to lay her hand with the "cushion-pin" in it on his
knee. "Then I will sell it to you," she said gravely, "and the poor
children can go into the country." Then she went back to her seat and took
up her work once more.

Some of the girls laughed, but Alexia frowned furiously at them; and Mr.
Dyce and Miss Mary apparently seeing no amusement in it, they all began to
beg for the story again, till the clamor bade fair to stop the needles from
doing their work.

"I guess you'll have to," Miss Mary smiled over at him from the center of
the circle, while the color deepened on her cheek.

"I want a story told to me first," he said coolly, leaning back in his
chair. "What is all this bee for, and this fair? I know just a hint about
that, but let me have the whole story from beginning to end. Now then, some
one tell me. I am very anxious to hear."

"You tell, Polly," cried Alexia, and "Let Polly Pepper tell, can't she,
Miss Mary?" begged all the girls, every one saying the same thing. So Miss
Mary said yes, and Polly laid down her violet handkerchief case in her lap,
although she hated to stop working, and began:

"You see, Miss Mary said one day in Sunday-school----"

"Oh, Polly, not that!" said Miss Taylor, in dismay.

"Go on, Polly, and tell every word," said Mr. Hamilton Dyce. "I'm to be
told the whole story; from the very beginning, now mind. You said, 'One day
in Sunday-school.' Now go on."

"Yes," said Polly, her cheeks like a rose for fear her dear Miss Mary might
not like it, "Miss Mary said we ought to be doing things, not always
talking about them and learning how to be good; and she said there were so
many poor children who were waiting for us to help them. And----"

"Polly, you don't need to tell that. He wants to know about the fair," Miss
Taylor broke in suddenly.

"Oh, dear!" said poor Polly, blushing rosier than ever and moving her
cricket so that she need not see Miss Mary's face, while Mr. Dyce,
protesting that he was not to be cheated out of a single word of the
narration, made her go back and tell over the last thing she said. This was
so much worse that Miss Mary decided she would let the story go on at all
hazards, so she leaned back in her chair resignedly, while Polly went on:

"Well, and so we said, 'Yes, Miss Mary, we'd like to' and what could we do,
for we didn't know how to help poor children."

"And I said I didn't want to," broke in Alexia suddenly.

"But you did, Alexia!" cried Polly, whirling around on her cricket to
regard her affectionately. "Oh, Mr. Dyce, she did help"--looking over at
him anxiously.

"Oh, yes, I see," nodded that gentleman, "and she's working on some
fandango for the fair just as hard as you other girls."

"Oh, this horrible old shawl!" said Alexia, regarding the worsted folds
dangling from her needle with anything but favor. "Well, I didn't want it,
and nobody will buy it, I know, but the other girls were all going to do
things, so I had to."

"Well, go on, Polly," said Mr. Dyce, with a laugh. So Polly, quite
satisfied that he really understood how Alexia was helping along the work
for the poor children the same as the others, hurried on with the story.

"Well, so then Miss Mary proposed that we hold a fair, and Grandpapa said
we might have it on his grounds; and Auntie Whitney said why not have a
garden party, and sell tickets, for perhaps some people wouldn't care to
buy things and----"

"And I'm going to put my cushion-pin on the table," piped Phronsie
suddenly, her checks all aglow with excitement, and dropping her needle
again.

"So you shall," cried Mr. Dyce, "only you must have a little card saying
'Sold' on it; for I am surely going to buy that pincushion, Phronsie."

And then Polly flew back to her work again, and Mr. Dyce told such a very
funny story about some monkeys who were going to give a party in the woods
to all the other animals, that Phronsie forgot all about her needle, and
ran over to clamber up into his lap.

And then, oh, the needles flew; and Clem's green stems began to grow, and a
tiny bud showed itself, and then a full-blown violet. And Alexia's pink
shawl took ever so many rows, and all the work seemed to flourish like
magic. And at last, Miss Mary looked up at the clock.

"Time to put up work, girls," she cried gayly. And then wasn't there a
great bustle, every one trying to see which would get hers into her bag
first! And then, oh, such a stretching of tired arms and feet!

"Oh, dear me! the prickles are all running up and down my legs," exclaimed
Alexia.

"Hush, well, so are mine," declared Clem. "Oh, dear me--ow! I haven't sat
still for so long--ever, I guess."

"Nor I," laughed another girl.

"Come." Miss Mary was telling Mr. Dyce to lead the way to the dining-room.
So they all fell into line, and, when there, they forgot tired legs and
arms in the delights of the little feast set out.

Miss Mary sat down by the small table and poured chocolate for them, a
white-capped maid at her chair, Mr. Hamilton Dyce on the other side as
grand helper. Then the girls settled down in pretty groups on the broad
window-seats, and on the high-backed chairs, and gave themselves up to the
supreme content of the hour.

And then Miss Mary proposed that they should wind up the afternoon with a
dance, which was received with a shout of delight. So she led the way to
the drawing-room and sat down before the grand piano.

"Can't one of you girls play?" asked Mr. Dyce, at that.

"Oh, no, no," said Miss Mary, "the girls must dance." So, without waiting
for any words, she struck into a two-step.

"Oh, I'll play, I'll play." Polly Pepper ran out from the midst of the
group.

"Polly, come back, you are going to dance with me," cried Alexia.

"No, you're always getting her first. She's going to dance with me,"
announced Clem.

Polly was already over at the piano, trying to be heard, but Miss Mary only
laughed and shook her head.

"No use, Polly," said Mr. Dyce, and he put his arm around her, and away
they went down the length of the drawing-room.

"Well, at least you haven't got this first dance," said Alexia.

"Nor you, either," retorted Clem. "So come on, let's dance together," and
away they went, too.

And at last, when it was time to go home, Mr. Hamilton Dyce, who had
absented himself after that first dance, drove up with a flourish to the
door in his runabout.

"I've come for Phronsie Pepper," he said.

So Phronsie, half asleep, had her hat tied on, and kissed Miss Mary, and
Polly lifted her up and guided her foot over the step, Mr. Dyce, the reins
in one hand, helping her with the other.

"Good-bye," he called, his eyes on no one but Miss Mary.

"Oh, my bag, my bag!" cried Phronsie, in a wail of distress, and leaning
forward suddenly.

"Take care, child; where are you going?" Mr. Dyce put forth a restraining
hand and held her closely.

"My bag!" Phronsie looked back, the tears racing over her round cheeks.

"I'll bring it home," called Polly from the steps, where she was back among
the knot of girls.

"My bag!" Phronsie continued to wail.

"Dear me!" cried Polly, "she must have it now." So she ran into the house
to get it, where Phronsie had left it on her little cricket, Mr. Dyce
meanwhile saying, "There, there, child, you shall have it," while he turned
the little mare sharply about.

"We can't ever find the needle," said Alexia, rushing after Polly into the
library, and getting down on her knees to prowl over the floor. "Misery
me!"--with a jump--"I've found it already, sticking straight into me!"

So Phronsie's "cushion-pin" was thrust into the gay little
pink-and-green-striped workbag, and Polly danced out with it and
handed it up to her. Mr. Dyce cracked the whip, and this time they
were fairly off.



V

"SHE'S MY LITTLE GIRL"


"Oh, I do wish, Polly," cried Phronsie, as they ran along the hollyhock
path, "that my poor little girl could go to the country. Can't she, Polly?"
she asked anxiously.

"Oh, yes, of course," assented Polly, her mind on the garden party, now
only three days ahead. "Phronsie, how perfectly elegant those roses are
going to be!"--pointing off to the old-fashioned varieties blooming
riotously.

"Oh, Polly!" Phronsie stood still a moment in silent bliss, then hopped up
and down the narrow path. "I'm so glad she can go! Oh, Polly, I'm so
_very_ glad!"

"Who?" cried Polly, in perplexity.

"My little girl, my poor little girl," said Phronsie, hopping away.

"Oh, of course." Polly gave a little laugh. "Well, there are lots of poor
little girls who will go, Phronsie," she said, in great satisfaction,
"because, you know, we're going to make a great deal of money, I expect.
Why, Grandpapa has told Thomas to buy ever so many flowers. Just think,
child, and the oceans we have here!" She waved her hands over to take in
not only the old-fashioned garden where they stood, but the smart
flower-beds beyond, the pride and joy of the gardeners. "Oh, yes, there
will be ever so many children who will be happy in the country in the
summer."

"And my poor little girl," persisted Phronsie gleefully, "she will be
happy, Polly. Oh, let's go down to the big gate--p'raps she's there
now--and tell her. Please, Polly." She seized Polly's hand in great
excitement.

Polly sank to her knees in delight over a little bed of daisies.

"I do think these are the very sweetest things, Phronsie Pepper," she said.
"See the cunning baby ones coming out."

"Please, Polly," begged Phronsie, clinging to her hand.

"Why, Phronsie!" Polly looked up in amazement. Not to pay attention to the
baby daisies was certainly astonishing, when Phronsie was always so rapt
over the new flowers. "What is it you want, child?"

"Please come down to the big gate, Polly," pleaded Phronsie, her lip
quivering, for Polly was not usually so hard to understand.

"Yes, I will," said Polly, reluctantly tearing herself away from the
fascinating daisies. "Now then, we'll go there right away; one, two, three,
and away!"

"I guess--she'll--be--there," panted Phronsie, but she was running so fast
to keep up with Polly's longer steps that her words died away on the air;
and Polly, who dearly loved a race over the grass, was letting her mind
travel to the delights of the garden party, and what it was going to
accomplish, so she didn't hear.

At last there was the big gate.

"Dear me!" cried Polly, with a gay little laugh, "what a fine race! No
wonder you wanted me to try it with you! Why, Pet, have I run too fast?"
She looked with remorse at the flushed little face.

"No," gasped Phronsie, "but oh, Polly, will you sit down on the grass?"

"To be sure I will," said Polly very remorsefully, "you're all tired out.
There, let's come over here," and she led her over to the very tree under
which Phronsie had fallen asleep. "Here's where I found you the other day,
Phronsie, when you were so tired. Heigh-ho!" And Polly threw herself down
on the grass, and drew Phronsie into her lap.

"P'raps she'll come," said Phronsie, and the sorrowful look began to
disappear as she cuddled in Polly's arms. "Don't you believe she will,
Polly?" She put her face close to Polly's to peer anxiously into her brown
eyes.

"Who, child?" asked Polly.

"The poor little girl--my poor little girl," exclaimed Phronsie.

"Oh, there isn't any little girl, at least any particular one," cried
Polly. "We're going to send ever so many little girls into the country,
Phronsie, but not any special one."

"Oh, yes, there is," contradicted Phronsie, her lip quivering again, and,
despite all her efforts, the big tears began to course down her cheeks.
"She's my little girl, and I like her. Please let her go, Polly. And maybe
she'll come soon, if we only wait for her." It was a long speech, and by
the time it was all out, Phronsie had laid her head in Polly's neck, and
was sobbing as if her heart would break.

It was for this reason that Polly did not happen to look up across the
grass to the big gate, so of course she couldn't be expected to see what
took place there. And it was not until Phronsie had been persuaded to sit
straight and have her tears wiped away, because Mamsie wouldn't like to
have her cry, that any one guessed it at all. And in one instant Polly's
lap was deserted, Phronsie was flying over the greensward, crying out:

"There she is--my poor little girl!"

It took but a moment for Polly's swift feet to follow, but none too soon,
for the thin little face with the sharp, black eyes was withdrawn, and the
flapping old shoes were beating a hasty retreat. But Polly was after her,
and her hand was on her arm, and the first thing the stranger knew she was
drawn within the big gateway, Phronsie circling around her with great
satisfaction.

"She _did_ come, Polly, she did."

"Lemme be. I warn't doin' nothin' but peekin'," said the girl, trying to
wriggle away from Polly's grasp. But Polly held on.

"Don't be frightened; there isn't any one going to hurt you. What's your
name, little girl?"

"She's my little girl," insisted Phronsie, trying to get hold of the thin
little hand, which was less grimy than usual.

"What's your name?" asked Polly again.

"Rag," said the girl, in a burst.

"Rag? Oh, dear me!" said Polly.

"Lemme go. I hain't done no harm. Gran'll be wantin' me."

"Who?"

"Gran." The girl, at that, tried to fold up her arms in the remains of her
sleeves. But Polly saw the long, red welts that were not pleasant to look
at. She gave a little shiver, but held on firmly to the tattered ends.

"Oh, make her stay," cried Phronsie; "I want her to play with me. I'll let
you take Clorinda again, and she shall be your child," she stood up on
tiptoe to say.

"Can't," said the girl, making a desperate effort to twitch away. "Lemme
go."

"No, you cannot go until you have told me who you are, and how you know my
little sister."

Rag looked into the brown eyes of the little girl not so much older, drew a
long breath, then burst out, "She's visited me to my house," and, putting
on the most defiant expression possible, stood quite still.

_"Visited you at your house!"_ echoed Polly. She nearly dropped the
ragged sleeve.

"Yes, an' I give her a five-o'clock tea," said Rag proudly. "Any harm in
that? An' I brung her home again, and she ain't hurt a bit. You lemme go,
you girl, you!"

"You must come and see Grandpapa," said Polly firmly, a little white line
around her mouth.

"I ain't a-goin'." Rag showed instant fight against any such idea.

"Then, if you don't," said Polly, gripping her arm, "I shall call the
gardeners, and they will bring you up to the house."

"Oh, do come," cried Phronsie, who thought everything most delightfully
conspiring to make her friend remain. "Dear Grandpapa will love you, little
girl; come with Polly and me."

She took hold of her other arm, and Rag, seeing no way out of it and wholly
bewildered, suffered herself to be led up to the grand mansion.

"Bless me; what have we here?" Old Mr. King, enjoying a morning
constitutional on the big veranda, looked over his spectacles, which he had
forgotten to remove as he had just thrown down the morning paper in a
chair, and stared in amazement at the three children coming over the lawn.

"My poor little girl, Grandpapa," announced Phronsie, releasing the arm she
clung to, and tumbling up over the steps, "and please make her stay, and
I'm going to let her take Clorinda," and she plunged breathlessly into the
old gentleman's arms.

"Hoity-toity, child!" exclaimed old Mr. King, holding her closely. "Well,
what have we here?"--as Polly led Rag up on to the veranda.

"I don't know, Grandpapa," said Polly, still keeping tight hold of the arm
in its tattered sleeve.

"It seems to be a little girl," said Grandpapa, peering at the stranger.

"Yes, it's my little girl," said Phronsie happily, "and she's come to play
with me, Grandpapa."

"Oh, my goodness me!" exclaimed Mr. King, stepping backward and drawing
Phronsie closer.

"I ain't come. _She_ brung me," said the girl, pointing with a thumb
over at Polly; "tain't my fault; she made me."

"Polly, what is all this?" asked the old gentleman perplexedly, staring at
one and the other.

"I don't know, Grandpapa," said Polly, the little white line still around
her mouth; "she says Phronsie has been at her house, and----"

"_Phronsie been at her house!_" thundered the old gentleman.

"Yes, she has. An' I give her a five-o'clock tea," cried Rag, in a burst,
who, thinking that she was probably now going to be killed, began to take
pleasure in telling all she knew. "Swell folks does; I seen 'em plenty of
times on th' avenoo, an' here, too"--she nodded toward the long French
windows--"an' I got as good a right, I guess. An' she let me take her doll,
an' I like her. An' we had an orful good time till Gran came in, an' then
we lit out, an' I brung her home. Now what you goin' to do about it?" She
folded her thin arms as well as she could, for Polly was still holding to
one, and glared defiantly out of her sharp, black eyes.

"Oh, Grandpapa, her arms!" Polly was pointing to the long, red welts.

Rag turned as if shot, and twitched the ragged sleeves down, tucking the
free arm behind her back. "Lemme go, you girl: you hain't no right to see
'em, it's none o' your business," she screamed at Polly. Old Mr. King had
sunk into a chair. Phronsie, in his lap, was so busy in putting her face
close to his, and telling him that it was really her own poor little girl,
that she had failed to see the arms and the disclosures they had made.

"Go and get your mother," he said, after a breathing space. "Oh, stay! I
can't hold her"--with a gesture of disgust.

"An' you ain't a-goin' to tetch me," declared Rag proudly; "no, sir-ee!"

"Well, Phronsie, you jump down and go and get your mother," Mr. King
whispered, smoothing her yellow hair with a trembling hand.

"I will--I will," she cried gleefully, hopping out of his lap.

"Oh, don't send her away." All the defiance dropped out of Rag's face and
manner, and she whimpered miserably. "She's th' only nice one there is
here. Don't let her go."

"She's coming right back, little girl," said old Mr. King kindly. He even
smiled. But the girl had hung her head, so she didn't see it, and she
blubbered on.

"I'll bring Mamsie to see my poor little girl," Phronsie kept saying to
herself over and over, as she scuttled off, and in a very few minutes
Mother Fisher was out on the veranda in obedience to old Mr. King's
summons.

"It's beyond me"--the old gentleman waved his hand at Rag--"you'll have to
unravel it, Mrs. Fisher. Here, Phronsie, get up in my lap." He strained her
so tightly to him, as Phronsie hopped into her accustomed nest, that she
looked up.

"Oh, Grandpapa!" she exclaimed.

"Did I hurt you, child?" he said, in a broken voice.

"A little, Grandpapa dear," she said.

"Well--oh, Lord bless me! I can't talk, child," he finished brokenly.

"Are you sick, Grandpapa?" she asked, sitting straight to look at him
anxiously. "Does your head ache? I'll smooth it for you," and she began to
pat his white hair.

"Oh, no, child, my head doesn't ache. There, sit still, dear, that's all I
want." So Phronsie cuddled up within his arms, feeling quite sure that now
Mamsie had her own poor little girl, everything would be all right.

"She's my nice little girl, and I like her," Phronsie was saying. "Yes, I
do, very much indeed, Grandpapa."

"You do?"

"Yes, and I want her to stay here, Grandpapa. Please, may she?"

"Oh, dear!"

"_Please_, Grandpapa dear." Phronsie put up one hand and tucked it
softly under his chin. He seized it and covered it with kisses.

"Oh, my lamb--that wicked, careless Joanna!"

"What's the matter, Grandpapa?" Phronsie brought up her head to look at him
with troubled eyes.

"Nothing--nothing, child; there, cuddle down again. Your mother is talking
to the little girl, and she will fix up things. Oh, bless me!"

"Mamsie will fix up things, won't she, Grandpapa?" cooed Phronsie,
wriggling her toes happily.

"Yes, dear."

"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, after a moment's silence only broken by a soft
murmur of voices, for Mother Fisher had drawn her group to the further
corner, "I don't think my little girl has got a very nice place to live
in."

"Oh, Phronsie, child!" He strained her convulsively to his breast. "There,
there, lamb, Oh, I didn't mean to! Grandpapa won't hurt his little pet for
the world."

"You didn't hurt me this time," said Phronsie, "as much as you did before,
Grandpapa dear."

"Oh, my child! Grandpapa wouldn't hurt a hair of your blessed head. Oh,
that dreadful Joanna!"

"I like my own little girl very much indeed," said Phronsie, dismissing her
own hurts to go on with her narrative. "Yes, I do, Grandpapa," she added
decidedly, "but I don't like the place she lived in. And, Grandpapa"--here
she drew a long breath--"there was an old lady came in, and I don't think
she was a nice old lady, I don't, Grandpapa." Phronsie crept up a bit
closer, if that were possible.

"What did she do, child?" He held his breath for the answer.

"She took hold of my arm," said Phronsie, a shiver seizing her at the
remembrance, and she burrowed deeper within the protecting arms, "and she
felt of my beads that Auntie gave me."

"What else?" He scarcely seemed to ask the question.

"And my own little girl pulled me away, and she carried me home, most of
the way, and I like her." Phronsie brought herself up with an emphatic
little nod, and smiled.

"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.



VI

GRANDMA BASCOM


"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.

"Hey?"

"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--'"

"Hey?"

"'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.

"Hey?"

"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.

"Yes."

"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.



VII

THE DISAPPOINTMENT


"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.



VIII

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 favor_ite_, 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."

[Illustration: "But this is ten dollars," said Joel]

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.

"How much?"

"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.



IX

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.



X

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.

When Joel emerged from Grandpapa King's writing-room, he was hanging to the
old gentleman's hand and looking up into his face and chattering away.

"You know it means work," said old Mr. King, looking down at him.

"I know, Grandpapa," said Joel, bobbing his stubby, black head.

"And you must keep at it," said the old gentleman decidedly, "else no pay.
There's to be no dropping the job, once you take it up. If you do, you'll
get no money. That's the bargain, Joe?"--with a keen glance into the chubby
face.

"Oh, I will, Grandpapa, I will," declared Joel eagerly, and hopping up and
down; "I'll do every single speck of the work. Now do let us hurry and get
the book."

"Yes, we'll hurry, seeing our business arrangement is all settled," laughed
the old gentleman. "Now, then, Joel, my boy, we'll go down-town and buy the
blank book, so that I can set you to work at once," and he grasped the
brown hand tightly, and away they went.

And in ten minutes everybody knew that Joel was going to make a list of all
the books in a certain case in old Mr. King's writing-room, and that
Grandpapa and he were already off down-town to buy a new blank book for the
work. And at the end of it--oh, joy!--Joel was to have a crisp ten-dollar
bill to replace the one he had lost.



XI

RACHEL


"Here she comes!" roared Mr. Tisbett. The townspeople, hurrying to
Badgertown depot to see the train bearing the new little girl sent on by
Mrs. Fisher to their parson's care, crowded up, Mr. and Mrs. Henderson
smilingly in the center of the biggest group.

"Oh, husband, I do pity her so!" breathed the parson's wife. "Poor thing,
she will be so shy and distressed!" The parson's heart gave a responsive
thrill, as he craned his neck to peer here and there for their new charge.
"She hasn't come. Oh, dear me!"--as a voice broke in at his elbow.

"I'm here." The words weren't much, to be sure, but the tone was wholly
self-possessed, and when the parson whirled around, and Mrs. Henderson, who
had been looking the other way, brought her gaze back, they saw a little
girl in a dark brown suit, a brown hat under which fell smooth braids of
black hair, who was regarding them with a pair of the keenest eyes they had
either of them ever seen.

"Oh--oh--my child--" stammered Mr. Henderson, putting out a kind hand. "So
you have come, Rachel?"

"Yes, I am Rachel," said the child, looking up into his face and laying her
hand in the parson's big one; then she turned her full regard upon the
minister's wife.

Mrs. Henderson was divided in her mind, for an instant, whether to kiss
this self-possessed child, as she had fully arranged in her mind beforehand
to do, or to let such a ceremony go by. But in a breathing space she had
her arms about her, and was drawing her to her breast.

"Rachel, dear, I am so glad you have come to us."

Rachel glanced up sharply, heaved a big sigh, and when she lifted her head
from Mrs. Henderson's neck, there was something bright that glistened in
either eye; she brushed it off before any one could spy it, as the parson
was saying:

"And now, where is your bag, child--er--Rachel, I mean?"

Rachel pointed to the end of the platform. "I'll go an' tell 'em to bring
it here."

"No, no, child." The parson started briskly.

"Let us all go," said Mrs. Henderson kindly, gathering Rachel's hand up in
one of hers. "Come, dear." So off they hurried, the platform's length, the
farmers and their wives looking after them with the greatest interest.

"My, but ain't Mrs. Henderson glad to get a girl, though!"

"Yes, she sets by her a'ready."

"Sakes alive! I thought she was a poor child," exclaimed one woman, who was
dreadfully disappointed to lose the anticipated object of charity.

"So she is," cried another--"as poor as Job's turkey, but Mr. King has
dressed her up, you know, an' he's goin' to edicate her, too."

"Well, she'll pay for it, I reckon. My! she looks smart, even the back of
her!"

And before very long, Rachel had been inducted into her room, a pretty
little one under the eaves, neat as a pin in blue-and-white chintz
covering, around which she had given a swift glance of approval. And now
she was down in the parsonage kitchen, in a calico gown and checked apron;
her own new brown ribbons having been taken off from her braids, rolled up
carefully, and laid in the top drawer, the common, every-day ones taking
their places.

Peletiah and Ezekiel were each in a corner of the kitchen, with their pale
blue eyes riveted on her.

"Well, dear," Mrs. Henderson greeted her kindly, "you have changed your
gown very quickly."

A tall, square-shouldered woman stalked in from the little entry.

"Oh, Jerusha," exclaimed Mrs. Henderson pleasantly, "this is the little
girl that Mrs. Fisher sent us. Rachel, go up and speak to Miss Jerusha."

Rachel went over obediently and put out her hand, which the parson's sister
didn't seem to see. Instead, she drew herself up stiffer than ever, and
stared at the child.

"Ah, well, I hope she won't forget that she's very poor, and that you've
taken her out of pity," said Miss Jerusha.

Rachel started back as if shot, and her black eyes flashed. "I ain't poor,"
she screamed. "I ain't goin' to be pitied."

"Yes, you are, too," declared Miss Jerusha, quite pleased at the effect of
her words, and telling off each syllable by bringing one set of bony
fingers down on the other emphatically; "in fact, you're a beggar, and my
brother----"

"I ain't, ain't, ain't!" screamed Rachel shrilly, and, flinging herself on
her face on the floor, she flapped her feet up and down and writhed in
distress. "I want to go home!" she sobbed.

The boys, for once in their lives, actually started, and presently they
were across the kitchen, to their mother, kneeling by Rachel's side.

"Don't let her go," they said together.

"She isn't going," said Mrs. Henderson, smoothing the shaking shoulders,
but Rachel screamed on.

"Dear me!" The parson hurried in at the uproar, his glasses set up on his
forehead where his nervous fingers had pushed them. "What is the matter?"

"That poor child," answered Miss Jerusha, pointing a long finger over at
the group in the middle of the kitchen, "is acting like Satan. I guess
you'll repent, brother, ever bringing her here."

"'Twas Aunt Jerusha," declared Peletiah bluntly, "and I wish she'd go
home."

"Hush, hush, dear," said his mother, looking up into his face.

There was an awful pause, the parson drew a long breath, then he turned to
his sister.

"Jerusha," he said, "I wish you would go into the sitting-room, if you
please."

"An' let you pet that beggar child," she exclaimed, in shrill scorn, but
she stalked off.

Mr. Henderson went swiftly across the kitchen and knelt down by his wife.

"Rachel"--he put his hand on the little girl's head--"get directly up, my
child!"

Rachel lifted her eyes, and peered about. "Has she gone--that dreadful,
bad, old woman?"

"There is no one here but those who love you," said the minister. "Now,
child, get directly up and sit in that chair." He indicated the one, and in
a minute Rachel was perched on it, with streaming eyes. Peletiah, having
started to get a towel, and in his trepidation presenting the dish-rag, the
parson dried her tears on his own handkerchief.

"Now, then, that is better," he said, in satisfaction, as they all grouped
around her chair.

"Rachel, there mustn't be anything of this sort--tears, I mean--again.
That lady is my sister, and----"

_"Your sister!"_ screamed Rachel, precipitating herself forward on her
chair in imminent danger of falling on her nose, to gaze at him in
amazement.

"Yes"--a dull red flush crept over the minister's face--"and--and whatever
she says, Rachel, why, you are not to mind, child."

"She ain't a-goin' to sass me," declared Rachel stoutly.

"Well, I don't believe she will again; let us hope not," said Mr.
Henderson, in a worried way. "However, you are not to cry; remember that,
Rachel, whatever happens," he added firmly: "you are to be happy here; this
is your home, and we all love you."

"You do?" said Rachel, much amazed, looking at them all. "Oh, well, then,
I'll stay." And slipping down from her chair, she seized Mrs. Henderson's
apron. "What'll I do? Mrs. Fisher told me how to wash dishes. May I do
'em?"

"Yes, and the boys shall wipe them," said Mrs. Henderson, and pretty soon
there was a gay little bustle in the old kitchen, the parson staying away
from the writing of the sermon to see it.

But Peletiah and Ezekiel were much too slow to suit Rachel, who got far
ahead of them, so she flew to the drawer in the big table where she had
seen them get the dish-towels, and, helping herself, she fell to work
drying some of the big pile in the drainer in the sink.

"I don't see how you can go so fast," observed Peletiah, laboriously
polishing up his plate.

"Well, I don't see how you can go so slow," retorted Rachel, with deft
passes of the towel over the cup. "My! I sh'd think your elbows had gone to
sleep."

"They haven't gone to sleep," said Peletiah, who was always literal; and
setting down his plate, half-dried, on the table, he turned over one arm to
investigate.

"Of course not, you little ninny," said Rachel lightly. "I didn't----"

"Rachel, Rachel!" said the parson's wife, over by the table. She was
getting her material together for baking pies, and she now added gently,
"We don't call each other names, you must remember that, child."

"Oh!" said Rachel. She stopped her busy towel a minute to think, then it
flapped harder and faster, to make up for lost time.

"Well, go ahead," she said to Peletiah, "and wipe your plate."

So Peletiah, letting his elbows take care of themselves, picked up his
plate and set to work on its surface again; and pretty soon the dishes were
all declared done, the pan and mop washed out, and hung up.

"What'll I do next?" Rachel smoothed down her apron and stood before the
baking-table, a boy on either side.

"Now, boys," said Mrs. Henderson, pausing in her work of rolling out the
pie crust, "I think you had better take Rachel down to see Grandma Bascom.
I've told her she's coming to-day, and she's quite impatient to see her.
And, Rachel, you can tell her about Mrs. Fisher and Polly and the boys. And
oh, Rachel, be sure to tell her about Phronsie; she does just love that
child so!"

The parson's wife leaned on the rolling-pin, and a bright color came into
her face.

"I'll tell her," said Rachel, a soft gleam in her eyes, and smoothing her
apron.

"And, Peletiah, go into the buttery, and get that little pat of butter done
up in a cloth, and give it to Grandma. I do wish my pies were baked"--and
she fell to work again--"so I could send her one."

So Peletiah went into the buttery and got the pat of butter, and the three
started off. The parson stepped away from the doorway into the entry, where
he had been silently watching proceedings, and went over to the window.

"Come here, Almira." He held out his hand.

She dropped her rolling-pin and ran over to his side. He drew her to him.

"See, dear," he said.

Rachel and the two boys were proceeding over the greensward leading down
the road. She had one on either side; and, wonder of wonders, they were all
hand in hand.

"We're going to see your Gran," said Rachel, a very sober expression
settling over her thin little face.

"What?" said Peletiah.

"Your Gran; that's what your mother said."

"Oh, no, she didn't," contradicted Peletiah; "we are going to Grandma
Bascom's."

"Well, that's the same thing," said Rachel; "she's your Gran, isn't she?"

"She's Grandma Bascom," repeated Peletiah stolidly.

"Oh, dear me! of course! But she's _your_ Gran, isn't she?"--her
tongue fairly aching to call him "ninny" again.

"No, she isn't; she isn't any one's Gran--she's just Grandma Bascom."

"Oh!" said Rachel. Perhaps it wasn't so very bad as she feared. She would
wait and see.

"She's dreadfully deaf," remarked Peletiah.

"What's that?"

"She can't hear unless you scream."

Rachel burst into a loud laugh, but it was very musical; and before they
knew it, although they were very much astonished, the two boys were
laughing, too, though they hadn't the least idea at what.

"I'm glad of it," announced Rachel, when she had gotten through. "I love to
scream. Sometimes it seems as if I'd die if I couldn't. Don't you?"

"No, I don't," said Peletiah, "ever feel so."

"Don't _you?"_ Rachel leaned over to peer into Ezekiel's face.

"No, I don't, either," he said.

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Rachel, catching her breath. "Well, let's run."
And before either boy knew what was going to happen, she was hauling them
along at such a mad pace as they had never before in all their lives
indulged in.

The butter-pat slipped out of Peletiah's hand, gone on the wind, and landed
on the roadside grass.

"Wasn't that a good one!" cried Rachel, her eyes shining, as she brought up
suddenly. "Oh, my! ain't things sweet, though!"--wrinkling up her nose in
delight.

"I lost the butter-pat," observed Peletiah, when he could get his breath.

"I never see anything so beautiful," Rachel was saying, over and over. Then
she flung herself flat on the grass, and buried her nose in it, smelling it
hungrily. "Oh, my!"

"I lost the butter-pat," observed Peletiah again, and standing over her.

"And I'm a-goin' to live here," declared Rachel, in a transport, and
wriggling in the sweet clover, "if I'm good. I'm goin' to be good all the
time. Yes, sir!"

"I lost the butter-pat," repeated Peletiah.

"Butter-pat?" Rachel caught the last words and sprang to her feet.

"Oh, yes, I forgot; we must hurry with the butter-pat. Come on!" and she
whirled around on Peletiah. "Why, where--?" as she saw his empty hands.

"I lost the butter-pat," said Peletiah. "I've been telling you so."

"No, you haven't," contradicted Rachel flatly.

"Yes, I have," said Peletiah stolidly.

"No such thing." Rachel squared up to him, her black eyes flashing. "You
haven't said a single word, you bad, wicked boy."

"Yes, I have," repeated Peletiah, ready to say it over for all time; "I've
told you so a great many times."

Rachel looked at him, and put up both hands. The only thing proper to do
under such circumstances was to shake him smartly, but it seemed so like
attacking a granite post, and besides, he was the minister's son, and she
was going to be good, else they must send her away (so Mrs. Fisher had
said), so her arms flopped down to her side, and hung there dismally. And
she burst out:

"Where did you lose it, you nin--? I mean--oh, dear me!--where, I
say?"--frowning impatiently.

"Back there," said Peletiah, pointing down the road. "You pulled me along
so, it flew out of my hand."

Rachel set her teeth together hard.

"Come on!"

She seized a hand of each boy, Ezekiel being a silent spectator all the
time; and if they went fast before, this time, in retracing their steps, it
might be called flying, till a little spot on the roadside grass showed the
object of their search. Peletiah's breath was gone entirely by this time,
and he sank down by its side without a word, his brother following suit.

"I shall carry it now," announced Rachel, gathering up the little pat, safe
in its white cloth. "My! 'tain't hurt a bit" She brushed off a few
marauding ants. "Come on, now!"

Peletiah struggled to his feet and gasped, "I shall carry it," and put out
his hands.

"No such thing." Rachel held the butter-pat firmly in her slender, brown
hand. "My! you ain't fit to carry no butter-pats--let 'em drop out of your
hands. Come on!"

"I shall carry it," declared Peletiah doggedly, and bringing his pale eyes
to bear on her face, while he stood still in his tracks.

"I hope you may get it," cried Rachel triumphantly. "I never see such a
boy. Come on, I say." She held out her hand with authority.

"My mother said I was to carry the butter-pat, and I shall carry it," said
Peletiah, putting out one hand for it, and the other behind his back.

Rachel wrinkled her brows and thought a minute.

"So she did," she said. Then she set the butter-pat in Peletiah's hand, and
pinched his thumb down over it. "There, hold on to it," she said, "or
you'll lose it again. Now, come on!"

The way back was conducted on slower lines, as Rachel had an anxious
oversight lest the butter-pat should again be taken off on the wind, so
that Peletiah and Ezekiel had a chance to recover their breath, with some
degree of composure, by the time they turned down the lane to Grandma
Bascom's. There she was, sitting in her big chintz-covered chair, resting
after the morning's work, as they found on entering the little old kitchen.

Rachel's eyes had been getting bigger and bigger, though she had said
nothing tip to this time; but when they rested on the old lady's face,
under the big, frilled cap, she burst out sharply:

"Is that your Gran?"

"She isn't my Gran," replied Peletiah.

"No, she isn't," echoed Ezekiel.

"Well, is she Gran?" demanded Rachel impatiently--"anybody's Gran--just
Gran? Say, is she?"

"No, she isn't Gran," said Peletiah, shaking his head of stiff, light hair.

"Oh, dear me! you said so," cried Rachel, in a high, disappointed key.
"Oh, dear, dear, dear! I wish she was." And, terribly afraid she was going
to cry, she marched off to the little-paned window, and twisted her fingers
into knots.

"She's Grandma," said Ezekiel, walking over to her and peering around her
side.

"Oh, then she is," cried Rachel, springing around. "Say"--she seized his
jacket--"she's my Gran, an'----"

"Grandma, I said," repeated Ezekiel.

"Yes, yes, Grandma; well, she's mine."

"She's all our Grandma," said Ezekiel decidedly.

"Yes, yes, but she's mine, too," declared Rachel, bobbing her head
decidedly. "She shall be my Gran--Grandma. I shall just take her, so
there!"

"You musn't take her away," said Ezekiel, in alarm.

"I ain't goin' to; I don't want to. I'm goin' to live here always an'
forever," declared Rachel firmly.

Ezekiel smiled at that in great satisfaction, and the matter being settled,
Rachel skipped over to the old lady's chair, and looked steadily down into
the wrinkled face.

"Go out and put the butter-pat somewhere," she said to Peletiah, who still
held it in his hand, waiting to present it.

"I must give it to Grandma," he said; "my mother told me to."

"Well, you can't while she's asleep," said Rachel quickly, "so you put it
somewhere--anywhere--and when she wakes up, why, you can give it to her. Do
hurry--and you go and help him."

So the two boys walked off to find a place in the buttery, and quick as
lightning Rachel leaned over and set a kiss on the wrinkled old cheek. If
Grandma couldn't hear, she was very quick at feeling.

"Why!" She stirred uneasily in her chair, and opened her eyes.

"Who is this?" she asked, staring at the strange little girl, for although
the parson's wife had told her all about the new member of the family to
come that day, Grandma was so bewildered by being suddenly aroused from her
sleep, she had forgotten all about it. "Hey, who is it?"

Peletiah, not having had time to put down the butter-pat, now came up and
presented it with all due formality.

"But who is this little gal?" asked Grandma, as he set the butter-pat in
the middle of the checked apron over her lap.

"She's Rachel," said Peletiah.

"Eh? What?" Grandma held a shaking hand behind her ear. "Speak a little
louder, Peletiah; you know I'm a-growin' hard o' hearin', just a grain."

"Rachel," shouted Peletiah, as he stood still in his tracks in front of
her.

"Ain't well! Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Grandma, in a tone of great concern.
"What a pity!" and she turned and regarded the stranger with anxiety.

"Oh, dear me! You get away, Peletiah," commanded Rachel, brushing him
aside. So Peletiah, very glad to be released, moved off, and Rachel,
putting her mouth to the nodding cap-border, said very distinctly:

"Mrs. Fisher sent me to live at the minister's; I'm Rachel."

"Oh, my land o' Goshen!" exclaimed Grandma Bascom, lifting both hands in
delight. "Why, I can hear you splendid. You see, I'm only a grain deaf. An'
so you're that little gal. Well, I'm glad you've come, you pretty creeter,
you!"



XII

DOINGS AT THE PARSONAGE


And in another minute Rachel was telling all about Mrs. Fisher and Polly
and Phronsie--oh, and Joel and David--for Grandma kept interrupting and
asking all sorts of questions, so that the news and messages were all
tangled up together.

"Did Joel say he wanted pep'mints?" asked Grandma, in a lull.

"Oh, yes, he said yours were awful good, and he wished he had some of 'em,"
Rachel answered. She didn't dare take her mouth away from the cap-frill,
and her feet ached dreadfully from standing still so long. But Grandma was
as bright as a button, and hungry for every scrap of information.

"Land o' Goshen!" mourned Grandma, "how I wish he was comin' in now! an'
I'd give him plenty." She sat still for a minute, lost in thought. Peletiah
and Ezekiel had wandered off outside, where they sat under the lilac
bushes, to rest after their unwonted exercise, so the hens, undisturbed,
stepped over the sill of the kitchen door, and scratched and picked about
to their hearts' content.

"I'll drive 'em out," said Rachel, delighted at the chance of action this
would give her, and springing off.

"Take the broom," screamed Grandma after her, "and then hurry and come back
and tell me some more."

So Rachel, wishing the duty could be an hour long, shooed and waved her
broom wildly, and ran and raced, and the fat old hens tumbled over each
other to get away. And then she came slowly back to Grandma's side, to go
over again every bit she had told before. Until, looking up at the old
clock on the shelf, she saw that it was one minute of twelve o'clock.

"Oh, my! I've got to go," she screamed in Grandma's ear, and without
another word she dashed off and up to the lilac bushes. "Boys, come this
minute." She held out both hands. "It's awful late."

"I know it," said Peletiah, with a very grieved face; "we've been waiting
for you ever so long, and dinner's ready at home."

"Well, come now." She stuck her long arms out straight, and shook her
fingers impatiently. "Oh, dear me--do hurry!"

"I ain't goin' to take hold of hands," declared Peletiah, edging off.

"Nor I, either," echoed Ezekiel.

"Oh, yes, you must." And without waiting for more words on the matter,
Rachel seized a hand of each, and bore off the boys.

If they ran before, they flew now. But all the same they were late to
dinner, and the parson and his wife and Miss Jerusha were all helped
around, and had begun to eat.

"There, see what that new girl has done already," said Miss Jerusha
sternly, laying down her knife and fork. "Peletiah and Ezekiel ain't ever
late. Well, you'll see trouble enough with her, or I'll miss my guess."

Peletiah sank down on the upper step of the piazza, but Ezekiel crept into
the kitchen, while Rachel pushed boldly up to Mrs. Henderson's chair.

"Oh, I'm awful sorry," she said. Her face was very flushed and her eyes
glowed with the run.

"Ben gallivantin' off an' temptin' the boys to play," declared Miss
Jerusha, with a shrewd nod of her brown front. "Oh, I know."

"We won't say any more about it now, dear," said Mrs. Henderson gently, at
sight of the hot little face. "There, get into your chair, this one next to
me. Where's Peletiah?"--looking about.

"Oh, I'm awful tired," wailed Ezekiel, slipping into his seat next to the
parson, and he drew the back of his hand across his red face.

"Ben playing so hard," said Miss Jerusha disagreeably, "an' now you're all
het up."

"I haven't played a single bit," declared Ezekiel stoutly, and with a very
injured expression of countenance. "Oh, dear me, I AM so tired!" stretching
his legs under the table.

"Eat your dinner, my son," said the parson, putting a liberal portion on
his plate.

"Oh, dear me!" Ezekiel essayed to, but laid down his spoon. "I don't want
anything, I'm so tired."

Mrs. Henderson cast an anxious glance over at him.

"No need to worry," her husband telegraphed back, going quietly on with his
own dinner. Rachel had begun on hers with hungry zest, but stopped
suddenly, hopped out of her chair, and raced to the door.

"Rachel!" It wasn't a loud voice, but she found herself back again and
looking into Mrs. Henderson's face.

"Sit down, dear; we do not leave the table in that way."

So Rachel slipped into her seat, feeling as if all the blood in her body
were in her hot cheeks.

"Now, what is it?" The parson's wife took one of the brown hands working
nervously under the tablecloth. "Tell me; don't be afraid," she said
softly. But Miss Jerusha heard.

"Stuff and nonsense!" she exclaimed, with a sneer. "When I was a child,
there was no such coddlin' goin' on, I can tell you."

"It's Peletiah," said Rachel. "Oh, dear me! he's out on the piazza, and he
must be awfully hungry. Can't I make him come in?"

"No, sit still. Husband"--the parson's wife looked down the table--"excuse
me a minute." She slipped out, and in another moment in she came, and
Peletiah with her.

And then Mr. Henderson told such a funny story about a monkey he had read
about only just that very morning, that Ezekiel forgot there ever was such
a thing as tired legs, and even Peletiah had no thoughts for that dreadful
run home from Grandma Bascom's.

As for Rachel, all idea of dinner flew at once out of her head. She laid
down her knife and fork and leaned forward with sparkling eyes, to catch
every word. Seeing which, Mrs. Henderson burst out laughing.

"I'm afraid you are making things worse, husband," she said, "for they
won't eat any dinner at all now."

"I surely am," said the parson, with another laugh, "and I thought I was
going to help so much," he added ruefully.

"How you can laugh," exclaimed Miss Jerusha sourly, at the good time in
progress, and sitting quite stiffly, "I don't for my part see."

"Oh, well, if you'd laugh more, it would be better for all of us, Jerusha,"
said her brother good-naturedly.

"I ain't a-goin' to laugh," declared Miss Jerusha, "and it's a wicked,
sinful shame to set such an example before those boys, like coddlin' up
that girl for keepin' them off playin'. I never see such goin's on!"

"We haven't been playing," said Peletiah stoutly.

"I told her so," said Ezekiel fretfully, seeing that his father had no more
monkey stories to offer, "but she keeps saying it just the same. I wish
she'd go off and play," he added vindictively.

The idea of Miss Jerusha ever having played, made Rachel turn in her chair
and regard her fixedly. Then she broke out into a laugh; it was such a
merry peal that presently the boys joined in, and even the parson and his
wife had hard work to keep their faces straight.

"Well, if I _ever_ see such goin's on!" Miss Jerusha shoved back her
chair and stalked out of the room.

"Did she ever play?" asked Rachel, when the door into the keeping-room had
slammed.

"Why, yes, of course, child," said Mrs. Henderson, with a smile, "when she
was a little girl."

"And was she ever a little girl?" persisted Rachel.

"Why, certainly. Now eat your dinner, Rachel."

Rachel picked up her knife and fork. When the two boys saw that she was
ready to really begin on her meal, they set to on theirs.

"I'm awful hungry," announced Peletiah, when he had been working busily on
his plateful.

The parson burst out into a laugh, like a boy.

"Hush, husband," warned Mrs. Henderson; "I'm afraid Jerusha will hear."

"I can't help it, Almira." His eyes were brimming with amusement. "Our boys
are getting waked up already."

"I ain't asleep," declared Peletiah, looking up at his father in amazement;
"I'm eating my dinner."

"So am I," announced Ezekiel wisely, and putting out his plate for another
potato.

"So I see," said his father gravely. "Well, now we're all getting on very
well," he added, in great satisfaction, with a glance around the table.
"Good-bye; you must excuse me, wife; you know I must get over to the
funeral early."

"Is old Miss Bedlow dead, Ma?" asked Peletiah, pausing in the act of
getting some gravy to his mouth.

"Yes, dear. Take care, Peletiah, and pay attention to your dinner."

Peletiah set down the mouthful on his plate. "I hain't got to go, have I,
Ma?" he asked, in trepidation.

"No, dear; now go on with your dinner, and don't say 'hain't.'"

"I'm glad I haven't got to go," observed Peletiah, with a long sigh of
relief, and beginning on his dinner once more. "I don't like funerals."

"I do." Rachel bobbed her black head at him across the table, and her eyes
roved excitedly. "I've seen lots an' lots of 'em in the city. They're fine,
I tell you." She laid down her knife and fork again and waved her arms.
"Oh, a string of carriages as long--an' the corpse is sometimes in a white
box, and heaps of flowers. I like 'em next to the circus."

"There, there, Rachel, eat your dinner, child," broke in Mrs. Henderson
quickly. "And, boys, don't talk any more. You must get through dinner, for
I have to go to Miss Bedlow's by two o'clock," and she got out of her chair
and began to clear the table.

So all that was to be heard now in the parsonage kitchen was the pleasant
rattle of knives and forks, and the bustle of clearing up, and presently
the children hopped out of their chairs and began to help Mrs. Henderson to
set everything in order.

"I'm goin' to wash every single thing up," announced Rachel, hurrying for
the mop.

"Can you, dear?" asked the parson's wife. She was very tired, and yet had
the funeral of the old parishioner to attend. But the risk seemed great of
allowing the new little girl to do up all the dinner dishes. "There are a
great many of them, and some of them are big"--glancing doubtfully around
the piles. "Are you sure you can manage them?"

"Why, yes," declared Rachel in scorn, "I can do 'em all just as easy!" She
stopped to snap her fingers at the greasy plates, then ran over to get the
big teakettle on the stove in a twinkling.

"Let Peletiah carry that for you," said Mrs. Henderson.

"He's so slow," said Rachel, but she stopped obediently.

"Rachel, there is one thing"--and the parson's wife came over and put her
hand on the thin little shoulder--"we all help each other in this house,
and we never talk against one."

"Oh," said Rachel.

Peletiah by this time had advanced on the teakettle, and, as soon as he
could, he bore it off and solemnly poured a goodly supply of boiling-hot
water into the waiting dishpan.

"Now you boys are to wipe the dishes for Rachel," said their mother, with
an approving glance at the group.

"I'd rather," began Rachel, wrinkling up her face.

"So remember; and when you are through, and the kitchen is set up neatly,
you may all play out of doors this afternoon, for lessons don't begin for
you until to-morrow, Rachel. And now be good children."

"I don't like lessons," said Peletiah, when they were left alone.

"Don't you?" exclaimed Rachel, in astonishment, and resting her soapy hands
on the edge of the dishpan.

"No, I don't," declared Peletiah, with great deliberation, "like them at
all."

"Well, I shall, I know." Rachel twitched off her hands and slapped the mop
down smartly among the cups in the hot water.

"Ow! you splashed me all over," exclaimed Ezekiel. "See there, now,
Rachel." He stepped hack and held up his arm.

"Phoo! that's nothing," said Rachel.

"It hurt; it's hot," said Ezekiel, squirming about.

"Well, if you ain't a baby!" cried Rachel scornfully.

"My mother said we weren't to call names," observed Peletiah.

"Oh, my! I forgot that. But he is a baby," declared Rachel.

"My mother said we were not to call names," repeated Peletiah, exactly as
if he hadn't made that remark before.

"Oh, dear me! how perfectly awful you--I mean I never saw such boys. Oh,
my!"

"My mother said----"

"Yes, yes, I know," interrupted Rachel, splashing away for dear life;
"well, now we must hurry and get these dishes done."

"And then we can go out and play," said Ezekiel, departing with the plate
he was drying to a safe distance from the hot shower from Rachel's busy
fingers.

"Yes. Oh, my, what fun! Let's hurry." And before the boys quite knew how,
the dishes were all piled in the pantry, the dishpan and mop washed out and
hung up to dry, and the crumbs swept from the kitchen floor.

"There," said Rachel, smoothing down her apron in great satisfaction, "now
we can go out. Come on, I'm going to the corner to see that funeral go by."

"We can't," said Peletiah, trying his best to hurry after her. "Mother
doesn't let us go out of the yard when she's away; and beside, there isn't
any corner--the road just goes round."

"Oh, bother!" Rachel whirled around and stamped her foot impatiently.

"And 'twill come past our house," contributed Ezekiel, gaining her side,
"so let's sit on the doorstep till it comes."

"And you can tell us about the funerals you've seen in the city," suggested
Peletiah, who had been thinking about them ever since.

"All right," said Rachel, seeing she was not to lose sight of the parade
she so dearly loved. "Whoopity--la!" She flung herself down on the long,
flat doorstone, and whipped her gown neatly away on either side. "I'm goin'
to sit in the middle."

The boys, very much pleased at this arrangement, which they would never
have thought of suggesting, sat down sedately in their places and folded
their hands in their laps.

"Now tell about those funerals," said Peletiah.

"Well, let me think," said Rachel, reflecting; "you see, I've seen so many.
Hmm! Oh, I know!" She jumped so suddenly that she came near precipitating
Ezekiel, who was leaning forward to attain a better view of her face, off
into the middle of the peony bed.

"Take care!" Rachel twitched him back into his place. "Yes, I'm goin' to
tell you about one perfectly splendid funeral I see just----"

"You mustn't say 'see,'" corrected Peletiah, with disapproval. He was
fairly longing for the recital, but it would never do to let such a slip in
conversation pass.

"Well, what shall I say, then?" cried Rachel pertly, and not at all pleased
at the interruption.

"You must say 'saw.'"

"I didn't saw it; you can't saw a thing," she declared contemptuously.
"You've got to see it, or else you can't say you did. So there,
Pel--Pel--whatever your name is."

"My name is Peletiah," he said solemnly,

"Peletiah--oh, dear me!" Rachel put her face between her two hands and
began to giggle.

"Tell about the funeral," said Ezekiel, twitching her sleeve.

"And you must say 'saw,'" reiterated Peletiah.

"I can't; 'tain't right, an' I ain't a-goin' to say 'saw' to please you, so
there, now!" declared Rachel, bringing up her head and setting her mouth
obstinately.

"Then I ain't going to sit here," said Peletiah, getting off from the
door-stone, "because my mother wouldn't like it; she always makes me say
'saw.'"

"Does she?" cried Rachel, a little red spot coming on either cheek. "Does
she, Pele--Pele--say, does she?"

"Yes, she does," said Peletiah, moving off slowly.

"Well, then, I'll say it. Came back and sit down; I'll say it. Saw, saw,
saw. There, now"--as Peletiah, very much delighted, settled back into his
place. "Well, you know this was a great big-bug who was buried, and----"

"A big bug!" exclaimed Peletiah, terribly disappointed. "I don't want to
hear of any bugs; tell about a funeral," he commanded loudly.

"I am tellin' you; keep still an' you'll hear it. Well, he was a gre--at
big-bug, an'----"

"Who was?" cried Ezekiel, dreadfully puzzled.

"This man who was to be buried--this one I'm tellin' you of. Do keep still,
an' you'll hear if you don't stop me every minute."

"You said it was a bug," said Peletiah, in loud disapproval, on the further
side.

"Well, so he was," declared Rachel, turning around to him. "Some men are
big-bugs, an' some men are only little mean ones. But this one I'm tellin'
you about was, oh, an awful big one," and she spread her arms with a
generous sweep to indicate his importance.

"Men aren't ever bugs," said Peletiah decidedly.

"Oh, yes, they are."

"No, they ain't," he declared obstinately.

"My mother says we mustn't contradict," put in Ezekiel, with a reproving
glance at him across Rachel's lap.

Peletiah unfolded his hands in extreme distress, but he couldn't say that
men were bugs, so he sat still.

"Anyway, they are in the city, where I lived," said Rachel, "so never mind.
Well, this funeral was just too splendid for anythin'. In the first place
there was----"

"Oh, it's coming," cried Ezekiel, pricking up his ears. "Miss Bedlow's
funeral's coming."

Rachel gave a jump that carried her off from the door-stone and quite a
piece down the box-bordered path. She was hanging over the gate when the
boys came up.

"Where?" she said. "I don't see any."

A small, black, high-topped wagon went by, the old horse at a jog trot, and
after it came a two-seated rockaway, and after that a carryall, and around
the curve in the road appeared more vehicles of the same patterns, tapering
off to a line of chaises and gigs.

"Why, that's the funeral," said Peletiah, in solemn enjoyment, and pointing
a finger at it; "it's going by now."

"What!" exclaimed Rachel, horribly disappointed. Then she flew away from
the gate and turned her back on it all. "I wish I was back in the city!"
she said.



XIII

"SHE'S GOING TO STAY HERE FOREVER"


It was dreadful; and after she had said it, Rachel stood overwhelmed with
distress. "Don't you tell your father." She whirled around and clutched
Peletiah's sleeve.

"We must," he said; "he's the minister, and we have to tell him
everything."

"Well, don't tell your mother, anyway," she begged anxiously.

"We must," said Peletiah again, "because we tell her everything, too."

"Then she'll send me back." Rachel, quite gone in despair, gave a loud cry
and threw herself face downward on the grass, where she sobbed as if her
heart would break.

This was so much worse than he had imagined, as any possible effect from
his words, that Peletiah couldn't speak, but stood over her in silent
misery. Seeing this, Ezekiel took matters into his own hands.

"I'm going to run after the funeral and get Ma to come home; she'll be at
the top of the procession," and he moved off toward the gateway.

"Stop!" Rachel squealed; then she sprang to her feet. "Don't you stir a
step, you!" she commanded.

"They're all hearing you," observed Peletiah, who, seeing Rachel upon her
feet, found his spirits reviving, and he pointed to the line of buggies and
chaises. "See 'em looking back; my father won't like it."

"Oh, dear me!" Rachel struggled with her sobs. "You shouldn't 'a' told me
you had 'em. That ain't a funeral."

"It is, too," declared Peletiah; "it's Miss Bedlow's funeral, and my Pa is
going to bury her."

"It ain't, either; an' that's a baker's cart," said Rachel, pointing to the
departing hearse with scorn.

"Oh, oh, what a story!" exclaimed Ezekiel, who was just on the point of
reproving his brother for contradicting, and he pointed his brown finger at
her. "That's got Miss Bedlow in, and they're taking her to the
burying-ground, and it's her funeral."

"Well, I don't want to go back to the city," said Rachel hastily,
dismissing Miss Bedlow and her funeral and all discussion thereon
summarily, and she dug the toe of her shoe into the gravel; "don't let your
mother send me back."

"You said you wished you were back there," observed Peletiah severely,
fixing his pale eyes on her distressed face, along which the tears were
making little paths.

"Well, I don't care. I don't want to go. Don't let her!" She seized his arm
and shook it smartly.

"You're shaking me!" said Peletiah, in astonishment.

"I know it, an' I'm goin' to," said Rachel, stamping her foot.

"You ain't going to shake my brother," declared Ezekiel loudly, "and we'll
make you go back if you shake us," he added vindictively.

"Oh, dear, dear!" Rachel dropped Peletiah's arm, and she hid her face in
her hands. "Don't make me go back," she wailed. "It's too dreadful there,
for Mrs. Fisher won't have me if you send me away, 'n' Gran 'll get hold of
me somehow--she'll--she'll find me, I know she will," and she shivered all
over.

"Who's Gran?" Peletiah drew quite near.

"She's Gran," said Rachel, shivering again. "Oh, dear! don't ask me; and
she beat me dreadful, an'--" her voice broke.

"She beat you?" cried Peletiah.

"Awful," said Rachel, cramming her fingers into her mouth to keep from
crying. "Oh, dear, dear! don't send me back."

Peletiah took two or three steps off, then came back.

"You may shake me if you want to," he said generously, "and you ain't going
back."

"Well, she isn't going to shake me," said Ezekiel stoutly, "and my Ma will
send her back if she shakes me, so there!"

"I hain't shook you yet," said Rachel, disclosing her black eyes between
her fingers and viewing him with cold disdain.

"Well, you ain't going to," repeated Ezekiel, with decision.

"Her Gran beat her." Peletiah went over to his brother. "She beat Rachel."
He kept repeating it, over and over; meanwhile Ezekiel moved about in
confusion, digging the toes of his shoes into the gravel to hide it.

"Well, she ain't going to shake me," he said, but it was in a fainter
voice, and he didn't look at Rachel's eyes.

"And you mustn't ask Mother to send her back," said Peletiah stubbornly.

"She ain't going to shake me." It was now so low that scarcely any one
could hear it.

"And you mustn't ask Mother to send her back," said Peletiah again. "She's
going to stay here just for ever and ever."

There was something in his tone that made Ezekiel hasten to say:

"Oh, I won't."

"And I won't shake you," said Rachel, flying out from behind her hands and
up to him, "if you'll only let me stay here; just let me stay," she cried,
hungrily.

"Well," said Ezekiel, with a great deal of condescension, "if you won't
shake me, you may stay at our house."

So the children went back to the flat door-stone to talk it over, Peletiah
saying:

"Maybe you can go to school with us next fall."

"Oh, my!" exclaimed Rachel, with wide eyes, and clasping her hands, "I've
got to learn a lot first."

"Yes, my father's got to teach you first," said Peletiah.

"Where's he going to do it?" Rachel leaned over to get a comprehensive view
of his face.

"In his study," answered Peletiah.

"Where's that?"

"That's where he writes his sermons in, that he preaches at people
Sundays," said Ezekiel, finding it very pleasant to be communicative, now
that he was quite sure the new girl would not shake him.

"Oh, how nice!" breathed Rachel. "That's scrumptious!"

"That's what?" asked Peletiah critically.

"Scrumptious. Haven't you ever heard that? Oh, what a nin--I mean, oh, how
funny!"

"And it ain't nice at all to have my father teach you," said Peletiah, with
very doleful ideas of that study.

"Why?" asked Rachel, with gathering dread.

"Oh, he makes you learn things," said Peletiah dismally, drawing a long
sigh at the remembrance.

"But that's just what I want to do," cried Rachel, with sparkling eyes;
"I'm goin' to learn an' learn, till I can't learn no more."

Peletiah was so occupied in edging off from her that he forgot to correct
her speech.

"Yes, I'm goin' to learn," exclaimed Rachel, in a glad little shout, and,
springing to her feet, she swung her arms over her head. "I'm goin' to read
an' I'm goin' to write, an' then I can write a letter to my Phronsie."

She ended up with a cheese, plunging down on the grass and puffing out her
gown like a small balloon.

"You can't do that," she said, nodding triumphantly up at the two boys.

"I don't want to," said Peletiah, sitting still on the door-stone.

"Well, you can't, anyway, 'cause you haven't got a frock. Well, now, let's
play," and she hopped to her feet. "Come on. What'll it be?"

"I'll show you the brook," volunteered Ezekiel, getting up.

"What's a brook?" asked Rachel.

"Hoh--hoh!" Ezekiel really laughed, it was so funny. "She doesn't know what
a brook is," he said, and he laughed again.

"Well, what is it?" demanded Rachel, laughing good-naturedly.

"It's water."

"I don't want to see any water," said Rachel, turning off disdainfully;
"there's nothing pretty in that."

"But it's awfully pretty," said Peletiah; "it runs all down over the
stones, and under the trees and----"

"Where is it?" cried Rachel, running up to him in great excitement. "Oh,
take me to it."

"It's just back of the house," said Ezekiel; "I'll show you the way."

But Rachel, once directed, got there first, and was down on her knees on
the bank, dabbling her hands in the purling little stream, half wild with
delight.

And when the parson and his wife got home from Miss Bedlow's funeral, they
found the three children there, perfectly absorbed in the labor of sailing
boats of cabbage leaves, and guiding their uncertain craft in and out the
shimmering pools and down through the tiny rapids. And they watched them
unobserved.

"But I dread to-morrow, when I give her the first lesson," said the parson,
as they stood unperceived in the shadow of the trees; "everything else is a
splendid success."

"Let us hope the lessons will be, too, husband," said Mrs. Henderson, a
happy light in her eyes.

"I hope so, but I'm afraid the child is all for play, and will be hard to
teach," he said, with a sigh.

But on the morrow--well, the minister came out of his study when the lesson
hour was over, with a flush on his face that betokened pleasure as well as
hard work. And Rachel began to skip around for very joy. She was really to
be a little student, Mr. Henderson had said. Not that Rachel really knew
what that meant exactly, but the master was pleased, and that was enough,
and all of a sudden, when she was putting up some dishes in the
keeping-room closet, she began to sing.

Mrs. Henderson nearly dropped the dish she was wiping.

"Why, my child!" she exclaimed, then stopped, but Rachel didn't hear her,
and sang on. It was a wild little thing that she had heard from the hand
organs and the people singing it in the streets of the big city.

Just then old Miss Parrott's stately, ancestral coach drove up. The
parson's wife hurried to the front door, which was seldom opened except for
special company like the present.

"I heard," said Miss Parrott, as Mrs. Henderson ushered her in, "that you'd
taken a little girl out of charity, and I want to see you and your husband
about it."

"Will you come into his study, then?" said Mrs. Henderson. "Husband has
gone out to work in his garden, and I will call him in."

Miss Parrott stepped into the apartment in stately fashion, her black silk
gown crackling pleasantly as she walked, and seated herself very primly, as
befitted her ancestry and bringing-up, in one of the stiff, high-backed
chairs. And presently the parson, his garden clothes off and his best coat
on, came in hurriedly to know his honored parishioner's bidding.

"I will come to the point at once," said Miss Parrott, with dignified
precision, as he sat beside her, and she drew herself up stiffer yet, in
the pleasing confidence that what she was about to say would strike both of
her hearers as the most proper thing to do. "You have taken this little
girl, I hear, to educate and bring up."

"For a time," said the minister, hurriedly.

"Very true, for a period of time," said Miss Parrott throwing her
black-figured lace veil, worn by her mother before her, away from her face.
"Well, now, Pastor, it is not appropriate for you to do this work, with
your hands already overburdened. Neither should you bear the expense----"

"But I don't," cried Parson Henderson, guilty now of interrupting. "Mr.
King pays me, and well, for teaching the little girl until she will be
ready for the district school. You see, she has never been in a schoolroom
in her life, and it would be cruel to put her with children of her own age,
when she is so ignorant. But she is singularly bright, and I have the
greatest hopes of her, madam, for she is far above and beyond most children
in many ways."

But Miss Parrott hadn't come to hear all this, so she gave a stately bow.

"No doubt, Pastor, but I must say what is on my mind. It is that I have for
some time wanted to do a bit of charity like this, and Providence now seems
to point the way for it. I would like to take the child and do for her. Let
her come to you here, for lessons, but let me bring her up in my house."

There was an awful pause. Parson Henderson looked at his wife, but said
never a word, helplessly leaving it to her.

"Dear Miss Parrott," said Mrs. Henderson, and she so far forgot her fear of
the stately, reserved parishioner as to lay her hand on the black-mitted
one of the visitor, "we were given the care of the child by Mr. King, who
rescued her from her terrible surroundings, and we couldn't possibly
surrender this charge to another. But I will tell you what we might do,
husband," and her eyes sought his face. "Rachel might go down now and then
to spend the day with Miss Parrott. Oh, your beautiful house!" she broke
off like a child in her enthusiasm. "I do so want her to be in it
sometimes." She turned suddenly to the visitor.

Miss Parrott's old face glowed, and a smile lingered among the wrinkles.

"And she must pass the night occasionally," she said. There was a world of
entreaty in her eyes. "I think so," said Mrs. Henderson, "but we must leave
that to Rachel."

And Rachel, in the keeping-room closet, was trilling up and down some of
the jigs her feet had kept time to when she, with the other tenement-house
children, had run out to dance on the corner when the organ man came round,
all unconscious of what was going on in the study.

"What's that?" cried Miss Parrott, starting. The conference was over and
she was coming out of the pastor's study, to get into her ancestral
carriage.

"That's Rachel singing," said Mrs. Henderson.

Old Miss Parrott gasped:

"Why, my dear Pastor, and Mrs. Henderson, can the child sing like that?"

"This is the first time she has tried it," said the parson, who had no ear
for music and was sorely tried when expected to admire any specimens of it.
"But I dare say she will do very well. She is a very teachable child."

"Very well!" repeated Miss Parrott quickly. "I should say so indeed. Well,
I will send for the child on Saturday to pass the day and night with me,
and then we shall see what we shall see."

With which enigmatical expression, she mounted her ancestral carriage; the
solemn coachman, who had served considerably more than a generation in the
family, gathered up the reins, and the coach rumbled off.

"Oh, what an awful old carriage!" exclaimed Rachel, running to the window.
"It looks as if its bones would stick out."

"It hasn't got any bones," said Peletiah, viewing it with awe, "and she's
awful rich, Miss Parrott is."

"I don't care," said Rachel, running back to her work and beginning to sing
again, "her carriage is all bones, anyway."



XIV

"CAN'T GO," SAID JOEL


"Joel--where are you?" Frick Mason raced in, to encounter Polly in the wide
hall. "Oh, dear me!"--not pausing for an answer--"all the boys are waiting
for him outside. Please tell him to hurry, Polly," for Joel's friends
always felt if they could only get Polly on their side, they were sure of
success, and he shifted his feet in impatience.

"I don't know in the least where Joel is," said Polly, pausing in her run
through the hall. She had promised Alexia to be over at her house at nine
o'clock, and there it was, the big clock in the corner stated plainly, five
minutes of that hour. "Oh, dear me! I wish I could help you," and she
wrinkled up her brows in distress.

Frick sat down on one of the big, carved chairs and fairly whined:

"I've chased and chased all about here, and no one knows where Joel is.
Polly, do find him for me," and he began to sniffle.

"Oh, I can't," began Polly impatiently, then she finished, "Dear me! Why, I
don't know in the very least where Joel is, Frick!--not the leastest bit in
the world."

"Oh, yes, you can find him," said Frick, sniffling dreadfully, and
beginning to wheedle and beg. "Do, Polly." He seized her gown. "The boys
can't do anything without Joel, and they've sent me for him."

"And I'm sure I can't do anything"--Polly shook her gown free--"so there's
no use in asking me to stand here and talk about it, Frick Mason. And just
look at that clock--two minutes of nine." She pointed tragically up to the
big clock. "And I promised to be at Alexia's--" The last words came back to
him as she disappeared out to the veranda and down the steps, racing off as
hard as she could.

Frick got off from his chair, took three or four steps hopelessly, then
stiffened up.

"I'm going to find him," he announced to himself, and turning down the
angle, he knocked at the first door on the left.

"Hullo!" exclaimed Joel, unlocking the door and opening it.

"Oh, you're here." Frick seized him on both sides, wishing he had twice the
number of hands to employ; then he tried to run in, but Joel shook off the
grasp, pushed to the door, only leaving the scantiest space to allow of
conversation.

"You can't come in," he said steadily.

"Hold on! don't shut the door," cried Frick, pressing up closely and still
endeavoring to get a good grasp on some of Joel's clothing. "Ow! you 'most
smashed my nose, Joel Pepper."

"You must take your nose away then," said Joel decidedly, "for I'm going to
shut the door if you scrouge so."

"Well, let me come in," said Frick, struggling violently. "Say, Joel, don't
shut the door."

For answer Joel slammed to the door, and the key clicked in the lock.

"I said I'd do it, if you scrouged and pushed, and I must," he answered,
with the air of a man performing his duty. "This is my Grandpapa's
writing-room, and you mustn't come in, Frick Mason."

Frick slid down to the floor and laid his mouth alongside the crack, with
the feeling that his message would be more impressive delivered in that
way, since he was not to be admitted to the apartment to give it in due
form.

"The boys want you, Joel; they're all waiting for us outside. Hurry up."
Having delivered it, Frick got up to his feet in a hurry, confident that
the door would be flung wide, to let Joel come hopping out in delight, and
not choosing to be run over in the process.

"Can't go," said Joel, in muffled accents, on the other side of the door.

"What?" roared Frick, not believing his ears.

"Can't go," repeated Joel. "Go right away from this door."

"What did you say?" Frick slid to the floor again and beat his hands on the
polished surface. "Say, Joel, we want you to come. We're all waiting for
you, don't you understand?" He kept saying it over and over, under the
impression that if he only repeated it enough, the door would open.

"And I say I can't go," declared Joel, in a high, wrathful key. "If you
don't go away and let this door alone, I'll come out and pound you."

"We're going to the pond," said Frick, exactly as if responding to the most
cordial request to furnish the plan. "We've got Larry's boat, and Webb is
going to take his father's, and----"

"Ow--go away!" roared Joel, in an awful voice.

"And we're going to take our luncheon and stop at Egg Rock, and----"

The door flew open wildly, and Joel leaped out over Frick, flattened on the
floor.

"Didn't I tell you to let me alone?" cried Joel, on top of the messenger,
and pommeling away briskly, "Say, didn't I tell? Say, didn't I tell you?"

The noise all this made was sufficient to bring Jane, who didn't stop to
drop her broom.

"My goodness me, Master Joel!" she said, running down from the
stair-landing, "what are you doing?"

"Pommeling him," said Joel cheerfully, and not looking up.

"Well, you stop it this minute," commanded Jane, waving her broom over the
two figures, for by this time Frick had managed to roll over and was now
putting up quite a vigorous little fight in his own defense.

"I can't," said Joel; "I promised him."

"Oh, dear me!" cried Jane, bringing her broom down smartly on as much of
the surface of either boy as was possible. "I'll scream for Mrs. Fisher if
you don't stop, you two boys. I will, as true as anything!"

"Oh, no, you mustn't, Jane," said Joel. His brown fists wavered in the air
and described several circles before they fell at his side; seeing which,
Frick slipped out from underneath him and began to belabor Joel to his
heart's content. "You mustn't, Jane," howled Joel.

"Now will you come." he cried. "Say, hurry up, Joe, we're all waiting. Come
on!" His nose was quite bloody, and a dab here and there on his countenance
gave him anything but a pleasing expression.

"Ugh!" cried Jane, with a little shiver. "You boys get right straight up
from this floor, or I'll tell Mrs. Fisher."

Joel seized her apron string and howled:

"Jane, don't!"

"Yes, I will, too, Master Joel," declared Jane, twitching away the string;
"for such carryings on, I never see. Oh, here's Mr. King; now he'll take
care of you both," and she skipped upstairs, broom and all.

It was useless to try to slip away unperceived, for old Mr. King bore down
upon them along the hall in his stateliest fashion.

"Dear me! what have we here?" as both boys slunk down as small as possible.
"Why, Joel!"--it was impossible to convey greater astonishment in his
tone--"I thought you were steady at work."

"So I was," cried Joel, stung to the quick; and jumping to his feet, he
fairly beat the old gentleman's arm with two distressed little palms, "and
he made me come out. I said I would pound him, and I had to. Oh, Grandpapa,
I had to," and he pranced wildly around the tall, stately figure.

"Keep quiet, Joe," said the old gentleman, with a restraining hand; "and,
Frick, get up. Oh, dear me!"--as Frick obeyed, bringing his interesting
countenance to view, by no means improved by his efforts to wipe off the
smears. "What have you boys been about?"

"He wouldn't come out," said Frick, rubbing violently all over his round
cheeks, "and the boys sent me for him, and they're waiting now," he
finished, with a very injured air.

"Eh--oh! and so they sent you for Joel?" said the old gentleman, a light
breaking over his face.

"Yes, sir," said Frick, with a final polish to his countenance on the cuff
of his jacket sleeve, "and won't you please make Joel hurry up and come
out, sir? We've waited so long."

"And is that the way you respond to your invitations, my boy?" said
Grandpapa, with a grim smile. "I shouldn't think you'd receive many at this
rate. So you fell upon him because he asked you to go somewhere, eh?"--with
a keen glance into the black eyes.

"No, sir." said Joel, "but he wouldn't go away, and I told him if he
didn't, I'd come out and pound him. So I had to."

"Um--now let us see," said the old gentleman, reflecting a bit. "So you
kept on at the door, eh, Frick?"

"Yes, sir," said Frick, giving up his countenance as a bad job. "I had to,
'cause the boys are waiting, you see, sir. Won't you please make Joe hurry
up and come?"

"Well, now, Frick, I really believe you better go out and tell those boys
that when Joel gets ready to join them, he'll make his appearance.
Good-bye, Frick." Grandpapa waved him off sociably, and Frick, not exactly
understanding how, or why, found himself on the other side of the big front
door, in the midst of the waiting company from which he had been picked out
as messenger.

"I wouldn't make such a promise again, if I were you, Joel," observed old
Mr. King, gathering up the small, brown hand in one of his own; "it might
be a little awkward to keep it, you know. Now, then, here we are,"--turning
in at the writing-room. "Well, say no more, but fly at your task," and he
seated himself in the big chair before the writing-table and took up his
pen.

Thus left to himself, Joel went slowly over to the set of shelves in the
alcove, from which Frick's summons at the door had called him. There were
several volumes on the floor, and a blank book and some sheets of paper,
showing clearly Joe's favorite method of setting to work on making lists,
while sprawled on the carpet with all his paraphernalia around him. He
threw himself down amongst it all, prowled around for his pencil, which,
suddenly dropped when he had deserted his task, had taken the opportunity
to roll off by itself. Now it added to his discomfiture by hiding.

"Plague take it!" He scowled, a black little frown settling on his brow.
"Where is it?"--prowling around frantically on the carpet, with hasty
hands.

"What is it, Joe?" Old Mr. King, though apparently very busy over at the
writing-table, seemed to be quite well aware of everything that went on in
the alcove.

"I've lost my pencil," announced Joe, in a dismal voice.

"Oh, well, that's not so bad as it might be," said the old gentleman; "come
over and get another, and by and by you can find your own."

Joel advanced to the writing-table and put out a hand for the pencil, which
the old gentleman laid within it, but not before he had taken a good look
at the chubby face above it.

"So Frick and the boys wanted you, eh?" asked Grandpapa carelessly. "Going
somewhere, maybe?"

"Yes," said Joel, not looking up, "they are going to the pond."

"Oh, really?" said old Mr. King. "And you said no, eh, Joel?"

"Yes," said Joel.

"I suppose you didn't want to go, eh, Joel?" said the old gentleman
carelessly, and playing with his paper knife.

Joel's black eyes flew wide open, and he raised his head to stare into
Grandpapa's face.

"Oh, yes, I did, awfully."

"Then why didn't you go?" asked Grandpapa, just as carelessly, and giving
the paper knife an extra twirl or two.

Joel took his gaze off, to regard the pile of books over on the alcove
floor.

"Oh, your work?--is that it, Joel?" asked the old gentleman. "So you
thought you'd rather stay and finish your hour on it, eh, my boy?"

Joel squirmed uneasily. "I hadn't rather," he said at last, "but I'd got
to."

"Eh?" said old Mr. King.

"I said I'd work an hour and not stop," said Joel, as something seemed to
be required of him, the old gentleman waiting for him to finish.

"You mean you'd made the bargain to do this work and you couldn't back
out?" said Grandpapa.

Joel looked up and nodded quickly.

"Yes, sir."

"Oh, yes. Well, now, I mustn't hinder you from your work"--old Mr. King
turned briskly to his writing again--"or I shall be as bad as Frick--eh,
Joel?" and he laughed gayly. "Now trot back and go at your task again."

So Joel, fortified with his pencil, marched back to sit on the floor in the
alcove and take up his interrupted work, and Grandpapa's pen went
scratching busily over the paper, and nothing else was heard except the
buzzing of a big fly outside the window, venting his vexation at his
inability to get in.

Meanwhile Frick and the knot of boys had drawn off in astonishment and
dismay at the failure of their plan to get Joel Pepper into the delightful
expedition.

"What was he doing?" demanded more than one boy.

"I don't know," said Frick; "I couldn't get in."

"Oh, now I know; he's got some secret," said Larry Keep, and he whirled
around in vexation and snapped his fingers.

"Maybe it's a flying-machine," suggested another boy.

"Phoo! he couldn't make that in his grandfather's writing-room," said
Larry, in derision, yet he looked anxious. Suppose Joel Pepper were really
busy over such a splendid thing as that and hadn't told him. "Guess
something else."

"I can't think what it is," said Frick, sitting down on the curbstone to
become lost in thought--an example to be speedily followed by all the boys,
till finally there was a dismal row of them, without a thought remaining of
having the expedition on the pond, since Joel Pepper wouldn't come with
them.



XV

UP IN ALEXIA'S PRETTY ROOM


Polly was having a bad half-hour with herself, despite all the attractions
up in Alexia's pretty room.

"It's no use," she cried, throwing down the little brush with which she was
whisking off the dainty bureau-cover. The girls were "setting up" the
various adornments that were plentifully strewn about, an occupation that
Polly dearly loved, and that Alexia as dearly hated. "I must go home."

Alexia, down on her knees, with her head in the closet, grumbling over the
shoe bag, whose contents were in a chronic state of overflow, pulled it out
suddenly.

"Why, Polly Pepper!" she exclaimed, in an injured tone. One eye was draped
by a cobweb, gained by diving into the closet's extreme corner after a
missing slipper, gone for some weeks; and in other ways Alexia's face
presented a very unprepossessing appearance. "You said you'd help me with
my room this morning."

"Oh, yes, I know," said Polly hurriedly, and running over to Alexia; "but
you'll let me off, won't you?--for I've something on my mind. Oh, dear me!"

Alexia hopped up to her feet, the slipper flying off at a tangent, and ran
all around Polly Pepper, gazing at her anxiously.

"I don't see anything. Oh, what is it?" she cried.

"You see, the boys wanted to find Joel, and I--" began Polly, twisting her
fingers.

"Bother the boys!" exclaimed Alexia, interrupting. "Is that all? They are
everlastingly wanting to find Joel. Well"--with a sigh of relief--"we can
go back to work again. Why, I must say, Polly, you scared me 'most to
death. Oh, dear me! I wish I had let Norah sweep this old closet when she
does the room. It's dirty as can be. If Aunt knew it--" The rest of it was
lost, as Alexia was down on her knees again, her head back in the closet,
with the hope of unearthing more slippers and shoes.

"Alexia, do come out," cried Polly, pulling her gown smartly; "I must speak
to you."

"Can't," said Alexia, rummaging away. "There, I've gone and knocked down my
blue silk waist! Do pick it up, Polly; it 'll get all dirt, and then won't
Aunt scold!"

As if to make matters worse, a voice out in the hall was heard:

"_Alexia?_"

"Misery me!" cried Alexia, scuffling out backward from the closet, the blue
silk waist on her head where it had fallen, and in her sudden exit nearly
overthrowing Polly Pepper. "Here comes Aunt. Shut the door, Polly--shut
it"--scrambling with both hands to get the waist off, while a hook caught
in her light, fluffy hair. And Miss Rhys being too near the door for any
such protection as Alexia suggested, in she walked.

"What in the world!" She lifted both hands. "Alexia Rhys, is it possible! I
concluded not to go down-town, and came back, and to think of this--playing
with your best silk waist!"

"I'm not playing," declared Alexia, in a sharp key, tossing back from her
head as much of the waist as she could, "and it hurts awfully"--twitching
angrily at the hook.

Polly sprang to her assistance.

"Wait a minute, and I'll get you out," she said.

"And I won't wait," cried Alexia loudly; "it's bad enough to be hooked to
death with a horrid old ugly waist, without being scolded to pieces by your
aunt."

"Oh, Alexia!" exclaimed Miss Rhys, "to call that beautiful waist an ugly
thing!"

"And I'll pull every spear of hair out of my head, but I'll get the thing
off. Ow!"--as she began to put her threat into execution.

"Do be still, Alexia," begged Polly, trying to push aside the nervous
fingers.

"I won't be still," cried Alexia, casting up a pale eye full of wrath on
the side next to Polly, and giving another twitch. "I guess if you'd been
hooked up by a horrible old thing, and your aunt came in and scolded you
terribly, you wouldn't wait. Ow! Oh, dear me!"

"Then," said Polly, standing quite still, "since you won't let me help you,
I'm going home, Alexia."

"Oh, don't," cried Alexia, and she dropped her hands to her side in a
flash, the blue silk waist dangling to her head by its hook. "I'll let you
help whatever you want to, Polly," she mumbled meekly.

So Polly set to work, Miss Rhys slipping out of the room. Although Alexia's
nervous fingers were now not in the way, still, it wasn't easy to
disentangle the hook from the thick, fluffy hair, wound in as it was.

"You've tangled it all up," said Polly, bending over it with flushed face,
her fingers working busily, "and it's all in a snarl. Dear me! do I hurt?"

"No, never mind," said Alexia; "'tisn't any matter. Don't go home, Polly."
She held her fast by the gown.

"No, of course not," said Polly; "at least not until I get this hook out of
your hair. There--oh, dear me! I thought it was quite free. Well, anyway,
now it is!" She held up the blue silk waist with a triumphant little
flourish, over her own head. "It must be awful to have something fastened
to you like that," she said, sympathetically, as she placed the waist on
the bed with a sigh of relief.

"Well, I guess you'd think so," assented Alexia decidedly; "it's too
perfectly awful for anything. It pulls like a big vulture with his talons
holding your hair." She hopped to her feet and shook herself in delight,
her long, light braids flying out gayly. "Well, I am glad that Aunt has
gone"--looking around the room, and drawing a long breath.

Polly Pepper stood quite still over by the bed.

"Well--heigh-ho--come on," cried Alexia, dancing over to seize her arm;
"let's have a spin." But Polly didn't move.

"Come on, Polly," cried Alexia, with another tug at her arm.

"No," said Polly, "I can't, Alexia."

"What in the world is the matter?" cried Alexia, dropping her arm to stare
at her.

"I think your aunt--" began Polly.

"Oh, Aunt!" interrupted Alexia impatiently. "You're always talking about
her, Polly Pepper, and she's everlastingly picking at me, so I have a
perfectly dreadful time, between you two."

"Well, she is your aunt," said Polly, not offering to stir.

"I can't help it." Alexia, for the want of something better to do, ran over
and twitched the table cover straight. "And I know she's my aunt, but she
needn't pick at me all the time," she added defiantly. She looked
uncomfortable all the same, and ran about here and there trying to get
things in their places, but knocking down more than were tidied up. "Why
don't you say something?" she cried impatiently, whirling around.

"Because I've nothing to say," replied Polly, not moving.

"Oh, dear me!" Alexia sent her long arms out with a despairing gesture. "I
suppose I've just got to go and tell Aunt I'm sorry." She drew a long
breath. "But I hadn't been playing; I was tired to death over that dirty
old closet and that tiresome shoe bag, and my hair all hooked up. Well, do
come on." She ran over and held out her hand. "Come with me," she begged.

So Polly put her hand in Alexia's, and together they ran out into the hall,
to the maiden aunt's room.

"It's perfectly dreadful to board," said Alexia, on the way. "I wouldn't
care how little the house was, if Aunt and I could only have one," and she
gave a great sigh.

Polly turned suddenly and gave her a big hug.

"Mamsie says you are to come over to our house just as often as possible.
So does Grandpapa," she cried hastily; "you know that, Alexia."

"Yes, I know," said Alexia, but she was highly gratified at every
repetition of the invitation. "Well, oh, dear me!"--as they stood before
Miss Rhys' door.

That lady sat in her bay window, her fingers busy with her embroidery, and
her mind completely filled with plans for another piece when that
particular one should be completed.

"I'm sorry, Aunt," said Alexia, plunging up to the chair and keeping tight
hold of Polly Pepper's hand.

"Oh!" said Miss Rhys, looking up. "Why, how your hair does look, Alexia!"

Up flew Alexia's other hand to her head.

"Well, it's been all hooked up," she said.

"And I'll brush it for you," said Polly, at her shoulder.

"That'll be fine," cried Alexia, with a comfortable wriggle of her long
figure. "Oh, I'm sorry, Aunt."

"Very well," said Miss Rhys, turning back to her embroidery again. "And,
Alexia, your room looks very badly. I'm astonished that you are so untidy,
when I talk to you about it so much."

"Well, Polly is helping me fix it up," said Alexia, drawing off and pulling
Polly along.

"Now, you see, Polly"--as the two girls were safe once more in the little
room, this time with the door shut--"I only got some more pickings by going
to Aunt."

"Hush," said Polly, "she will hear you.'

"How is she going to hear with the door shut, pray tell?" cried Alexia,
with a giggle. "Well, it's over with now. Let's fly at this horrid old
room. Dear me!"--as she ran by the window--"do just see those dreadful
boys."

At the word "boys" Polly ran too, and peeped over her shoulder.

"Oh, I must speak to Frick," and without more warning, she raced out of the
room, and down the front stairs.

"Polly, Polly Pepper!" But Polly being out in the street and nearly up to
the knot of boys, Alexia gave up calling and speedily ran after her, to
hear her say:

"Oh, Frick, I'll go and try to find Joel for you."

Frick disentangled himself from the group.

"I found Joel myself," he said, "and he wouldn't come."

"Wouldn't come where?" demanded Alexia breathlessly, plunging up.

"Out on the pond." It was Larry Keep who answered.

"And so we've given it all up," said another boy, very dismally.

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Alexia, "how tiresome of Joel!"

"Oh, no, no," protested Polly, shaking her head. "I know Joel couldn't go,
or else he would. You know that, boys," she said, looking anxiously at them
all.

"He's always been before," said Larry, in a dudgeon, "and I don't see what
makes him act so now."

"Well, you haven't any right to abuse him, just because he doesn't want to
go out with you on the pond," said Alexia warmly, veering round at the
first word of blame of Joel from anybody else. "That's a great way to do, I
must say."

"And, boys, you know Joel would have gone if he could, don't you?" said
Polly again, the little anxious pucker deepening on her forehead.

"Ye--es," said Larry slowly, digging the toe of his tennis shoe into the
ground, as no one else said anything.

"Oh, he would, he would," said Polly, clasping her hands tightly together,
the color flying over her cheek. "Something must have happened to keep him
back"--as the boys, having nothing more to say, moved off. "Alexia, now I
_must_ go home, for I'm afraid--" of what, she didn't say.

"I'll go, too," said Alexia, springing after her, wild to find out what the
matter could be with Joel Pepper, to keep him from one of his favorite
sports on the pond.

"There isn't anything the matter with him," shouted back Frick, over his
shoulder, who had caught Polly's last words. "And he could have gone as
easy as not; he was in Mr. King's writing-room with the door locked."

"Grandpapa's writing-room, with the door locked!" repeated Polly, turning
around in a puzzled way. "Why--I don't see--oh!" Then she gave such a
squeal that Alexia hopped across the road in astonishment. "I know now.
Dear, splendid, old Joel! Boys!" She was up by them again, and talking so
fast that nobody understood for a moment or two what the whole thing was
about.

"For pity's sake, Polly Pepper!" Alexia was shaking her arm, the boys
crowding around Polly and hanging on every word.

"Don't you understand? Oh, how stupid I've been not to think of it
before!--though I didn't know he was to begin this very morning," cried
Polly, hurrying on, all in a glow. "Grandpapa has engaged Joel to do some
work for him on his books"--Polly didn't think she ought to explain any
further about the ten-dollar note--"and so Joel thought he couldn't stop
till the hour was up, and----"

"Has he got to work an hour on 'em at a time?" interrupted Larry in
amazement, pushing his way nearer to Polly.

"Yes," said Polly, turning her rosy face on him, so glad that she was
really making them see that Joel couldn't go with them when he was asked,
"he must work a whole hour at a time on them, so you see he really had to
stay back." But this part was lost on the whole group.

"Hi--hi!" they shouted, and Larry flung up his cap. "Well, if that's so,
we'll go back and get him now; the hour must be up," and off they raced,
flinging up a cloud of dust from their heels.

"Whew!" exclaimed Alexia. "Did you ever see such perfectly dreadful boys to
kick up such a dust? Oh, dear me, Polly Pepper. Ker-choo!"

When she came out of her sneezing fit, Polly was saying again:

"Oh, how perfectly stupid I am, Alexia!"

But her eyes shone, for it was now all right for Joel with the boys.



XVI

THE ACCIDENT


But the boys didn't get back after Joel--not just then. A big tallyho
coach, in swinging around a corner, bore down upon the struggling crowd,
the driver halloing and the horn blowing lustily, by way of a signal to
clear the road. This would have been all well enough and easy to avoid, if
a string of bicyclists had not selected that very identical moment to
appear from the opposite direction. And Larry, whose uncle was in the
last-mentioned procession, having a laudable desire to see him and make his
relation aware of the fact, turned, waved his cap and his arms with a, "Hi,
there, Uncle Jack!" and in another second was under the big wheels, the
whole merry party going over him and the laughter and chat still filling
the air.

Miss Mary Taylor, having an outside seat, looked over quickly. Hamilton
Dyce, sitting next, clambered down.

"Don't be frightened," he said into her pale face.

Half a dozen men were on the ground with him, and the boys swarmed around
wildly, getting in everybody's way. The bicyclists, not catching the idea
of any accident, were swiftly coasting down the hill, for after all their
leader had suddenly changed his mind and veered off just before reaching
the scene of the accident.

"Help me down," said Miss Taylor hoarsely.

"Ugh, don't!" said Beth Cameron, with a shiver, poking her parasol well
down over her eyes. "I wouldn't see it for all the world"--shivering.

"You can't do any good; better not," said Mr. Dyce, looking up at Miss
Taylor.

But Miss Mary continued to say, "Help me down," and she so evidently
displayed the intention of getting down without any assistance if it
weren't forthcoming, that Mr. Dyce did as he was bidden, and she was on the
spot by the time that Larry was drawn out from under the wheels and laid on
the roadside grass.

"I'm afraid he's done for, poor beggar," said one of the men.

Mr. Dyce turned Miss Mary completely around and marched her off to the
middle of the road before she knew that such summary treatment was to be
accorded her. Then she caught her breath.

"You needn't think to save me," she said, with a little gasp: "I'm--I'm
quite strong. I must go. Oh, don't stop me. Think of poor Mrs. Keep!" and
she was back in among the group of men and the frantic boys. "Send for
Doctor Fisher," she cried, kneeling down by Larry's side.

"No use--" began another man, but Hamilton Dyce cried, "Which one can run
the fastest for Doctor Fisher?"

Little Porter Knapp could, there was no doubt of that. All arms and legs
was he, and able to get over more ground a minute than any other boy of
their set, not excepting Joel Pepper. So, before Mr. Dyce had finished
speaking, he was off like a shot, leaving Miss Taylor sitting on the grass
holding Larry's poor head, while the whole crowd of men revolved around
her, nervous to do something, but not seeing their way clear to find out
what would be expedient.

"If those chaps would stop howling!" exclaimed one of the men, in
desperation, stalking off a bit to cram his hands in his pocket, and
ejaculate this to a companion.

"It's pretty hard on the kids," remarked the friend, with a glance over his
shoulder at Frick and the rest of the boys, who added to the misery by
crowding up to the scene and impeding the progress of all would-be helpers.

"He's dead, it's easy to see," observed the first man, nodding over to the
group.

"That's a fact, it looks like it," nodded the friend. "Well, it's a bad
thing, but no one's at fault. Mac couldn't help it. The little beggar ran
right under the horses."

"Oh, Mac's not to blame," said the first speaker hastily, "but it's an
awful calamity just the same, to run down a kid. Well, we must pacify the
ladies." So the two walked back and up to the side of the coach, when the
big hats under the parasols leaned over and allowed their fair owners to be
diverted with all sorts of comforting things. And presently little Doctor
Fisher came rushing along in his gig, out of which sprang Porter Knapp
before the horse could be persuaded to stop.

[Illustration: "Oh, Larry," said Miss Taylor gently, bending over him.]

No one said a word, least of all Miss Taylor, except the Doctor, who
ordered them to right and to left, as assistants. And before long, Larry
opened his blue eyes.

"Why--where?" he began. He didn't even know he had been hurt--not till
afterward when the pain and suffering set in.

"Easy--easy there," said little Doctor Fisher.

"Great Scott!" The young man who had pronounced him dead crammed those
hands of his deeper yet in their pockets and gave a whistle.

"Oh, Larry," said Miss Taylor gently, bending over him.

"What is it?" Larry tried to move, and felt a strong hand laid on him just
where it made any motion impossible. Beside, a great wave of pain swept him
suddenly into such astonishment as well as suffering that all he could do
was to shut his eyes and let his head sink back.

"Now, then!" Doctor Fisher glanced up to the coach-load. "All of you get
down," he said curtly, and before the women quite knew how, the pretty
gowns and hats and parasols were all descending, a gay, fluttering bevy all
chattering together.

"Miss Mary, I'll trouble you to hop up there," and a dozen hands helped her
into position on the coach. "Now, then, Mr. Dyce, and you"; he nodded over
to Harry Delafield, the little doctor did, then rapidly picked out two more
men. "Up with you, please," and quicker than it takes to tell it all, they
were in position, and Larry had been lifted gently into their laps, his
head on Miss Taylor's arm.

"Ugh!" Betty Cameron gave a worse shiver than before. "How Mary Taylor
can!" she exclaimed, with a grimace. "Oh, dear me! I'm as faint as I can
be, just to think of it. I should die outright to be up there with him."

"Well, we've got to walk home, I suppose," observed one of the other girls
disconsolately, who, now that Larry could really speak, thought it quite
time to turn attention to her own discomfort, and she thrust out her dainty
shoe.

The boys, when they saw that Larry was really alive, stopped howling,
especially as each and all had felt the glare of the eyes back of Doctor
Fisher's big spectacles. And they set off on a run by the side of the
coach, and as far ahead of that vehicle as possible, as Mac handled the
ribbons with his best style, trying to drive as gently as possible for the
patient.

"To his home, of course," said the little doctor, turning his spectacles up
to Mac. Then he got into his gig, whipped up, and took the lead.

Porter Knapp went across streets and got there first and was leaning over
the stone gateway when the little doctor's gig drove up.

"Eh!" exclaimed Doctor Fisher, looking at him over his glasses. "Well, you
have a pair of legs! Joel was right; he says you beat everything in
running."

Porter looked much pleased and glanced down at his legs affectionately.
Then he remembered Larry and sobered at once.

Doctor Fisher, while going up the steps, said in passing:

"Larry'll pull through all right, I think."

"She's here," cried Porter suddenly. He had heard the words, but something
had abruptly come in between, and he wildly dashed at the little doctor.
Doctor Fisher turned around and saw, flourishing up to the gateway, a gay
little runabout, and in it Larry's mother and sister.

"My goodness!" He was down by its side. And off in the distance, but coming
surely and steadily on, was the coach bearing Larry to his home.

"Yes, yes, how do you do? Don't stop," cried the little doctor, waving his
hand that was free from his bag of instruments; "go on to the stable."

"Oh, no, I'll stop here." Mrs. Keep had her foot on the step, and put out
the hand not occupied with her flowing draperies. "Eleanor is going on to
see a friend. Well, how do you do?"

"You had better drive on to the stable," said the little doctor, "both of
you."

This time he had such an imperative manner that, thoroughly bewildered,
Mrs. Keep stepped back into her seat and motioned Eleanor to obey.

"Isn't he awfully funny!" said Eleanor, turning in at the driveway, more
puzzled, if possible, than her mother.

"Yes," said Mrs. Keep, "he is, but then I suppose he has a good deal on his
mind. You know they say his practice is getting to be tremendous. Well, we
must run in and see him," as they drove down to the stable. "And you can go
afterward to see Mary Taylor."

[Illustration: "Yes, sir," called Joel back, from the alcove.]

"All right," said Eleanor, and one of the stable boys coming out to meet
the pony, they both jumped out of the runabout and ran up the back veranda
steps.

"It's funny he didn't come down this way, if he wanted us to drive to the
stable," cried Eleanor. "Mamma, do say you think it's queer. It would be
some comfort if you would."

"Well, I will, then," laughed Mrs. Keep, and there stood Doctor Fisher at
the dining-room door, and the minute she saw his face she knew that
something dreadful had happened.

"Well, Joel, my boy." Old Mr. King, who had been consulting his watch every
five minutes, whirled around in his big chair. "Time to lay down the work,"
he called cheerily.

"Yes, sir," called Joel back, from the alcove.

"And I'm sure if ever an hour was long, this last one has been," the old
gentleman was saying to himself. Joel, who was rather stiff in the joints
when first getting up from his work on the carpet, now came out feeling his
arms, and then indulging in a good long stretch.

"It seems rather good--eh, Joe?--to swing your arms," cried Grandpapa with
a laugh, and a keen glance into the black eyes.

"Yes, _sir,_" declared Joel, with another stretch, and wondering if
ever anything was so good in this world as to be told the hour was up.

"Take care," warned the old gentleman; "those long arms of yours will have
things off from my table. My goodness, Joe! you must really go out of doors
and stretch, you make such a sweep," and he laughed again.

"I can reach so far." Joel ran all around the table and stretched out his
brown arms. "See, Grandpapa," he cried; then he got on his tiptoes and
leaned over to achieve greater and more astonishing results.

"You'll be over on your nose, if I don't rescue you and the things on my
table," said Mr. King, bursting into a heartier laugh than ever. "Come on,
Joey, my boy, let's get out of doors, in a larger place." So he gathered up
one of the sprawling sets of fingers, and summarily marched him out.

"Now I suppose the next thing in order is to race after Frick and those
boys," observed old Mr. King, when the garden walk was attained.

"Yes, sir," cried Joel, his black eyes alight and his feet dancing.

"Well, be off with you."

No need to say more; Joel's heels beat the hastiest of retreats, as he
scuttled off at the liveliest pace of which he was capable.

Old Mr. King, left alone, nodded to himself two or three times, and smiled
in a pleased way. "The very thing," he said at last, and in as great
satisfaction as if he had been talking to a good listener.



XVII

JOEL'S ADVENTURE


Joel rushed along at a breakneck pace to make up for lost time. How good it
was to sniff the fresh air, and to be free, and then to think of that hour
put into solid work over the book-list! Why, he glowed all over with
delight at the very thought.

"Whoopity-la!" Down the bank of Spy Pond into one of the curves most
frequented by the boys of his set, he ran. "My! but I'm glad to get here,
though! Hey, there?"

There was no response as Joel dashed into what the boys called their camp,
a rough enclosure the wealthy men who owned the pond on the outskirts of
the town had allowed to be built. As some of the boys were their own sons,
every indulgence in the way of using the pond had been granted, and Mr.
Horatio King being the largest owner and the most indulgent, Joel's set, to
a boy, decided to call it the "King Camp." It was in a knot of pines, and
in the summer was a most attractive place, overrun with vines and creepers
and gay with the colored boat-cushions that were always thrown about.

"Hey there!" shouted Joel again, running about within and without the
little wooden structure. "Are you all deaf? Hey--whoopity-la!" but nobody
answered, save a little bird from the tip of the tallest tree.

Joel stood transfixed with amazement; then he dashed off suddenly down a
descent to the little cove. "It must be that they are out on the pond," he
said to himself, in vexation, and he craned his neck and peered up and down
the shining water as well as he was able for the many curves. "But I don't
see how they can be, for Larry's boat is here"--he had dashed up again to
the camp--"and Mr. Hersey's, that's the one they would take"--surveying the
collection of rowboats and dories drawn up on the beach--"and Webb's
father's and Porter Knapp's." Besides, there was a goodly number of others,
all in such situations as by no means suggested a party expected to be on
the pond at short notice that morning.

"Well, I'm going out, anyway," declared Joel, snapping his fingers, "and
catch up with them. Most likely they've taken the fishing-tackle; I won't
stop for that." So, pushing off his row-boat, he picked up the oars and
headed down the pond in the direction most likely in his mind to overtake
them.

But although he pulled lustily at his oars and ran his boat in and out the
curves and hallooed and shouted, he didn't catch a glimpse of them; and the
pine groves and wooded glens that ran down to the curving bank only echoed
his own calls, or sent a bird note out to him. There wasn't the first
suggestion of a boy anywhere about.

"Where in the world are they?" cried Joel in vexation, resting on his oars.
"Hi--there they are!" He turned suddenly, knocked against one of the oars,
it slipped, and before he knew what it was about, there it was in the
water. And to make matters worse, the sound that had filled him with
delight proved to be a big, black dog, scrambling through a thicket of
underbrush, and coming out to stare at him from the edge of the pond.

"Oh, you beggar!" exclaimed Joel, not to the dog, but to the oar drifting
off quickly. It was an easy thing, however, so he thought, to recover it,
and he made no special haste to paddle along as best he might after it.
Just at this moment another boat came suddenly in sight around a curve. It
didn't hold Joel's friends, but a wholly different set, some city boys who
had no rights on the pond. And having stolen their opportunity, and helped
themselves to a boat down below, they meant to have as good a time as
possible, knowing it would probably be their last. So here was a grand
chance, a boy alone in a rowboat, and at their mercy, one of his oars
drifting off.

"Hi--fellows!" When they saw it, they yelled with glee.

The black dog on the bank, who belonged to them and was following, as best
he might, their course, danced about and gnashed his teeth in his rage that
he couldn't join actively in the excitement, sniffing at the water and
drawing back as it lapped his feet.

"Now then, look alive," cried the one who appeared to be the leader, and
the whole crew bent to their oars with a right good will; and grinning all
over their faces with the prospect of fun ahead, they made straight for
Joel in his boat.

Joel drew himself up, his black eyes flashing, and paddled with all his
might. But it was no use; his boat went round and round, or zigzagged
along, and in a trice the unlucky oar was seized by the triumphant crew, as
it was drifting off into some lily pads, and drawn with a worse yell than
ever into their boat. Good luck! here would be easy game!

"Now then!" There was no limit to their delight as they saluted Joel in
every conceivable way best fitted to get him worked up. "How are you, snob?
Don't you want your oar?" and such things, every boy contributing at least
a few selections to the general hubbub, the black dog on the bank emitting
shrill, ear-splitting barks of distress.

"Give me back my oar," roared Joel, sitting very straight and unconsciously
rolling up his sleeves.

"Hi there! Come on and fight, if you want to," cried several of the crew,
with sneers and catcalls, and they brandished the oar at him over their
heads, yelling, "Why don't you come on and fight?"

[Illustration: The unlucky oar was seized by the triumphant crew]

"If you don't give me back my oar," cried Joel angrily, and paddling for
dear life toward them, "it 'll be worse for you, I can tell you. My
Grandpapa----"

He was drowned in a storm of yells: "Your granddaddy? Fellows, this baby is
talking of his granddaddy," and they screamed in derision, snapping their
fingers and swinging the oar as high as they could tantalizingly at him.

Round and round went Joel's boat, describing a series of curves, that
despite all his efforts only carried him away from his tormentors. What he
would have done, had he reached them, hadn't entered his head, his only
thought being to get up to them. In the midst of this interesting
proceeding, a sharp clap of thunder reverberated over their heads, to be
almost immediately followed by a piercing gleam of lightning. It produced
the greatest consternation in the boat-load, and a sudden jump on the part
of nearly every boy in it, made it careen, then turn completely over, and
before they were fully aware, every single one was in the water, screaming
and struggling wildly.

In the upset Joel's oar had been carried out, too; and as it happened to
drift toward him, he leaned over the side of his boat, managing to reach it
with the other one.

"Don't catch hold of each other," he yelled, his mind intent on helping
some of them into his boat. But as well talk to the wind. The boys who
couldn't swim--and most of them were in that plight--were grabbing this way
and that, to seize upon anything that would give them a support.

"Catch hold of your boat," roared Joel at them. But instead of that, some
of them preferred to catch hold of his, the consequence being that it would
soon have been upset, had he not screamed at them (and they knew he meant
it), "I'll bang you across the head if you try it"--lifting his oar
sturdily.

"You fellows who can swim, hold up the others, and I'll take you all off to
the bank, if you won't crowd."

And seeing that this was all they could get, and that Joel was as good as
his word, one after another was helped in, the others wisely catching hold
of the overturned boat--an example speedily followed, till all were either
in Joel's boat and rowing quickly off to shore, or hanging to their own
craft.

The leader of the crew huddled sheepishly down over his oar, which Joel
handed him to do some of the rowing, and he didn't look at the owner of the
boat, till, just as they neared the bank, he glanced up suddenly and said:

"Say, you, I s'pose you'll tell on us."

"What do you take me for?" cried Joel, in extreme disgust, and plying his
oar briskly. All this time the rain had come down in torrents, till there
wasn't much difference between the boys who had been in the water and the
one who had kept out, and the lightning played over their heads in
unpleasant zigzag streaks, and the thunder rolled and rumbled.

The leader shivered and ducked till he couldn't by any possibility be said
to look at Joel.

"Well, I would if I was you." The words came in a burst from a boy supposed
to be in such a half-drowned condition that he wouldn't care to take part
in any conversation, who was crouched down in the bottom of the boat. "I'd
tell every single thing about it." He raised himself and shook his fist at
the leader's very face. "If it hadn't been for you, Mike," he said, "we
wouldn't have come."

"Don't fight," said Joel, in consternation at any such settling of their
differences in his boat; "you'll upset us all."

"Humph!" the boy in the bottom of the boat sneered. "He won't fight, Mike
won't," he said.

And really Mike didn't look as if he would, for he crouched and cowered
lower yet, till Joel began to say, "Give me the oar," for it wabbled so
that it played a small part only in getting the craft to the shore.

"Some other fellow take it," said the boy who had done all the talking. "I
would"--he lifted a red and ashamed face--"only my arm----"

"Is it hurt?" asked Joel, rescuing the other oar from Mike, whose nerves
seemed to have all gone to pieces.

"D'no; never mind," said the other boy, looking more ashamed still. "Here,
Jimmy, you take the oar, and row lively now." So, with Jimmy's help, the
boat ran up to the bank.

"There you are," cried Joel, as they were dumped out, to keep company with
the big, black dog, who sniffed them contemptuously and walked around their
dripping bodies as they sank on the bank. This wasn't the kind of fun he
had meant when he followed his master out, and not at all to his taste.

But Joel was just in his element, and when he brought the rest off from the
overturned boat, he couldn't conceal his satisfaction.

"Some one has got to tell about that boat." He pointed to the overturned
one.

"I knew you would blab." Mike turned, his shame disappearing, to grow red
with passion.

"Shut up." It was the other boy that roared at him, who, injured arm or
not, could somehow inspire the former leader with fear. "I'm going to tell
myself; an' if any of you fellows has got spunk, he'll tell, too." It was
such a battle cry that Mike's head went down. He knew as well as afterward
that his leadership was gone, and that every one of the crew had gone over
to the other boy.

"Hi--yes, we'll tell." If Jack, their new leader, could decide to, they
would follow him, and they yelled it out much better than any one would
suppose possible after their fright, turning their backs on Mike.

"That's good," said Joel, bobbing his black curls, from which the rain was
streaming, at the whole bunch of boys in approval, and taking up his oars
he prepared to move off. "If you'll only tell about the boat."

"Oh, I say"--Jack seeing that he was now the recognized leader, was going
to do the whole thing up in good shape--"we're much obliged, and who are
you, anyway?" he broke off awkwardly.


"I'm Mr. King's grandson," said Joel "Well, good-bye."

"Mr. King's!" Jack gave a roll over and groveled in the wet moss. "Oh, it's
all up with us, fellows," he groaned. The black dog, who belonged to him,
came and licked him all over, glaring between whiles at Joel, as if he were
the cause of the whole trouble. The bunch of boys said nothing, but
shivered in silence.

"Well, good-bye," said Joel, as he pushed off, feeling it necessary for
some one to speak, "and I hope you haven't hurt your arm much," to the
recumbent figure.

"Don't let him hurt these chaps--your grandfather I mean." Jack threw up
his head and pointed to the boys. "Only get Mike licked. We'd all of us
like that."

"What?" cried Joel over his shoulder, stopping his busy oars.

"Why, when you tell him how mean we used you, don't let him get those chaps
into trouble, 'cause----"

"When I tell him!" cried Joel. "What do you mean?"

"Why, of course you'll tell him," blurted Jack. Mike had taken to his heels
and was making quick tracks with his sodden shoes through the undergrowth.
Things were not going to his taste now.

"See here." Joel made quick passes now with the oars, and brought his boat
up alongside the bank. "I'm not going to tell my Grandpapa about what
you've done, 'Tisn't any matter."

"You ain't?" cried Jack, getting up so quickly he upset the next boy, who
rolled over the big, black dog. "Great Scott! You ain't going to tell the
old gentleman?"

"No," said Joel, "I don't care anything about it; you didn't hurt me any."

"Well, if I ever!" It was all that Jack, the leader, could get out. And
Joel, seeing there was nothing to wait for, set to work again, and
presently amid the rain and the lightning gleams, his boat was only a
little speck on the surface of the pond, as viewed by the group of boys on
the bank.



XVIII

THE COMFORT COMMITTEE


"Oh, Mary!" Eleanor Keep seized Miss Taylor's arm and burst into tears.
When she could speak she gasped, "What is it, Mary?"

"Hush!" warned Mary Taylor, drawing her off into the little reception-room.
"Your mother--we must think of her, Nell."

"Mr. Delafield is telling her something. I know it is dreadful." Eleanor
sank upon the sofa, dragging Mary Taylor with her. "Oh, I shall die if you
don't tell me right off what _has_ happened, Mary."

"Not a word shall you hear until you can control yourself," declared Miss
Taylor, wresting herself away from the nervous grasp, and running over to
the door she closed it. "Now then, Nell, are you a sensible girl?"--coming
back.

Eleanor flung herself down on the sofa, and sobbed:

"Oh, I know Larry is dead and you are trying to keep it from me."

"Larry is not dead," said Mary Taylor.

"Well, he is terribly hurt," said Eleanor, between her sobs. "Oh dear, my
only brother, Larry!"

Mary Taylor got down on her knees by the sofa, and took the poor head up to
let her own tears fall over it.

"Why, you are crying yourself," exclaimed Eleanor, feeling the drops
trickle down her neck. "And you told me not to. Why, Mary Taylor!"

"Of course I am," said Mary. "Now see here: we are both of us very wrong to
give way in this fashion; we ought to be seeing to your mother. Get up,
Eleanor," and she sprang to her feet. "There, that's right. Come on."

Some one rapped at the side door, and the confusion in the house calling
the maids from their duty, the butler belonging to the establishment of the
next neighbor, Mrs. Sterling, popped in his head.

"Excuse me, Miss," he said to Mary Taylor, Eleanor being beyond a reply.
"Mrs. Sterling has sent for you ladies to come in there and stay until the
doctors are through."

At the word "doctors" Eleanor shivered and covered her eyes.

"The very thing," said Mary Taylor; "we'll get your mother in there"; and
with a message back to Mrs. Sterling the two young ladies hurried off, and
before Larry's mother quite knew how, she was in the beautiful upper room
of the stately brownstone mansion, and face to face with its invalid
mistress, condemned for years to lie on her sofa.

"I do believe," said Mrs. Sterling, putting out a soft hand, "that
everything will be much better than you think. We shall soon have cheering
news, I feel quite sure. Gibson, draw up the easy-chair, so--that's right."

Gibson quietly did as bidden, and Mrs. Keep sank into it, and laid down her
head with the air of one quite done with the world. To add to the gloom, a
terrible thunderstorm broke suddenly.

"Now give me your hand." Mrs. Sterling leaned over and drew it within her
own. Seeing all things going on so well, Mary Taylor and Eleanor drew off
into the hall.

"Young ladies," said Gibson, coming out softly, "wouldn't you wish to go
down into the drawing-room? Mistress would like to have you make yourselves
comfortable. The storm is pretty heavy, and I'll light the gas."

"Oh, no, no," said Eleanor, shrinking at the invitation. "Mary, don't let's
go," she whispered; "I should die there in that big, stiff room."

"We'll sit just here," said Mary Taylor. "Come on, Nell," and down they
both got on the top stair, huddling up together, while the storm raged
outside in its fury.

"Oh, young ladies!" exclaimed Gibson, starting, "I'll get you some chairs
if you want to sit in the hall."

"We like this," said Mary Taylor; "please, Gibson, don't feel troubled." So
Gibson went back to her mistress' room, and Mary put her arm around
Eleanor, and patted her hair as she cuddled up to her neck.

"Mary, I like you so much," sobbed Eleanor, in a muffled voice, "because
you don't try to say something to comfort me."

Mary kept on patting the pretty hair, with anxious ears for the messenger
to come from the Keep household. Presently out came Gibson again.

"I'm going out to bring in those boys," she said; "Mistress wants it."

"What boys?" asked Mary quickly.

"The whole of them," said Gibson; "they've been hanging around ever since
Master Larry was brought home, and----"

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Eleanor faintly.

"And Mrs. Sterling wants them invited in here to wait?" exclaimed Mary.
"How kind of her! Now, then, Nell, that's work for you and for me: we must
help those boys to get a little comfort"--as Gibson went quickly down the
long stairs on her errand.

"Oh, I can't," cried Eleanor, burrowing into the soft neck.

"Yes, you can."

"I'm his sister. And you can't expect me to see them."

"Yes, I do," said Mary firmly; "it's exactly what you ought to do. I'm
going down to welcome them, and you must come too. Come on, Eleanor; we've
simply got to do it."

Eleanor, seeing nothing for it unless she were to be left alone on her
stair, which would have been the last thing to be endured, got up and
followed slowly, to be met at the big door leading to the side porch by the
company of gloomy-faced boys.

"Well boys," said Mary cheerfully, "I'm glad you've come to help Eleanor
and me."

Every boy looked up in great surprise, for they all supposed they were left
to comfort themselves.

"Can't we sit in the dining-room?" asked Mary, with a thought for the
cheerful red carpet and curtains.

"Mistress wants them to come up into her sitting-room," said Gibson.

"Her sitting-room!" exclaimed Mary.

"Yes, Miss. She says they can help Mrs. Keep and her," said Gibson,
standing with folded hands deferentially, but yet quite expecting the
command to be carried out.

The boys stood up a little taller yet. Evidently they were thought worthy
of consideration in the way of administering consolation instead of hanging
around, useless creatures in everybody's way.

"In that case," said Mary Taylor, "we'll all go upstairs at once."

So they all filed up the long flight, and Gibson held open the door, and
Mrs. Sterling from her sofa called out, "Boys, yon don't know how glad I am
to see you all." And just as they began to feel a little bit of hope down
in their hearts, it was so much easier all bearing the suspense together, a
light tripping step came up the staircase, and little Doctor Fisher's big
spectacles were thrust in the doorway.

"Just right. Very sensible." He beamed at them all, and darted over and
took the poor mother's hand.

"Your boy is all right," he said. "His collar bone is broken, to be sure,
but it is a beautiful fracture. And he has some bruises. Thank the Lord it
is no worse."

There was a rustle back of him. Then two or three boys broke from the group
and fell upon him in the rear.

"Is that true?" the foremost one shouted.

"Eh?"--little Doctor Fisher whirled around--"yes indeed, true as gospel.
Oh, see here now," as the whole bunch made a mad plunge for the hall. "Come
back here, boys."

Every single one came slowly back, except Frick; he had cleared the space
to the top of the stairs, and was now making his quickest time on record
down the flight.

"You are not to cheer; I see you want to," and Doctor Fisher gave a little
laugh.

"Yes, sir," Curtis Park answered for the rest.

"Well, you----"

"Doctor Fisher"--it was Mrs. Sterling who interrupted, and she smiled--"I
should very much like to hear that cheer now."

_"Ma'am!"_ exclaimed the little doctor, gazing at her over his
spectacles.

"Oh, it would do me good, I assure you," said Mrs. Sterling, leaning back
in a satisfied way against her pillows. "So, if you please, boys, let me
hear it at once"--smiling at them.

And they gave it then and there, the poor mother in all this confusion
getting time to recover herself.

And then three more for the little doctor. And then one of the boys, the
least likely to have courage to propose it, piped out:

"Let's give her three"--pointing to the hostess.

How pleased the poor invalid was, and how she beamed at them all! And when
Doctor Fisher saw that, he was so well satisfied that he shook hands with
them all quite around the circle.

"Now I must go. I'll look in again on your boy in an hour. Madam"--to Mrs.
Keep. "Meantime, I'd stay over here, for I've sent for a nurse from the
hospital; he must be kept quiet a spell. Good-day," and he was off.

"Now, boys"--there was a pretty pink spot in either cheek, as Mrs. Sterling
turned to them--"do you know, I've thought of a plan by which you might do
something for Lawrence?"

"What--oh, what?" They crowded up to her sofa. Gibson, from the doorway
where she had retreated, to be within call, looked a little anxious, but
catching a glance from her mistress, smoothed out her face again.

"What is your plan?" asked Curtis. It really seemed as if the boys had been
accustomed to gather in that room, by the way in which they now crowded up
as comrades entering into anything that might be proposed.

"You know that before long Lawrence will be able to see you, we hope,"
began Mrs. Sterling, in her cheeriest way. "Gibson, push up that pillow a
little more."

"Oh, I will," cried Curtis, springing forward.

Gibson, in great trepidation at any one performing the office for her
mistress, started to do it, but Curtis was already most gallantly, if a
trifle awkwardly, pushing up the pillow, giving it a rousing thump that got
on the nerves of the maid.

"You should have waited for me," she said tartly.

"Never mind; that is all right." Mrs. Sterling smiled up at him where he
stood, the hot blood in his face, and his eyes downcast. "I'm very much
obliged to you, Curtis. I guess you are accustomed to do it for your
mother," she said encouragingly.

"I do--I am," he said incoherently, beginning to feel better. It was only
Gibson who was cross, he reflected; Mrs. Sterling herself was as nice as
she could be.

"Well now, if I were you," said Mrs. Sterling, turning on her pillow to get
a good look at them all, "I'd form a committee, a comfort committee, to
think up things that will interest Lawrence. And by and by the doctor is
going to let you go to see him, and----"

"What things?" The small boy who had proposed the cheers for Mrs. Sterling,
now pushed to the front, so as to get a good look at her. "Tell me, please,
what things?"

"Well, you can cut out funny things from the magazines and papers for one
thing," said Mrs. Sterling, quite delighted at the success of her plan so
far, "and the nurse can read them to him."

"I've got a lot of _Punch_ numbers," cried one boy.

"And _Life,_" said another.

"And oceans of magazines." They all shouted one thing, and another. Gibson,
who by this time was tired of popping her head in and out, had withdrawn to
a little room opening out of her mistress' apartment, and taken up her
sewing, quite convinced that far from its being a cause for alarm,
everything was going on finely.

"Well now, just see how much pleasure that will give him," Mrs. Sterling
was saying.

"What else?" asked the small boy.

"Then has any one of you any puzzles?" asked Mrs. Sterling, "or conundrums?
Don't you think that is fine, to have something to think of beside dismal
things, when you lie in bed?"

Curtis Park was just in his element here, for he dearly loved puzzles and
conundrums. And presently Mrs. Sterling and he were busily talking over
this and that kind, and book, and collection, until finally the small boy
pulled the fringe of her pink crocheted shawl.

"I want to know what else?"

"Dear me!" Mrs. Sterling looked up quickly, to give a little laugh. It
wasn't loud, but so cheery and sweet that Gibson, in the little outer room,
dropped her sewing in her lap. "Thank the Lord!" she said, and wiped her
eyes.

Frick, meanwhile, too excited to hear the doctor call them to come back,
had darted out of the house, with no thought for the rain, but with one
wild desire--to find Joel Pepper. And as he had a perfect faculty for
sprinting, and cut through, with a dash, all the cross-streets, he soon
found himself for the second time that day at the King mansion.

But this second time he was no more fortunate than the first. For although
he was willingly admitted to Mr. King's writing-room, it was to see that
gentleman look up and say with the most genial of smiles:

"Ah, Frick, my boy, well, this time it's all right, isn't it, since I let
Joel go down to you?"

"Joel hasn't been with us," blurted out Frick, Then he leaned against the
big writing-table, speech all gone, for he began to feel terribly tired,
and it had been nothing but one long disappointment all day.

Old Mr. King laid down his pen and looked Frick all over.

"Oh, no, he hasn't," declared Frick, shaking his head dismally; "we haven't
any of us seen him, and Larry Keep has been run over by Mr. MacIlvaine's
tallyho, and most smashed up." Then he stopped suddenly, his cup of woe
being empty.

"The first thing to do is to find Joel," said Mr. King to himself,
anxiously. "The storm is almost over, to be sure"--glancing out of the
window--"but where can he be?" He hurried across the room and touched the
electric button. "You haven't the least idea, Frick, where to look for him,
eh?"

"No, sir," said Frick miserably.

Thomas popped his head in, to be given the order to have one of the
rainy-day carriages brought round. Just then, in ran Jasper. He had been
caught by the sudden shower over at Pickering Dodge's.

"Father," he cried, his face glowing, "I've come home as soon as it slacked
up a bit. Why, you are not going out?"--seeing the old gentleman beginning
to don his mackintosh.

"Yes, I am," said Mr. King grimly, "going to do just that very thing,
Jasper."

"Oh, let me, Father." Jasper sprang to his side eagerly, then looked in a
puzzled way over to Frick.

"It's Joel," said Frick, feeling that it was expected of him to furnish an
answer.

"Joel?" cried Jasper, the color going out of his cheek.

"Yes, Joel can't be found," said old Mr. King, speaking lightly to hide the
dismay he really felt. "It's all right, of course; he's probably at one of
the boys' houses; only as he was to join Frick, why, I'd prefer to look him
up a bit. Well, there's Thomas"--glancing out of the window.

"Oh, let me go for him," begged Jasper. "I can find him. Surely, you don't
need to, Father; don't, pray, in all this rain."

"I am going after Joel," declared his father, quite obstinately, "so say no
more about it, Jasper"--moving past him to the door. "Come, along, Frick,
my boy, you might as well come, too."

"Let me go, too," cried Jasper. "Oh, Father, can't I? I can at least help."
He didn't say "take care of you," but he really felt anxious to the last
degree.

"Yes, yes," said his father, "of course you may come if you like." So
Jasper, well pleased, rushed for his mackintosh, and all three got into the
carriage, and Thomas whirled them off in his best style.

"It isn't really worth while to worry Mrs. Fisher," said old Mr. King when
well on the way, "for we shall probably soon run across Joel as bright as a
button, and gay as a lark. Bless me, how this rain comes down!"



XIX

JOEL'S NEW FRIEND


But no Joel "bright as a button and gay as a lark" came in sight. Instead,
at a corner they were turning rapidly, Mr. King in desperation giving the
order to drive to one of the boys' houses most likely to attract Joel's
attention this morning, Thomas came to an abrupt halt that nearly threw the
horses back on their haunches.

"What are you about there?" he cried in vexation. "Can't you keep out from
under the horses' heels, I'd like to know?"

The boy thus addressed paid not the slightest attention to the irate
coachman, but advanced to the carriage door. He seemed to have something
the matter with his arm that would evidently have given him a good deal of
bother had his mind been on anything but the desire to attract Mr. King's
attention.

But that gentleman, violently jolted by the sudden pull-up of the horses,
not being in the best frame of mind, called out testily, "Bless me, what is
the man stopping for? Drive on, Thomas," and looked directly over his head.

Seeing which, the boy clambered up the carriage step and hung on with one
hand, but so much determination was in his eyes that old Mr. King fumed
out: "Make the scoundrel get down, Jasper."

"What do you want?" asked Jasper, trying to make it as pleasant as
possible, before the more summary treatment set in.

"I've got to speak to him," said the boy. Thomas, gathering up the reins in
one hand and the whip in the other, looked around with fury in his eye.
"Shall I give him a lick?" he asked.

"No, no," said Jasper hastily, "keep quiet, Thomas."

"I've nothing to say to you," cried Mr. King in his most pompous way, and
with a stately wave of his hand, "so take yourself off, boy."

"Father--" began Jasper, in a distressed tone.

"And be quick about it." The old gentleman fairly roared it out. "Thomas,
drive on."

That functionary, with a very dissatisfied expression that he hadn't been
allowed to use his whip when he got it all ready so nicely, now cracked it
at the horses. The boy, with one hesitating glance at Jasper, slid off the
carriage-step down to the street, and yelled defiantly up into Mr. King's
face as the brougham spun off:

"I was going to tell you where your boy is."

"Father!" exclaimed Jasper, with a white face, "he must know where Joel is.
Thomas, _Thomas, stop!_" For Thomas, having no other way to vent his
vexation, took it out in driving as fast as possible, so he didn't hear
what was going on in the coach.

"Eh?" Mr. King was saying in bewilderment. At last Jasper succeeded in
getting his wishes known, and once more the horses were jerked back, for
the summons was quick and sharp.

By this time the boy was off, and although Jasper peered this way and that,
he could see nothing of the old blue cap that had adorned the head thrust
over the carriage door.

"He knows something about Joel, Father, you may depend," persisted Jasper;
"we must find him."

Frick, who had been ready to cry, all huddled down in his corner, now sat
straight, for it didn't seem to be just the time for tears, and in a minute
he had scrambled past Mr. King, and hopped out.

"I'm going to find him," came back on the air, as he shot off.

"Do you wait here, Father," said Jasper, following him, and leaping out,
"and we'll get the boy."

But the boy, quite willing to tell whatever story there was on his mind
when he jumped on the carriage step, was now of a different mind, and he
ran like a deer, first down one street then another. At last, finding
himself pursued by some one not at all inclined to easily give up the
chase, it suddenly dawned on him that his blue cap might possibly be a
means of tracing his course. So he twitched it off and tucked it under his
well arm. This made it more difficult for Jasper, whose footsteps were fast
gaining on him, to follow him accurately, and for the first time a horrible
moment came to the pursuer when he thought that after all the boy might
escape; but Frick, who had seen Jasper's nimble progress around a corner,
ran down a side street, then across a garden, and came plump into the face
of the boy.

"Here he is," cried Frick, the breath almost knocked out of him by the
encounter. He had grasped whatever he could first lay his fingers on and
held to it firmly. It proved to be the arm for which the boy had not
appeared to have much use.

Once caught, the boy gave a groan, then started to run. Frick being
smaller, it might be an easy matter to shake him off, even with only one
available arm.

"No, you don't get away this time," said Frick, for the tall boy had him in
hand now, and was marching him back to the carriage at a pace much more
comfortable for all concerned. "What have you to tell us?" he was being
asked.

"I would have told you then," said the boy doggedly. He couldn't help but
show some suffering in his face, and Jasper, looking down to see its cause,
found one arm hanging in a very peculiar manner. "You've hurt your arm," he
said abruptly. "Frick, take care"--to the boy, not at all particular what
he took hold of if he only got a good grip.

"Well, he shan't get away," said Frick decidedly, nipping up the end of the
jacket nearest to him.

"How did you hurt your arm?" asked Jasper. Despite all his anxiety about
Joel, and an awful feeling that in some way an accident had occurred that
had enveloped them both, he looked into he face beneath him with real
concern.

"None of your business," the boy was going to say, but instead he turned
away his face, then brought it back, and defiance was written all over it.
"He sassed me, that old fellow in the carriage. Did you s'pose I'd tell him
after that?"

"He's dreadfully anxious," said Jasper, ignoring everything else. "You see,
Joel's been gone in all this storm, and we don't know anything in the world
where he is."

"I do," said the boy.

"Then, if you do"--Jasper stopped suddenly and brought his keen dark eyes
to bear on the rough, defiant face--"I just hope you will tell me. And I
know you will," he added, after a pause in which Frick fastened his gaze on
them both wildly, luckily without discovering any use for his tongue.

The boy swallowed hard, dropped his eyes for a moment, then looked up.

"He was out on the pond."

"Out on the pond!" echoed Frick, and his hand nipping the jacket-end fell
nerveless to his side.

"No one told you to speak," said the boy sharply, turning on him, "so you
shut up."

"But what was he doing out on the pond in such a storm?" asked Jasper. His
lips were white, but he didn't allow his eyes to waver, for it was better
to have the whole story before getting back to his father.

"It didn't rain till after we'd had the row," said the boy.

"Had the row?" It seemed an eternity to Jasper, for Joel perhaps even now
might be in peril, before the next question was answered, "What row?"

"Yes," said the boy, as if he were going to add, "Well, what are you going
to do about it?" The next moment, he had made up his mind to tell all there
was to tell. It wasn't exactly clear why, but he was giving the account in
a very few words, leaving it where it ended with his seeing Joel rowing off
down the pond.

And presently the two who had hopped out of the carriage, with the new boy
and the one who had thrust his head in over the door, were seated in the
brougham, and Thomas had turned his back on the city streets and was
driving off at a furious pace for Spy Pond.

Frick collapsed now and mumbled distractedly, "Oh, dear! now Joel's----"
what, he didn't trust himself to say. "And Larry's 'most killed, and----"

Jasper interrupted him sharply, "What do you say, Frick?" for it was the
first hint of anything gone wrong with any of the other boys.

Then out came that story to add to the general misery, and old Mr. King sat
very straight and kept saying, "Bless me! Tell Thomas to drive faster," and
"Oh, bless me!" again, as he glanced over at the boy.

But no Joel. They pranced, the horses did, shaking off the rain from their
wet manes, around as much of the pond as was adapted to carriages, and
Jasper and Frick got out and explored the rest, at least wherever Joel
would be supposed to put into port, the boy holding up the arm that
appeared not to be in its usual condition and going along, too, yet unable
to add any information to his original statement. At last: "Probably Joel's
gone home"--it was all Jasper could do to get the words out of his white
lips.

Without a word old Mr. King sank back, and waved his hand, which meant
"Yes," settling down amongst the cushions hopelessly, while their faces
were turned homeward.

"Hullo!" Unmistakably Joel's voice, and there he was, wet and dirty, and
waving frantically from a side street for them to stop, as he made his best
time to the corner.

Jasper threw wide the door. "_Joe!_" he cried. Thomas pulled up again,
the horses by this time having become so well accustomed to this method of
bringing up that they did it quite well, and there was a great to-do in the
coach.

"I've been calling and calling," panted Joel, blowing like a porpoise, and
running up with red cheeks, "and you wouldn't stop," he added in a very
injured way.

"Well, we didn't hear you, you beggar," cried Jasper. "Come, get in with
you"--putting out both hands to assist in the process. "Where have you
been, Joe?" for old Mr. King was beyond talking.

"I've been--" began Joel, glad enough to hop in; "why, where--" as his
black eyes fell on the boy in the corner.

Frick had tried to swarm all over him, but Joel put out an unsteady hand.

"I came to tell," said the boy, seeing he was expected to say something.

"Oh, don't," cried Joel involuntarily; "'tisn't any matter; I don't care."

"Well, it's all out, Joe," said Jasper affectionately, who couldn't stop
patting his back. Frick flew over to the opposite side and let Joel snuggle
up to the old gentleman. "I'm here, Grandpapa," he said happily.

"Oh, bless me! Yes, my boy!" said old Mr. King brokenly, and fondling the
little brown hands. "Well, we must get you home and out of these wet
clothes as soon as possible. I don't know what your mother will say. Oh,
dear me, Joe!"

"Pooh!" cried Joel, "I'm not wet."

"You're wet as a drowned rat, Joe," declared Jasper, bursting into a laugh,
which was such a relief to all concerned that in a minute it really seemed
like a pleasure excursion. But Joel pulled himself up.

"Oh, I'm going to see what's the matter with Jack's arm," and he leaned
over and put his hand on it.

"Nothing," said Jack, trying to pull it away, but Joel held on.

"Tis, too," he said. "You're going to have it fixed. Grandpapa, won't you
take him to Doctor Fisher's office? Please do."

At this Frick pricked up his ears. "Doctor Fisher isn't----"

"Frick," began Jasper desperately, "look out and see if it rains."

Frick stared in amazement, and even Joel bobbed his head over at Jasper.

"Why, doesn't it rain on your side?" he cried, his black eyes very wide.

"Never mind; do as I tell you," said Jasper, nowise disconcerted. So Frick
reported that it did rain; and then Jasper began to talk so fast that Joel
had no time to get in a word at all, although he tried with all his might.

"See here," he shouted at last, and his voice rang clear above every other
noise, "can't we take him to Doctor Fisher's office--can't we, Grandpapa?
Make Thomas turn about and take us there"--he fairly howled it now.

"And Doctor Fisher won't be there," screamed Frick, on just as high a key.

"Why not?"

It was impossible to stop the dreadful news of Larry's accident from coming
now. And in a minute Frick had it all out in a burst, quite unconscious of
Jasper's efforts, and well pleased at having something important to say.

"Larry's been run over by Mr. MacIlvaine's tallyho, and 'most smashed to
death."



XX

THE COOKING CLUB


"Oh, my goodness me!" Alexia gave a jump, then ran for the closet.

"Dear me!" exclaimed Polly, standing quite still in the middle of the room,
the lightning flash and the sudden peal of thunder coming without warning.

"Oh, I'm scared to death," cried Alexia, burrowing frantically; "come in
here, Polly Pepper. Are you killed?" she screamed.

"No," said Polly, "and I don't believe there'll be another as bad."

"Oh, come in here. Ooh!" cried Alexia, in muffled accents, as she huddled
up against the clothes.

"Oh, Polly!" It was Miss Rhys: her embroidery, cast aside at the sudden
storm-burst, was dragging behind her, and she was wringing her hands. "Did
you ever see anything so dreadful?"

"I don't believe there'll be another as bad," said Polly again, finding
nothing more of consolation to offer.

"And where is Alexia?" And without waiting for an answer, Miss Rhys
paced nervously up and down the room, still wringing her hands. "And
of course there will be more; there, there it comes," and she ran, the
embroidery-piece still hanging to her gown, into the closet.

"Oh, Aunt," cried Alexia, with a squeal, "you scared me 'most to death; I
thought I was struck!"

"Why, are you here, Alexia?" gasped Miss Rhys, when she could recover
herself enough to speak. "Well, this is truly a dreadful storm," and she
clutched her with shaking fingers.

"Yes, I am here," said Alexia. "Don't pinch so, Aunt--ow! My arm is all
black and blue, I know it is."

"It's no time to think of such little things, Alexia," replied her aunt
severely; "it may kill us both."

"Well, that's no reason I should be all pinched to death," grumbled Alexia,
forgetting the thunderstorm in her present discomfort and edging off as
well as she could. "The closet is dreadfully small, Aunt."

"It's quite large enough, I'm sure, to protect us," said Miss Rhys, hanging
tightly to her with trembling fingers. "Dear me! any minute may be our
last."

"Well, I'm not going to be smothered to death," declared Alexia, struggling
to work her way past her aunt.

"Alexia!" exclaimed her aunt.

"I'm going after Polly." Alexia out in the middle of the room flung her arm
around Polly. "Oh, misery!--where?" as a vivid flash seemed to hop right in
the window. "Oh, Polly, come!" She clutched her wildly.

"Where?" said Polly. "We can't get away from it, Alexia; it's just
everywhere."

"Oh, I don't care--anywhere--in the coal-scoop," cried Alexia, frantically
dragging her along. "I shall just die, Polly Pepper, and here you stand
like a stick."

"Well, there's just no use in running," said Polly, but seeing Alexia's
distress she suffered herself to be led, and downstairs the two girls sped,
and into the landlady's room, the first door to stand ajar.

"I'm coming in," announced Alexia, without ceremony, "for I'm scared to
death," and she dragged Polly Pepper after her. "Did you ever see such a
thunderstorm, Mrs. Cummings?"

"It is pretty bad," a voice answered. It wasn't Mrs. Cummings, as she had
hurried to oversee the maid close the windows through the house, but
another of the boarders, who, like Alexia, had selected this apartment for
a refuge.

"Oh, dear me!" Alexia sank down upon the sofa, being careful not to
relinquish her hold of Polly, and dragged a cushion over her face. "Is that
you, Mr. Filbert"--bringing out one eye to stare at him.

"I think so," said Mr. Filbert, a little thin old man sitting over in the
corner and leaning forward over his cane. He spoke cautiously, as if not
quite sure. "Yes, it _is_ a bad storm," he repeated decidedly. "Where
is your aunt?"

"She's up in the closet," said Alexia, pulling the sofa-cushion over her
own and Polly's face as well. "There, we can't see it at any rate, if we
are going to be killed."

"Up in the closet?" repeated Mr. Filbert.

"Yes. Oh, Polly, do you suppose it's lightening and thundering now?"--as
the two girls cuddled up closer together on the roomy old sofa, the cushion
crowded up over eyes and ears.

"I suppose so," said Polly, very much wishing she could say "No."

"Oh, dear me! I'm smothered to death," grumbled Alexia, "and I'm so
hot"--wriggling discontentedly.

"So am I," said Polly.

"What did you say? Your aunt was in the closet?" little old Mr. Filbert was
asking; and receiving no reply, he kept on.

"Oh, do hear him," whispered Alexia, back of the sofa-cushion; "he is so
tiresome, asking the same thing over and over."

"Well, do answer him," said Polly.

"I have, once," said Alexia.

"Is your aunt in the closet, did you say?" Mr. Filbert kept on, with the
impression that a reply would soon be coming if he only held up the
conversation at his end of it.

Alexia dashed down the sofa-cushion with a nervous hand. "I can't breathe;
let's get out, Polly," and she flew up, to sit quite straight. "Yes, my
aunt is up in the closet, Mr. Filbert. Whee! Oh, I am so scared, Polly
Pepper!"

"She'll be struck there quicker 'n any other place she could pick out,"
declared the little old gentleman positively.

Alexia hopped off from the sofa and ran on anxious feet to his chair.

"What did yon say, Mr. Filbert? and how do you know?" she cried, all in one
breath.

"The chimney closets always catch the lightning first," said Mr. Filbert
cheerfully; "you see, it----"

Alexia dashed off, ran through the hall and up to her own room. "Aunt,
Aunt," she cried, thrusting her head into the closet, "you'll be struck in
there, Mr. Filbert says so. Come out, Aunt."

There was no response, and Alexia, now in mortal terror, plunged into the
closet.

"Come, Aunt. Oh, my!" as a clap of thunder sent her plunging in headlong.
"Why, where--" for grope as she might, clear up to the end, among the
clothes and the shoe-bag, no Miss Rhys was to be found.

"Oh, dear, dear!" Alexia began to whimper, feeling all around the floor
with terror-stricken fingers. "Aunt, where are you? Oh, she's been struck
and she's dead, I know she is! Polly Pepper," she screamed, tumbling out of
the closet to rush to the head of the stairs, "come up and help me find
Aunt."

"Alexia!" Miss Rhys, concluding not to be left alone in the closet when the
two girls ran downstairs, had hurried out after them, and now appeared from
the hall corner where she had crouched. "Don't scream so."

"Oh, Aunt!" cried Alexia, throwing her arms around her, "you haven't been
struck, have you? Oh, do say you haven't."

"Why, of course not; don't you see I'm here?" said Miss Rhys. "There,
child, take care, you're mussing my lace collar," and she edged off from
the nervous fingers. "We'll go downstairs, I think, and stay with Mrs.
Cummings."

"If you're really sure you are not struck," said Alexia, eying her askance,
as if in considerable doubt, "we'll go; and Polly Pepper is there and that
tiresome old Mr. Filbert."

"If Polly is there, she must stay to luncheon," said Miss Rhys, gathering
up her skirts and preparing to descend the stairs.

"Oh, how fine!" exclaimed Alexia, hopping after, losing sight of the
thunderstorm in the delight of having Polly Pepper to herself for so many
hours. "Oh, Aunt, what's that tagging after you?"--catching sight of the
piece of embroidery dangling from her aunt's long figure.

"I see nothing," said Miss Rhys, turning around with her head over her
shoulder.

"Well, do stand still, Aunt," cried Alexia, "a minute."

"What is it?" Miss Rhys kept saying, trying to see for herself.

"Your centerpiece--oh, dear me!" Alexia by this time had it free, and burst
into a laugh as she held it up.

"Well, now, I expect I have dragged off my green floss," exclaimed her
aunt, in irritation. "I am quite sure of it."

"Well, 'twould be in the closet," said Alexia, who didn't relish offering
to go back, "'twon't hurt it to stay there a little while."

"I must find it," said Miss Rhys decidedly. And Alexia, wild to go down to
tell Polly Pepper she was to stay to luncheon, flew over the stairs,
leaving her aunt to get her green floss as she could.

"But I can't," said Polly, when Alexia had hugged her and danced around her
to her heart's content; "I must go home."

"Why, Polly Pepper, you can't ever go in this awful rain."

"It isn't going to rain much more," said Polly, running over to the window
to flatten her face against the pane.

"You'll be struck if you do that." Little Mr. Filbert looked after her in
disapproval. "The window is the worst place in a thunderstorm; you see,
it----"

"Oh, that's what you said about the chimney closet," said Alexia, in scorn,
"and there can't be two places that are the worst."

"Oh, Alexia," said Polly, looking back from the window.

"Well, he's so tiresome," said Alexia, putting her arm around her and
gazing out of the window; "that's just the way he goes on at the table
every single day. Oh, see it rain, Polly Pepper!"

"It's slackening," said Polly, peering up at the drops, that really were
beginning to fall with little spaces between. "And Mamsie will send for me
soon, I guess."

"Oh, well, it will begin again most likely," said Alexia. "I hope this
thunderstorm will last till ever so late this afternoon."

"Oh, Alexia Rhys!" cried Polly, in great distress, and whirling away from
the window, "don't wish that. Why, I must get home."

"Well, I do," said Alexia, bobbing her light hair till the fluffs settled
over her forehead, "for then you'd stay. You haven't been over here in ever
and ever so long, Polly Pepper," she said, in an injured voice, "and I've
got so very much to talk with you about."

"Well, let's talk now, then," said Polly, with a sigh, yet feeling quite
sure that she would soon be sent for to go home.

"Come over to the sofa then," said Alexia, So they ran over, and together
settled as far back into the corner as they could, pushing up one of the
cushions comfortably behind them.

"Well, now, you begin," said Polly.

"Oh, no--you," said Alexia, having no notion of doing the talking, for it
was always great fun to listen to Polly Pepper.

"Why, I thought you said you had ever so much to talk over," said Polly.

"So I have," said Alexia coolly, "we always do have; you know we do, Polly.
Well, now begin."

"But it's your place to begin first," said Polly decidedly, "because you
said you had something to talk over. So what is it, Alexia?"

"Well--" Alexia drew a long breath, cudgeling her brains, then burst out,
"We must think of something new to do now, Polly, since the garden party is
over."

"I know," said Polly. "How I wish we could get up something else, for our
fancy work is all done! Oh, wasn't it just gorgeous, Alexia"--with a
comfortable little wriggle.

"I should say it was," cried Alexia, "and didn't it sell, though!--and
everybody wished there was more, except my horrible old shawl."

"Why, Alexia Rhys!" Polly poked up her head where she had been nestling it
on Alexia's shoulder. "You know Mrs. Sterling sent for the shawl and gave
five dollars for it."

"Oh, that was because she knew it was so ugly that no one else would buy
it," said Alexia composedly. "Well, I don't care, so long as it's sold. I
was just tired to death of that old thing, Polly; I don't want to ever see
another shawl."

"Well, we shan't have another fair in a long while, I suppose," said Polly,
with a sigh, and laying her head down again.

"Not till next summer," said Alexia; "then, says I, for a garden party! You
know your grandpapa said he'd give you another, just as nice a one, then."

"But that's a whole year." said Polly disconsolately; "heigh-ho, it's so
very long to wait! Well, I suppose we must think of something else to do
now."

"Just for us girls," said Alexia.

"I don't know," said Polly slowly, looking up at her; "we ought to let the
boys come in."

"Oh, not those horrid boys," said Alexia impatiently; "they're forever
hanging around, and I like, once in a while, to have something by
ourselves."

"But it seems too bad to leave them out," said Polly soberly.

"Well, it would do them good to be left out sometimes," declared Alexia:
"they're so high and mighty, I'd just dearly love to take them down, and
say, 'Boys, you can't come into this.'" She tossed her fluffy hair till the
long, light braids flew out triumphantly.

"Why can't we have a cooking club?" suggested Polly, after a minute of hard
thinking.

"Ugh!" Alexia twisted up her face. "Oh, that's horrid," she said, with
another grimace. "Do you mean, learn to make things on the kitchen range?"

"Yes, and on the chafing-dish," said Polly, flying up to sit straight. "Oh,
it would be elegant, Alexia!" she cried, with glowing cheeks.

"Well, I can't learn," said Alexia, "so that's some small comfort, for I'm
in a boarding-house, and I guess the cook here would fly in a fit to see me
come into the kitchen."

"But you can come to our house and learn with me," said Polly, clasping her
hands, "and we'll make perfectly splendid things; just think, Alexia."

"What things?" asked Alexia doubtfully.

"Oh, little biscuits," said Polly, going back in her mind to the delights
of baking-day in the little brown house; "cunning little ones, you know;
you can't think how perfectly elegant we used to make them, Alexia."

"Oh, you had everything elegant in your little brown house," said Alexia,
twisting enviously in her corner. "Joel's never tired of telling of it. And
to think I wasn't there! Oh, dear me! I wish you would talk about it."

"Well, you can try now to make some biscuits. I'll show you how," said
Polly eagerly.

"And Polly--oh, goody!--now don't you see we won't have to ask the boys to
join this? A cooking club--the very idea!" Alexia hopped off from the sofa,
and stood in front of Polly, clasping her hands.

"Why, yes we will," cried Polly, hopping off too, and speaking very
decidedly; "the boys will like it just as much as we do."

"The boys like a cooking club!" screamed Alexia, standing quite still.

"Yes, indeed," said Polly. "Why, Jasper used to like our baking-days in the
little brown house, you know he did, Alexia, like everything."

"Oh, dear! yes, I know," said Alexia reluctantly.

"And beside, even if they don't make things, why, they can come to our
suppers, for we must of course get up some, of things we've learned to
make. Oh, it will be _such_ fun, Alexia!" Polly sighed and clasped her
hands.

"And I'll learn to make your cunning little biscuits," declared Alexia
suddenly, quite as if she had proposed the plan and pushed it along from
the very beginning, "and do let's have a club supper soon," she begged.

"There's a carriage coming," announced little Mr. Filbert, from his chair
in the corner.

"Oh, it's for me, I know," cried Polly, springing to the window. "Yes,
Mamsie has sent for me, Alexia. I knew she would!"

"Oh, dear me!" grumbled Alexia, awfully disappointed and racing after her.
"Why, you can't ever go in all this rain, Polly Pepper."

Polly burst out into a laugh. "Just look there," She pointed to the patches
of light in the sky gradually growing bigger and brighter. "It doesn't rain
a single drop! And, oh, Alexia, look, look--the rainbow!"



XXI

OF MANY THINGS IN GENERAL


But the cooking club with all its delights wasn't started yet for many a
day, for just as soon as Polly got home there was the whole story of the
morning's adventures of Joel and Larry's accident, to fill all her time and
thoughts.

And then Jack--why, of course, he must come in for a goodly share of
notice, for Joel insisted on making him a hero, to be willing to come and
tell Mr. King of his misdemeanor on the pond. And Doctor Fisher had said
the arm was in a bad way, the trouble being increased by all the running
about in the pelting storm that Jack had indulged in, and this made Joel
nearly frantic. Dear me! there was no time to think of cooking clubs!

And then after luncheon came a little note from Mrs. Sterling, brought by
no less a person than Mrs. Gibson herself, who, in her staid little black
bonnet and gray dress and white apron, waited for Polly's answer.

"No, Miss, I'll not sit down, if you please, as my mistress expects me back
at once."

"Dear Polly" (so the note ran), "will you run down this afternoon to talk
over a little plan for the Comfort committee. I suppose the boys have told
you about it. Bring Joel, too, for he couldn't come this morning when it
was proposed. Your friend, Pamela Sterling."

"Oh, goody!" exclaimed Polly, vastly pleased, and springing off. "Yes, I'll
come, Mrs. Gibson, please tell her, and right away; that is, when I find
Joel."

"I hope you'll be there soon," said Mrs. Gibson, the light of pleasure at
Polly's first words dying down a bit when she saw that Joel was to be
waited for. "Couldn't you come first?" she asked anxiously.

"Oh, I must find Joel," said Polly, "but I almost know where he is, and
we'll be over soon. Please tell her so."

She was already out in the hall, and Mrs. Gibson having obtained the best
she was likely to receive, departed to carry back the word to her mistress.
And Polly raced here and there without avail, for Joel was not so easily
found after all.

"Oh, Joel, where _are_ you?" cried Polly, racing along the hall. "Oh,
dear me! Percy, is that you?" as Percy, with Van at his heels, came near
running into her.

"Yes, it is," said Percy, coming to an abrupt stop, but Van ran past them.
"Hold on, Van," he cried, his face growing very red, "that's not fair, when
Polly wanted to speak to us."

"She didn't want to speak to me," said Van, making pretty quick time down
the hall.

"Oh, Polly, make him stop," begged Percy, twitching her sleeve; "he's going
up into Ben's room; it's not fair, for I was ahead."

"Well, you aren't ahead now," cried Van in glee, and mounting the stairs,
he couldn't resist the temptation to peer over the railing. "Ha, ha! who's
the smart one now? I'll get there first, Percy Whitney."

"You shan't. Oh, make him stop," howled Percy, in distress.

"Van," called Polly, looking up at him.

"What?" said Van, wishing he hadn't wasted the time in exhibiting his
triumph. He still kept on.

"I want you," said Polly clearly. "Come down, Vanny, that's a good boy."

"What do you want me for?" asked Van, turning slowly to look down at her.

"Come down, and you'll see. Make haste, Van, for I'm in a dreadful hurry."

"What do you want me for?" repeated Van, begrudging every step of the way
he was now taking, and keeping a sharp look out that Percy didn't spring
past him. To prevent that, he spread out both arms. "Say, Polly, what do
you want me for?" At last he was by her side.

"There, who's going to get up in Ben's room first?" said Percy
complacently.

"Well, you aren't," said Van stoutly, "'cause just as soon as Polly's got
through with me, I'm going to run like lightning up there--so! I was ahead
when she called me back."

"Well, I was ahead first," declared Percy, "wasn't I, Polly--wasn't I?" he
appealed anxiously to her.

"Yes," said Polly, "and hush, Van. Now, see here, boys: I've got to find
Joel. Mrs. Sterling has sent for him to come with me over there this
afternoon, and she wants us right away. Don't you know where he is? I've
looked for him just everywhere." She clasped her hands and looked at them
in despair.

"I don't," said Percy.

"Neither do I," said Van; "we're going up in Ben's room. Is that all,
Polly?" and he prepared to run.

"No," said Polly, while Percy, in alarm lest a march should be stolen on
him, sidled off on the other side.

"Van!" Polly nipped his jacket and held it fast. Seeing which, Percy
concluded to remain, and he now came back quietly and stood quite still.

"Boys," said Polly, "it's just this way; you must help me to find Joel,
for, unless you do, I'm sure I don't know what I can do. And Mrs. Sterling
was going to tell us all about the Comfort committee to help Larry, you
know." She dropped Van's jacket-end, and ran and sat down on one of the
high-backed chairs, and folded her hands in dismay.

"Oh, we will--we will," cried both the boys, quite overcome at this, and,
losing sight of all the charms that were awaiting them in Ben's room, they
precipitated themselves upon her. "But where shall we look for him? You
know he went out with Doctor Fisher in his gig. Say where shall we look for
him, Polly."

"Joel went out with Papa Fisher!" cried Polly, hopping off from her chair.
"Why didn't you say so before? Oh, dear me!"

"Well, you asked me where he was, and I didn't know where they were going,"
said Percy dismally, changing from one foot to the other in great distress.

"And they might have taken us; I think 'twas real mean," declared Van, in a
dudgeon.

"Oh, Van, if he went with Papa Fisher, how could he? Oh, I know." Polly
clapped her hands. "They've gone down to see that boy that got his arm hurt
on the pond. I verily believe they have."

"Well, they might have taken us," said Van again. "I'd like to have seen
him awfully, and now Joel will have him all to himself. I'm going to get
something, and I won't let Joel have any of it," he added vindictively.

"Oh, Vanny!" and Polly went close to him, and put her cheek to his. "Just
think what a dreadful time Joel had out there on the pond," and she gave a
little shiver.

"Hah, hah!" ejaculated Percy. "You'd been scared to death, Van, if those
boys even winked at you."

"I wouldn't, either," declared Van, straightening up.

"Percy--Percy," said Polly warningly, turning around at him.

"Well, he would," said Percy uneasily, not looking at her; "you know he
would, Polly."

"Well, don't say any such thing," said Polly firmly, "and perhaps he
wouldn't, either."

"No, I wouldn't," protested Van stoutly, since Polly reinforced him, "and
you're just as mean as you can be, Percy Whitney, to say so."

"Boys"--Polly drew away from Van, and sank down on her chair again--"I
shan't have anything to say to either of you when you say such dreadful
things," and she folded her hands sorrowfully in her lap and looked
straight ahead at the opposite wall.

"Oh, we won't--we won't," cried both boys, running over to her. "Polly, we
won't"--shaking her arms.

"Well, don't, then," said Polly. "Now promise you won't do it again, or
else I'm really not going to talk to you."

So Percy and Van promised, and pretty soon the wide hall resounded with
merry peals of laughter.

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Polly, jumping to her feet in dismay.

"What's the matter?" cried both boys, tumbling back in astonishment.

"Just look what I've done!" Polly was wringing her hands now, and presented
a picture of distress.

"What--what, Polly?" They crowded up to her again.

"Why, I've forgotten I was to go at once to Mrs. Sterling's, and she's been
waiting. If Joel comes, send--him--over." The last words came back in a
little shout, for Polly was off.

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Percy discontentedly, losing all thought of the
attractions in Ben's room, "now Polly will be gone all the whole afternoon,
I 'most know."

"Let's tag her," proposed Van cheerfully, not caring to get upstairs first,
since Percy wasn't going to race with him, "I will; come on!"

"No, no," said Percy, in alarm, "she won't like that. Think of something
else."

"I've thought of one thing, and you won't do it," said Van composedly,
sitting down on the very chair Polly had left. "Now it's your turn."

"But it was no good--that old thing you thought of," retorted Percy, in
disdain; "no one could do it."

"I thought it out, anyway," repeated Van obstinately, "and you wouldn't do
it, so I'm not going to think up anything else till you have thought
something, Percy Whitney."

"Well, you needn't be so cross," said Percy sourly, and squaring up to his
chair.

"I'm not cross," contradicted Van, looking up at him with a very red face.

"Yes, you are, just as cross as a snapping-turtle," said Percy, trying to
think of the worst thing he had encountered, and quite pleased as he saw
its effect on Van.

"You shall just take that back, Percy Whitney," declared Van, hopping out
of his chair, and doubling up his small fists. "I'm not a snapping-turtle."

Percy edged off, with a sharp lookout for the fists.

"I didn't say so."

"Yes, you did," said Van crossly; "you said just that very thing, Percy
Whitney, and I'm not a snapping-turtle."

"I said you were as cross as one," said Percy, wishing he hadn't been quite
as free with his comparisons, and moving off to a convenient corner.

"Well, that's just the same," said Van, advancing, "and Polly----"

[Transcriber's note: This page in our print copy was obscured by an
ink blot. The words in brackets are those that we have supplied based
on context and those letters that were visible.]

At the mention of Polly, Percy stopped suddenly, drew a long breath, and
never thought of the [corner] again.

"[Why,] we promised her," he gasped; "I forgot all about it."

Down [went Van's] little fist.

"So we [did]," [he] said gloomily, and both boys crept off [together to]
the same corner Percy had selected for [himself].

"Whatever shall [we] do [now]?" breathed Percy, quite lost in his dismal
reflections.

"We stopped," said Van, as something to be offered with a grain of hope.

"But we did a lot before we stopped," said Percy. A deep gloom had settled
over his countenance, and he wouldn't look at Van. "Oh, dear me!"

Van fidgeted about for a minute,

"Well, I don't know," he said, twisting his hands. "Oh, dear me! Why, you
might say I'm not a snapping-turtle," he cried cheerfully at last, and
fairly hugging Percy in his delight.

"So I might," said Percy, well pleased, "but I didn't say you _were_ a
snapping-turtle; I said you were as cross as a snapping-turtle."

"Well, you might say I'm not as cross as a snapping-turtle, then," said
Van, determined to fix it some way.

So Percy said it, and then the two brothers plunged out of doors without a
thought of the formalities of any plan. But it was Van who furnished it
after all.

"Let's go down and see [Candace]," he said.

"Oh, yes, let's," cried Percy, [then] he stopped short and began to laugh.

"What's the matter?" Van twitched his sleeve.

"Nothing," said Percy, so relieved he hadn't said what was on the tip of
his tongue; "you've done it after all and told something for us to do."

"Well, then, come on," cried Van, with a harder twitch. So they set off at
a lively pace for the delights of Candace's little shop.

Meanwhile, Polly was sorrowfully confessing to Mrs. Sterling why she was
late, and explaining all the reason that Joel couldn't accompany her. And
the whole story of the morning affair on the pond, as gathered from Jack,
for Joel hadn't told a word of the encounter with the crowd of rough boys,
had to be gone over with before Mrs. Sterling could open her budget of news
and her wonderful plan for the Comfort committee.

She was just beginning on it.

"I do like that name so very much," sighed Polly. She was on a little
cricket by the side of the lounge, her hands resting on the gay
sofa-blanket.

"Don't you?" cried Mrs. Sterling, in great satisfaction. "It expresses so
much, Polly. I am so very glad that you like it."

"Master Joel Pepper is coming down the street," said Gibson, guilty of
interrupting, for she knew how anxious her mistress was to see Joel. "Shall
I call him in?"

"Do, by all means," said Mrs. Sterling, while Polly cried:

"Oh, I am so glad!"

So Gibson knocked on the window, and beckoned to Joel that he was wanted;
then she hurried down to the big front door to let him in.

There was a funny little noise over the stairs, as if there were more than
one pair of feet, which was soon explained by Joel's bursting in, dragging
another boy after him, who had his arm done up in a sling.

"It's Jack," he said, by way of introduction.

"Oh, Joel!" cried Polly, springing to her feet, in consternation.

"Yes, and now what is it?" Joel advanced to the invalid's couch, ready for
business.

"I'm very glad to see Jack," said Mrs. Sterling, with a smile, putting out
her soft, white hand to the boy, who was gazing at the doorway through
which he had come, as if nothing would please him so much as to go through
it again, this time on the way back.

"You might get a chair, Joel, for your friend, and another for yourself,"
suggested Mrs. Sterling.

"I will--I will," cried Joel, well pleased to have something to do, and
dragging up the first one he could find. "I'm going to sit on the
carpet"--suiting the action to the words.

"Well, you see--" Mrs. Sterling, without more ado, began at once on her
plan. Polly was by this time back on her cricket, very much relieved to
find that it wasn't so very dreadful after all to have Jack there, since
Mrs. Sterling seemed to like it. "There's nothing helps a boy who is to be
shut up in the house for a long time, quite so much as to have the other
boys who can go out to play, think of him, and plan for his comfort. Isn't
that so?" Mrs. Sterling looked at her little audience keenly.

"Yes," said two of them. Jack was so scared at finding himself where he had
never supposed he could be--in the stately brownstone mansion--that he
fixed his eyes on the carpet, not daring to move; as for speech, it was
quite beyond him.

"Well, now that Lawrence Keep has gotten hurt, I think it will be a very
good plan to have a Comfort committee to look out for him."

"What can we do for him?" cried Joel, very much excited, and jumping up
from the carpet.

"Joel, do sit down," said Polly, quite ashamed, and pulling him by the
jacket.

Joel very unwillingly slid back to his place on the carpet, and fastened
his black eyes on Mrs. Sterling's face.

"Well, there are so many things to do for a boy who won't be very sick, but
must be shut up in the house," said Mrs. Sterling, "that really it takes
time even to think of them all."

"What are some of them?" burst out Joel, pulling the sofa-blanket in his
eagerness.

"Joel--Joel," said Polly.

"Here are some of them," said Mrs. Sterling, "that I told the boys this
morning when they were in here. You might cut out the funny things in the
magazines and newspapers, the pictures and the stories, and send him. It's
so nice to have little reminders to pass away the time."

"What else?"

"Well, I didn't tell them that, but there are letters you might write him."

"Ugh!" Joel made a wry face. "I don't like to write letters," he said
bluntly.

"Joel," said Polly again.

"Perhaps that is the very reason it would be well for you to do it," said
Mrs. Sterling, with a smile. "At any rate, it would please Lawrence, I
think. Well, then there are conundrums; you can surely think up something
of that sort that will amuse him, and puzzles."

Now, strange to say, Jack had a good head for these things, and without
thinking where he was, he blurted out:

"I know a lot of 'em."

Joel whirled around on the carpet and stared at him, as did Polly from her
cricket. But Mrs. Sterling only smiled.

"That's good," she said in approval, "now you see you can help us out a
good deal"--nodding at him.

But Jack, with a wild glance at the door, as he came to himself, was beyond
conundrums, as he thought of what he'd done.

"Tell some of 'em, Jack," cried Joel eagerly, emerging from his surprise.
"What are they, Jack? Tell some."

"Not now," said Mrs. Sterling, interposing. "Jack is going to write them
out, and they will be sent in as his contribution to Lawrence."

Sent in to Larry Keep's big house, almost as grand as the one Jack sat in
now, by him, a little six-penny grocer's son, doing business over at the
South End! He couldn't believe his ears, and to assist them, he lifted his
eyes and stared at the person making the announcement. Evidently she meant
it, and the more he gazed at her face, the better he liked it. But he
didn't dare to stare long, so he concluded to transfer his attention from
it to the carpet.

"We are getting on so well," said Mrs. Sterling, and her tone was very
cheery, "that I am really quite hopeful that Lawrence may be amused by all
that we are to do for him. And now, before we go any further in our plan,
suppose we take a little comfort ourselves." And she laughed a gay little
laugh that wouldn't have sounded badly as Polly's own. "Gibson," she
called.

Out came Gibson from the little room next.

"Will you bring us a tray of some of the nice things you always can get up,
Gibson?" said her mistress. "I am really hungry, and I know these young
people must be, they run about so."

"I am," declared Joel, in great satisfaction at hearing the tray mentioned,
and bobbing his black hair, "awfully hungry."

"Oh, Joel!" said Polly.

"If you knew, Polly," said Mrs. Sterling, with a laugh, "what a pleasure it
is to me, to hear a hungry boy say so up here, you would be very glad to
let him. You can't think"--looking around on the three--"what good you are
doing me. Really your work as a comfort committee has begun already."



XXII

RACHEL'S VISIT TO MISS PARROTT


Rachel ran blindly up the garret stairs of the parsonage and threw herself
down on the top, her blue, checked apron over her head.

"Oh, I can't--I can't," she screamed.

"Rachel," the minister's wife called gently after her. But Rachel stormed
on, "Oh, I can't; dear me, I can't!"

So Mrs. Henderson mounted the stairs and sat down on the top one, and took
Rachel's hands, nervously beating together.

"My child, you must listen to me."

It was said very quietly; but Rachel knew by this time what the parsonage
people meant when they said a thing, so she answered meekly in a muffled
voice because of the apron over her head:

"Yes'm."

"Take down your apron," said Mrs. Henderson.

Down fell the apron, disclosing a face of so much distress, that for a
moment the heart of the parson's wife failed her, but it must be done.

"My child," she began very gently, "it is best that you should go to see
Miss Parrott. She will be a good friend to you."

"I don't want no friends," said Rachel doggedly, in her distress relapsing
into her old tenement-house disregard of the rules of speech; "no more 'n
I've got her."

"Ah, child, that is not a wise way to talk," said Mrs. Henderson, shaking
her head. "One cannot have too many friends."

"She'd be too many," said Rachel; "that old woman that came the other day
in that carriage all full of bones."

"You must not talk so, dear. She is a very fine woman. Now, Rachel, she has
asked to have you spend the day there, and we have promised that you shall
go."

There was an awful pause. A big blue-bottle over in the corner under the
rafters was making a final decision to explore the filmy lace web beneath
the window where a fat old spider had been patiently waiting for him, and
he gave his last buzz of freedom before he hopped in. This was all the
sound that broke the silence. Rachel held her breath, and fixed her black
eyes at a point straight ahead, positively sure if she withdrew her gaze
she would burst out crying.

"So you will be ready to go at ten o'clock, Rachel, for Miss Parrott will
send for you then," Mrs. Henderson was saying. And in a minute more the
parson's wife was going down the garret stairs; Rachel, with a heart full
of woe, slowly following, leaving the big garret to the fat old spider, who
was busily weaving her silken threads in glee over her prisoner.

And Rachel's woeful face was more than matched by the countenances of the
two boys of the parson's family, who were not at all pleased that the
companion sent to them by Mrs. Fisher, and who had turned out surprisingly
just to their liking, should be suddenly torn away from them even for a
single day. And they followed disapprovingly around, hanging upon all the
preparations for the momentous visit, with a very bad influence upon
Rachel's endeavor to control herself. Seeing which, their mother sent them
off on an errand to Grandma Bascom.

So, when the ancient carriage, with its well-seasoned coachman who rejoiced
in the name of Simmons, made its appearance, there was no one to see Rachel
off, save the patron's wife, the minister himself being away on a call lo a
sick parishioner.

Rachel went steadily down the walk between the box-borders, feeling her
heart sink at each step. Mrs. Henderson, well in advance, was down at the
roadside to help her in, with a last bit of good advice.

"Good-morning, Simmons," said the parson's wife pleasantly.

"Good-morning, Madam," Simmons touched his hat, and spoke with the air of
state, for he kept his English ways. Secretly, the parson's wife was always
quite impressed by them, and she looked at Rachel for some sign to that
effect. But the child was scowling, and biting her thin lips, and she
suffered Mrs. Henderson to assist her into the wide old vehicle without any
further change of expression. When once in, she gazed around, then leaned
forward on the slippery old green leather seat.

"Can't Peletiah come?" she gasped; "there's lots o' room."

"No," said Mrs. Henderson. "Now be a good girl"--all her fears returning as
she saw Rachel's face.

Simmons starting up the horses, that, although an old pair, yet liked to
set off with a flourish, the movement bounced Rachel violently against the
back of her seat and knocked her bonnet over her face. This gave her
something to think of, and changed her terror to a deep displeasure. When
the drive was ended, therefore, and the brougham, after its progress
through an avenue of fine old trees, was brought to a standstill before the
ancestral mansion where Miss Parrott's father and grandfather had lived
before her, the visitor was in no condition to enjoy the pleasures thrust
upon her.

Miss Parrott, in the stiff, black silk gown that she had worn the day when
she called at the parsonage, met her on the big stone steps. She put out a
hand in a long, black lace mitt, "I am very glad to see you, child," she
said, in old-time hospitality.

But no hospitality, old-time or any other, had a pleasant effect on Rachel.
She gave a glance up and around the big, gloomy gray, stone house, with a
wild thought of rushing down the avenue and home to the parsonage.

"It is a pleasant place, isn't it?" observed Miss Parrott with complacent
memory of always living in the grandest homestead for several counties.

"No, ma'am," said Rachel promptly.

Miss Parrott started, and gave a little gasp. Then, reflecting it was not
in accordance with fine manners to notice any such slip on the part of
guests, she led the way into the mansion. Simmons, much shocked, actually
forgot himself so far as to scratch his head, as he drove off to the
stables, and he didn't get over it all day.

"Perhaps you would like a little refreshment," suggested Miss Parrott,
when, the child's bonnet off, she was seated on the edge of a stiff,
high-backed chair. She couldn't think of anything else to say, and as she
usually offered it to her friends at the end of their long drives when they
called upon her, it seemed a happy thing to do now, especially as Rachel's
black eyes were fastened upon her in a manner extremely uncomfortable for
the person gazed at.

As Rachel didn't know in the least what "refreshment" meant, she stared on,
without a word. And Miss Parrott, pulling with more vigor than was her
wont, a long red worsted cord that hung down by the piano, a stately butler
made his appearance quicker than usual, took his directions from his
mistress, and after regarding the small figure perched on one of the
ancestral Parrott chairs with extreme disfavor, he silently withdrew.

Presently, in he came, his head well thrown back, and bearing a huge silver
tray. On it were a decanter, two little queer-shaped glasses, and a plate
of very thin seed cakes. He deposited this on a spindle-legged table, which
he drew up in front of his mistress, and, with another glance, which he
intended to be very withering, cast upon Rachel, but which she didn't see
at all, he departed.

"Now, my dear," said Miss Parrott, in a lighter tone, feeling quite in her
element while serving refreshments in such an elegant way, "you must be
very hungry." She poured out a glassful from the decanter, and getting out
of her chair, she took up the plate of seed cakes, and advanced to the
small figure. "Here, child."

Rachel took the little queer-shaped glass, but had no sooner felt it within
her hand, than she gave a loud scream.

"Take it away, it smells just like Gran"--pushing it from her.

It knocked against the plate of seed cakes Miss Parrott was proffering, and
together they fell to the floor with a crash. In hurried the butler.

"I don't know what can be the matter," Miss Parrott was gasping, her hand
on her heart, as she leaned against one of the ancient cabinets of which
the apartment seemed to be full.

"It smells just like Gran," Rachel was repeating, with flashing eyes. "Oh,
how dare you give it to me!" She was standing over the wreck of the
priceless china and glass, which, as no such accidents had been recorded in
the family, Miss Parrott had continued to use in the entertainment of her
guests.

"You bad child, you!" exclaimed the butler, seizing her arm, and gone
almost out of his senses at the sight of the ruin of such ancient
treasures.

"I'm not bad," cried Rachel, turning on him and stamping her foot; "she's
bad--that woman there--for giving me what smells just like Gran!"

"I can't make her out," declared the butler, eyeing her as he released her
arm and stepped back toward his mistress.

"And that's what makes people drunk," went on Rachel, pointing an angry
finger at the wet spot where the liquid from the decanter was slowly oozing
into the velvet carpet.

The butler turned an outraged countenance, on which a dull red was
spreading, over to his mistress.

"You would better go out, Hooper," said Miss Parrott faintly, and holding
fast to the cabinet.

"I'm afraid to leave you, madam," said Hooper; "she ain't fit--that
creature"--pointing to Rachel, "to be here; she may fly at you. I'll put
her out at once."

"You may leave the apartment, Hooper," said Miss Parrott, regaining some of
her dignity by a mighty effort. "I'm not in the least afraid." But her
looks belied her words, or at any rate the old serving-man thought so, and
he made bold to remonstrate again.

"Let me put her out, madam," he begged. "I'll call the gardeners."

"Oh, no, no!" protested Miss Parrott, coming rapidly to her self-composure;
"that would never do in all the world. Leave the room, Hooper." This last
was said so exactly like his mistress at her best, that the butler obeyed
it, making a wide circuit as he passed Rachel, who still stood, the picture
of wrath, over the broken china and glass.

Not a word was said for some minutes. Outside, Polly, the old parrot, was
scolding vociferously, and the tall clock was ticking away for clear life.
Hooper, his ear first, and then his eye, glued to the keyhole, was vainly
endeavoring to find out what was passing in the sitting-room.

At last Rachel drew a long breath. "I'm sorry I broke your things," and she
awkwardly pushed the bits with her shoe.

"Oh, that's no matter," said Miss Parrott, feeling astonished at herself
for the words, "but you said such dreadful things. I can never forget
that." She drew a long breath.

No matter that she broke those beautiful things! The whole truth flashed
upon Rachel, and although the smell of the hated stuff was even yet
dragging back to her all the memory of her low condition of life through
such childhood as she had known, over and above it all was quickly rising
the conviction that for this unpardonable misdemeanor she would be sent
back to the city and--awful thought!--perhaps to Gran. She set her teeth
together hard, and clenched her thin hands as they hung by her side.

"Yes. I say it is no matter," repeated Miss Parrott, not suffering herself
to glance at the wreck of her ancestral treasures, "but oh, child! why did
you say such dreadful things?" She still clung to the cabinet, shocked out
of one tradition of her family, as if she must still hold to its time-worn
and honored furnishings.

Rachel gave her a swift, bird-like glance. "You do care; you're crying,"
she exclaimed, aghast at the tears running over the wrinkled face.

"Not about that, but the things you said; I didn't mean to do you harm."
Miss Parrott did not attempt to deny the tears, and brushed them off with a
trembling hand.

"You ain't hurt me," cried Rachel, stumbling across the floor, with an
awful feeling at her heart to see this stiff old woman cry.

"Oh, whatever your name is, don't! I'll go home, and the minister may send
me back to Gran, an' she may beat me. Don't cry!" She seized the heavy
black silk in its front breadth and held on tightly.

The butler, having at this minute his eye at the keyhole, now rushed in,
unable to bear the sight, to be met by Miss Parrott, her withered face
flaming behind her tears.

"Do you go directly out, Hooper, and remain away until you are called." He
never knew how he got out; and this time the keyhole was unobstructed.

"Were you beaten, you poor little thing?" Was this Miss Parrott bending
over Rachel's shaking shoulders, and hands clutching the silk gown! "Oh,
dear, dear!"

"Tain't no matter," mumbled Rachel. "I don't care, only don't let me go
back." She shook in terror, and crouched down to the floor.

"Never!" said Miss Parrott firmly. All the blood in her body seemed to be
in her wrinkled face, and her eyes shone, as had those of her father, the
old judge, when befriending some poor unfortunate. "You shall never go
back, child; don't be afraid."

But Rachel still shivered. There were the broken bits of china and glass on
the floor back of her, and the minister and his wife must be told of the
awful accident; and what they would do with her, why, of course, no one
could tell.

The thin, wrinkled fingers on which blazed many rings, that had been her
mother's before her, were tremblingly smoothing Rachel's neatly braided
hair. And as if she thought what was passing beneath them, Miss Parrott
broke out quickly:

"I shall never speak of it--of the breaking of those articles, child; so no
one will know it but ourselves."

"Never tell?" gasped Rachel, lifting her head, in astonishment and scarcely
believing her ears.

"Of course not," declared Miss Parrott, in scorn. "So do not be afraid any
longer, but get up and dry your eyes." For at this announcement, Rachel's
tears had gushed out, and she sobbed as if her heart would break.

For answer Rachel flew to her feet, and without any warning and astonishing
herself equally with the recipient, she threw her arms around Miss
Parrott's thin neck, in among all the ancient laces with which she
delighted to adorn it, and hugged it convulsively.

Taken unawares, Miss Parrott could utter no word, and Rachel clung to her
and sobbed. But the old ears had heard what hadn't been sounded in them for
many a long day, and forgotten were wasted heirlooms and broken treasures.

"I love you!" Rachel had said, hugging her tumultuously.



XXIII

THE OLD PARROTT HOMESTEAD


"Come, child." Miss Parrott drew herself out of Rachel's clinging arms.

What should she do now to divert this little girl from her terror and
distress? She was sorely put to it for the answer. She gathered up the
nervous hands in one of her own, and led the way out into the wide hall,
hung with ancestral portraits. "I am going to take you to my own room," she
said suddenly.

Rachel didn't know the wonderful condescension of this plan for her
amusement, but she clung to the long, thin fingers, and presently she was
seated on a cricket covered with tambour work, and watching Miss Parrott's
movements about the spacious apartment.

"Move your cricket over here, child." Miss Parrott was unlocking what
looked to Rachel's eyes like a big cupboard that stood out from the wall.
It had little panes of glass all criss-crossed with strips of white wood
across its face, and a set of drawers beneath. And as Rachel obediently
carried the cricket over and set it down where Miss Parrott indicated, her
chief attention was still upon this curious cupboard, and what Miss Parrott
was doing in it, for the door now stood open.

Rachel leaned forward on her cricket and rested her hands on her knees. On
the shelves was such an array of articles, that to the child's gaze,
nothing stood out distinctly as an object to lavish one's sole attention
upon. But Miss Parrott made early choice, and lifting out a big doll from
one of the lower shelves, she laid it in Rachel's lap.

"I used to play with it," she said softly.

Rachel looked down upon the doll in her lap. It was long and hard and
angular as to body, and its face was a dull white, except some patches of
pink on the outer edge of the cheeks, showing the rest of the coloring to
have been worn away. Its eyes were staring up into Rachel's in such an
expressionless, unpleasant manner that she involuntarily turned away her
own.

"Her name is Priscilla," said Miss Parrott, looking down at Rachel, which
called her to herself and the necessity of attention to these efforts to
amuse her.

"Yes'm," said Rachel.

"Now I don't suppose you know how much I loved this doll," said Miss
Parrott, turning her back on the cupboard, to draw up a chair opposite
Rachel and seat herself upon it, "but I used to take her to bed with me
nights."

"Did you?" said Rachel, beginning to finger the doll with sudden interest.

"Yes, and I made her clothes and talked to her, and sometimes I called her
'Sister,'" said Miss Parrott, quite gone in remembrance.

"Oh!" said Rachel.

"You see, she was all I had. I was the youngest, and my real sister was
married and away, and my brothers were men when I was a little girl."

"Oh!" said Rachel again.

"And so I had to make believe that Priscilla was alive," said Miss Parrott,
her eyes glowing with remembrance of her childhood, brought so singularly
near on this morning; "I really had to Rachel."

"I've got a child," said Rachel, growing suddenly communicative, and
looking up from the old doll to watch the effect of her announcement.

"Have you, dear?" responded Miss Parrott, quite pleased at the bright face,
from which the last tear had been wiped away.

"Yes, my Phronsie gave her to me, and she sleeps with me," said Rachel, in
great satisfaction.

"I suppose she is very much like Priscilla," observed Miss Parrott.

"Oh, no, she isn't," declared Rachel promptly, turning her mind again to
the ancient doll; "my child is pretty and she shuts her eyes. She isn't a
bit like yours."

"Well, Priscilla was always pretty to me," said Miss Parrott, astonished
that she felt so little the slight to her child. "Well, now, Rachel, we
will put the doll aside. You may lay it on the bed and then come back
here."

Rachel got off from her cricket and went over to the other side of the
apartment.

"My, what a funny bed!" she exclaimed, using her eyes to their utmost to
see as much of the canopy, with its tester of blue and white chintz, the
four posts beneath, and the counterpane executed in honeycomb pattern.

Miss Parrott, exploring her cupboard to get out something else with which
to entertain Rachel, did not hear her; so she slowly returned, walking
backward to observe as much of this queer article of furniture as the time
allowed. In this way she fell over the cricket.

"Dear me!" exclaimed Miss Parrott, pulling her head out of the cupboard,
"did you hurt yourself, child?"

"No'm," said Rachel, getting up with a very red face, and exceedingly
ashamed. "I don't believe I broke it." She set the cricket up in its proper
position and anxiously examined it all over.

"Oh, no," said Miss Parrott reassuringly, "the cricket is not harmed. See
here, Rachel"--she held in her hand a long string of little irregular
things that dangled as she turned toward her--"I am going to put these on
your neck. Now stand still, child." And suiting the action to the words,
something snapped with a little click under Rachel's chin.

Rachel looked down quickly at the queer little odd-shaped red things,
hanging over her breast.

"I used to wear them when I was a little girl, very much smaller than you,"
said Miss Parrott, her head on one side and falling back to see the effect.

"What are they?" asked Rachel, not daring to lay a finger on them, and
holding her breath at the idea of being within the magnificent circle of
Miss Parrott's early adornments.

"Red coral beads," said Miss Parrott, smiling at the nice contrast between
the necklace and the dark little face above. "Now, child, you are going to
wear them whenever you come to visit me and as long as you stay. And that
means they will not come off till to-morrow, for you are to sleep here
to-night."

"I haven't any nightgown," said Rachel, who by this time liked to stay well
enough, but seeing here an insuperable objection.

"That's easily managed," said Miss Parrott, quickly; "I shall send a note
to the parsonage, saying you will stay, and----"

At the mention of "note" Rachel suddenly collapsed, and a look of terror
spread over her face.

"Oh, I forgot," she cried.

"Why, what is the matter, child?" demanded Miss Parrott, in great concern.

"I must go and get it," said Rachel wildly, and, dashing blindly off, she
left Miss Parrott standing in front of her ancestral cupboard holding her
childish treasures, to rush over the long and winding back stairs. At their
end she found herself hopelessly entangled in an array of back passages and
little old-fashioned apartments, from which, run as she would, she could
never seem to find the right exit.

Her progress was noted with indignation and contempt by as many of the old
retainers in the Parrott service as could be gathered at short notice, and
their calls to her to leave the premises, accompanied by sundry shakings of
a long crash towel in the hands of the cook, only impeded Rachel's hope of
success.

"I don't know the way out," she cried at last, finding herself in a big
closet whose door, being open, she fondly trusted would allow her passage
out into the free air.

"Well, 'tisn't here," said an angry voice, and the brandishing of a big,
iron spoon made Rachel beat a hasty retreat, this time into the back hall.
Miss Parrott was just descending the stairs, her stiff, black silk skirt
held high, before she set foot in the servants' quarters.

"Child, child," she said in reproach, "what _is_ the matter?"

"Oh, I've lost the note--I mean, I forgot it." Rachel flew to her and
wailed it all out.

"She's crying, that bad girl is, all over Mistress's front breadth,"
announced Joanna, the parlor maid, through the little window of the
butler's pantry.

"La me!" ejaculated the cook, raising her hands and the crash towel, "to
think of our mistress so demeaning herself!"

"What note?" cried Miss Parrott, in great bewilderment. "Rachel, stop
crying at once and speak plainly. What note do you mean?"

"The one Mrs. Henderson gave me," cried Rachel; "I must go and get it, but
I don't know the way out."

"To give to me? Did Mrs. Henderson tell you to give it to me?" asked Miss
Parrott, beginning to see light.

"Yes'm. Oh, please let me out," begged Rachel; "I left it in the carriage."

"Ah--well, then, we'll go out this way." And there, turning to the left,
was the passage down which Rachel had plunged twice before, and at its end,
a small green door, that, when opened, led out through an arbor overrun
with creepers, to a short cut to the stables.

"Now, then!" Miss Parrott gathered up the train of her black silk gown and
put it over her arm; then in full view of the latticed window of the
kitchen and scullery department, she sallied forth across the greensward to
the stables beyond, Rachel's brown hand tucked in her own.

"Laws a me!" It was the scullery maid who screamed this out. "She's got on
Miss Parrott's coral beads."

"You're a ninny!" cried the cook, turning on her in disdain; "go back to
your pots and kettles, Ann. Whatever would she have to do with the
Mistress's beads? It's some old string you see around her neck."

"It tell you it's Miss Parrott's red beads!" declared Ann stoutly. She
might be sent back to her work among the pots and kettles, but she would
stick fast to her tale. "I seen 'em when I went up to Miss Parrott's room
with the bellows I'd cleaned this very morning, through the little winders
to her cupboard, an' I'd know 'em anywhere."

The cook stamped her foot, shaking the crash towel which she still
retained, and Ann withdrew to those inner precincts that were considered
her department.

Meanwhile, Miss Parrott was talking to Simmons, who, touching his hat
respectfully when he saw her approach, now came up to await her commands.

"Have the goodness to open the brougham door, Simmons," said Miss Parrott,
going through the carriage house to the corner where that ancient vehicle
was stored.

Simmons obeyed wonderingly, with an eye askance at Rachel, by the other
side of Miss Parrott, eagerly pressing forward.

"Now jump in," said Miss Parrott, but this command was not needed, for
Rachel was already within the family coach and prowling around on the old
green leather cushion and over the floor with both nervous hands.

"It isn't--oh, yes, it is!" and up she came, red and shining, to hold out a
small, white envelope.

Miss Parrott leaned against the brougham, and broke the seal. Rachel, her
whole heart in one glad thrill of joy, made little sign except to heave a
deep sigh of relief that the note had been found. Simmons, seeing no excuse
for lingering further, went back to one of the carriages to go through the
form of inspecting its exterior, while he still kept an eye employed in the
direction of his mistress.

"Dear Miss Parrott" (so the note ran), "I really do not think it is wise to
ask Rachel to remain over night. I will explain later. Another time,
perhaps she may do so. Yours respectfully, Almira Henderson."

"Dear me!" exclaimed Miss Parrott to herself, and, folding up the little
note into many creases, she stood lost in thought. "Well, I suppose I must
yield to the parson's wife, for she has some good reason. But the child
shall stay next time."

Rachel, whose spirits had risen, since it was quite positive that the note
was not lost, now seized Miss Parrott's hand and hopped and skipped by her
side across the green grass on their return to the mansion. Simmons came
out of his retirement, his chamois skin with which he had been ostensibly
polishing up a carriage, still in his hand, to stand in the doorway to
watch them.

"Well, I _am_ surprised," he declared, quite slowly and impressively,
as befitted a serving-man to an old genteel family.

"Oh, let's go in there," cried Rachel, catching sight of the tall
hollyhocks behind a wicket gate and pulling at the long, slender fingers.

Miss Parrott hesitated.

"Well, just one peep," she said, "for it is near to luncheon time," and she
pulled out the watch from her belt. But to Rachel "a peep" meant all the
world, so she dropped the fingers and raced through the gateway, to get
there first and thus make it last as long as possible.

"Oh, oh!" she cried, her little dark face aflame with delight, "it's the
most beautiful place." Then she began to run up and down all the narrow
paths marking the circles and hearts and diamonds in which the
old-fashioned garden was laid out, and sniffing the fragrance as she ran.

Miss Parrott seated herself on a stone seat by the fountain in the center.
Her delight was quite equal to Rachel's, and the thin, wrinkled face
assumed a more peaceful expression than it had carried for many a day, so
that when Hooper came to summon her to luncheon, he was fairly taken aback
at its unwonted cheer.

"Rachel!" Miss Parrott's voice had a pleasant ring to it. Rachel came
dancing along a little curving path, the red coral beads flying up and down
on her breast, her cheeks nearly as red. "Oh, it's perfectly beautiful
here," she cried.

"Do you like it?" Miss Parrott's thin cheek glowed, too. It carried her
back to the day when she as a child had been skipping in that old garden,
and her heart gave a throb at the thought that there were perhaps in store
for her many delights yet, through Rachel's enjoyment of the old-fashioned
flowers and shrubs.

"But come, child," she brought herself up suddenly to say, with a little
laugh; "Hooper has summoned us to luncheon, and we must obey."

"Do you have to obey a servant?" asked Rachel, coming out of her dance to
fall into step by her side, and looking up with wide-open eyes.

"Always," said Miss Parrott most positively, "else they won't obey me, if I
don't. It's system that makes everything comfortable, Rachel."

As Rachel knew nothing whatever about system, she followed silently, her
small head full of the beautiful garden in which she had been rioting, and
which--oh, joy!--Miss Parrott promised she should visit again, when the
luncheon was over. And seated at the polished mahogany table, she was so
lost in thought that Miss Parrott, in state at the other end, was obliged
to speak to her twice before she looked up.

"Finish your soup, child," said Miss Parrott.

Rachel hadn't even begun it, and she now seized the first thing upon which
her hand rested, a heavy silver fork. Hooper, back of his mistress's chair,
darted forward to put the right implement before her. But Rachel gave him a
withering glance that stopped him half-way. "You don't need to come. I've
got it"; and she held up her spoon triumphantly, and ever after, all
through the meal, she seemed to view his necessary advances as so many
affronts, intended to show up her lack of manners, and she exercised all
her wits to keep him at bay. So that the old butler was glad when the meal
was over.

But long before that time arrived, Rachel had leaned back in her tall,
carved chair, letting her knife and fork rest on her plate, while she
feasted her eyes over the table, what it held, and then around the whole
apartment.

"There's some of the same flowers like the ones in the garden," she said,
bringing her gaze back to point to the old-fashioned silver vase and its
nodding clusters in the center of the table. "What are they?"

"Those are larkspur," said Miss Parrott, craning her neck to see around the
high silver service from which she poured her tea.

"And what's the other, this side?" Rachel bobbed over on her chair, till
Hooper involuntarily closed his eyes, expecting she would go entirely off
from her chair, and he didn't want to see it, it would be so disgraceful at
a Parrott table.

"That?" Miss Parrott, too, leaned over on her chair. "Oh--why, that's a
ragged robin, Rachel."

"_Ragged robin!_" repeated Rachel, hopping off from her chair. "Oh, I
want to see it," and she ran around the table-end, and leaned over to get a
better view. "'Tisn't a bit ragged," she cried, very much disappointed,
"and besides, he isn't there."

"Oh, Rachel!" exclaimed Miss Parrott, in dismay. "You must not do so; we
never leave our chairs when we are at the dining-table."

Rachel, thus admonished, scuttled back to her seat, while Hooper groaned
and pretended not to see anything. But she kept her black eyes fastened on
the ragged robins. "There isn't any bird there," she said.

"What, child?"

"You said there was a robin in those flowers," said Rachel again, using her
little brown fingers to designate the vase and its contents, "and that he
was ragged, and there isn't any."

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Miss Parrott; then she laughed. "The flowers are
called ragged robins, Rachel," she said.

"Oh!" said Rachel; then she laughed, too, a merry little peal, that just
bubbled over because she was happy.

"Now eat your luncheon," said Miss Parrott. "Hooper, you may give her some
more milk."

"I don't want any more milk," said Rachel, waving him off with quite an
air. "I've got lots and lots"--peering into her cup. She took up her knife
and fork again, but, looking over them, found so many things to call for
more attention than they seemed to be worthy of, that she soon laid them
down again upon her plate.

"Where did you used to sit when you was a little girl?" she asked suddenly,
when she had been reflecting a bit.

"I? Oh, I sat at the side of the table," said Miss Parrott, starting, as
she was thus hastily summoned down into her past.

"Then can't I sit there now?" cried Rachel, flying out of her chair again.
"Say, can't I? Do let me." She ran clear around the table and hung over
Miss Parrott's chair.

Hooper groaned again and looked steadfastly out of the opposite window.

"My child," exclaimed Miss Parrott; her tone was very grave, but she put
her long arm around Rachel and drew her closely to her, "remember what I
said: you must not leave your chair during a meal."

"I forgot," Rachel flew back again, not waiting for her request to be
granted, and sat down meekly in her place.

"And you must eat something," continued Miss Parrott, glancing at the
little girl's plate, and with dreadful qualms at her old heart for having
been severe. "If you don't, Rachel, Mrs. Henderson won't let you come here
again."

The solemn butler folded and unfolded his hands, while his face expressed
the belief that such a calamity could possibly be borne.

"And if you didn't come, Rachel"--Miss Parrott took up her cup of tea, and
set it down again untouched--"I should feel very sorry; I should indeed,"
she added, with a little catch in her throat.

"So should I," said Rachel abruptly; then she picked up her knife and fork
and began to eat as fast as she could.

"Oh, my dear!" cried Miss Parrott, quite horrified, "not so fast! Pray
don't, Rachel"--looking down the table-length in distress.

Rachel by this time was alive to the disgrace she was undergoing, and she
turned quite pale, and deserting her food altogether, sat stiff and
straight on her chair, too miserable to care for anything. Miss Parrott
bore this for a breathing-space, and then without a warning she slipped off
from her chair and went quickly down to the end of the table.

"I'm not blaming you, you poor little thing," she declared, bending over
the dark hair; "don't think so, Rachel."

Rachel turned with a swift movement and hid her face in the laces falling
from Miss Parrott's breast.

"I want to go home to Mrs. Henderson's," she sobbed.

"We don't care for any more luncheon, Hooper," said Miss Parrott hoarsely,
taking Rachel's hand, "We will go into the other room," and she led her off
sobbing.

When Rachel reached Hooper, however, standing petrified with surprise, she
looked up at him defiantly and brushed the tears from her cheek.

And after they had passed out, Hooper still stood in a daze. At last he
came out of it, and, ejaculating, "Well, I never did!" he began to clear
the table.

Once outside, Miss Parrott turned suddenly.

"We'll go back to the garden," she said.

This pleased Rachel very much, and she forgot her distress and
mortification, and actually smiled up into the old face.

"Your hand's shaking," she announced, turning her gaze to the long, slender
fingers covering her own little brown palm.

"Is it?" said Miss Parrott absently.

"Yes, it shakes dreadfully," said Rachel, with a critical air.
"Look!"--pointing down at it.

"Oh, that is nothing," began Miss Parrott; then she stopped suddenly and
put both hands on the thin little shoulders. "Oh, child," she said
brokenly, "I did so hope you'd like me, for I've nothing in this world to
live for, Rachel, and now you want to go back to the parsonage."

"Oh, I don't want to go back--I do love you!" cried Rachel, in great alarm,
and she raised her little brown hands and actually smoothed the long,
wrinkled face between them. "Don't look so, you look dreadful," she
pleaded.

For at the touch of those childish hands over her face, Miss Parrott broke
utterly down, all her aristocratic traditions falling away in a second of
time, to reveal her lonely, hopeless life. And she sobbed in a way very
hard for any onlooker to hear. To Rachel, powerless to stop her, it seemed
the most terrible thing in all this world, and she burst out in her misery:

"I'll stay here forever if you'll stop."

That word "forever" did what nothing else could have achieved. It brought
Miss Parrott to herself. Then it was Rachel who led her about the
old-fashioned garden, and chattered about the flowers, unmindful whether or
no she was answered, until presently Miss Parrott was quite recovered, and
even smiling in a well-pleased way. At last she pulled out her ancient
watch from her belt.

"Now, Rachel," she said, "you must go back to the parsonage this afternoon,
for Mrs. Henderson expects you."

"I'll stay if you want me to," said Rachel, moving closer to Miss Parrott's
side.

"No, dear--not to-day, because it wouldn't be right; the parson and his
wife only loaned you to me for to-day, but----"

"What's 'loaned'?" interrupted Rachel abruptly, and wrinkling her forehead.

"Why, they only let me have you just for today," said Miss Parrott.

"Oh."

"And so you must go back, but I shall come for you again," and Miss Parrott
turned a hungry glance down upon the dark little face at her side.

"I'll come," said Rachel, with a sociable nod.

"And, Rachel"--Miss Parrott drew her closer to her side--"you may keep the
coral beads, dear. That shows you are really coming back to me to stay."

"For ever and always?" cried Rachel, patting the necklace lovingly with one
hand. "Can I keep 'em just forever? Say, can I?"

"Yes, child"--Miss Parrott's old face smiled in delight at the
compact--"they are yours to keep all your life. And now," she added
brightly, "I want you to come into the drawing-room, and----"

"What's 'drawing-room'?" demanded Rachel, who felt it was much better for
all concerned in a conversation to understand things as they went along.

"Why, that is the parlor," answered Miss Parrott.

"Oh."

"I want to hear you sing, Rachel," cried Miss Parrott longingly. "I can
hardly wait, come." She hurried the child along with hasty steps, Rachel
skipping by her side.

"I'll sing," she said, "all you want me to. I know lots and lots of
things"--until the grand piano in the long, dim drawing-room, not opened
for many years, was reached. Then she spun down the middle of the
apartment. "I'm going to dance first," she announced, picking out the skirt
of her gown on either side. "My, but ain't it dark, here, though!"



XXIV

RACHEL'S FUTURE


When the old brougham drew up in front of the colonial door, Miss Parrott
let her hands fall away from the time-stained piano-keys.

"It can't surely be time for you to go, Rachel."

Then she did a thing she could not remember doing in all her life, she
deliberately went on with her employment, allowing Simmons to wait on his
carriage box, while she broke up the system of years that always made her
punctual to a minute.

"You may sing that over again, Rachel," she said, beginning on the strains
of the opera that Rachel had gathered from the barrel-organ on the street
corners.

"Then may I dance again?" begged Rachel. "Please--just once before I go."

"Yes," said Miss Parrott, sitting very straight, and giving all the
graceful little quirks to the slender fingers which her music-master, long
since dead and buried, had taught her. "Now begin, child."

So up and down, high and clear, rang Rachel's voice, with no more effort
than the birds outside put forth, the sound penetrating the ancient walls,
and paralyzing every domestic, while it nearly made Simmons, outside, fall
from his box.

"She hain't touched that pianner in ten years," said the cook, in a hushed
voice. "Oh, me! I'm afraid she's going to die," and she flung her apron
over her head.

"Die!" exclaimed Hooper, finding his voice. "She won't die with that young
one here," he added, in scorn.

"Now may I dance?" pleaded Rachel, plucking Miss Parrott's sleeve. "Do let
me; you said I might."

"Yes," said Miss Parrott, wrenching herself away from the operatic strains,
to begin on a little old-fashioned jig.

"Oh, that's so funny," giggled Rachel, hopping aimlessly in the center of
the big drawing-room and trying to keep time. "Do stop; you put me all
out."

"But that is a dancing-tune," said Miss Parrott, jingling away, "and sister
and I used to dance quite prettily to it, I remember."

"Well, I can't," said Rachel, hopping wildly, and doing her best to get
into step. "Oh, dear!" she brought up suddenly, flushed and panting.

"What is the matter, Rachel?" Miss Parrott let her hands rest on the yellow
ivory keys and looked over her shoulder at her.

"Oh, I can't dance," said Rachel, "when you play so funnily. It doesn't go
like that; it goes so." She picked up her gown again, and made a sweep off
in one direction, and then in another, her feet scarcely touching the
pictured roses and lilies with which the velvet carpet was strewn, all the
while singing a tune that seemed to carry her off on its own melody. Miss
Parrott turned around on the music-stool, and watched her breathlessly.

It was therefore much later than the parsonage people expected when the old
brougham set Rachel down at their gate, and she walked into the house,
supported on either side by Peletiah and Ezekiel, who had been watching
there a full hour for her arrival.

"I like her," she said, marching up to the minister's wife. "She gave me
these"--putting her hand on the red coral beads on her neck--"and I'm
going back again--to-morrow, I guess."

But it wasn't to stay, that Rachel went back on the morrow; it was only for
a day. Despite all the pleadings made by Miss Parrott, and all the desire
of the parson and his wife to please their honored parishioner, and most of
all, the earnest wish to consent to what would probably be for the child's
best good, they held firmly to the first statement, that nothing could be
arranged till Mrs. Fisher and Mr. King had been consulted.

"They have sent the child here to us, and here she must stay until they
make some other arrangement," they said firmly, and no amount of urging
could make them say anything else.

So letters had to fly back and forth from the parsonage and the King estate
in the big city, and Miss Parrott wrote long letters in a pinched,
lady-like hand in very faint ink, crossing the paper whenever she was
afraid she hadn't said enough to plead her cause successfully. Which
condition of mind she was in perpetually, all through these writing days.
These letters old Mr. King endeavored to read at the first, but he soon
threw them down impatiently.

"The child shall never go to a woman who has no more sense," he loudly
declared.

Then Polly or Jasper would hurry in and wade through the missives. And when
he saw the hungry longing of the desolate soul, and the sweet refinement of
the writer came out, and the sterling honesty was revealed in the prim
sentences, he relented and went tumultuously over to the other side.

"Yes, yes, she shall go," he declared, pulling out his big handkerchief to
blow his nose violently, to remove all suspicion that anything was the
matter with his eyes; "'twould be the best thing in the world for her. Of
course she must go."

And so it was finally settled that Rachel was to live at Miss Parrott's and
be her own little girl, going down to the parsonage every day to learn her
lessons under Mr. Henderson's care, until the time when she would be ready
to be sent to such a school as Miss Parrott might select should arrive.

"And she must come and see me sometimes," said Phronsie when the
announcement was made in the King household. "My little girl may come,
can't she, Grandpapa?" she begged.

"Yes, yes, child," said old Mr. King warmly; "we all shall want to see
Rachel now and then."

The Comfort committee being well-established and in fine running order by
this time, Mrs. Sterling gathering them around her sofa, in her spacious
sitting-room upstairs, Polly and Alexia saw no reason why they shouldn't
begin work on the Cooking Club, "because," said Polly, "if we are really
going to learn how to cook things, why, we ought to begin." And the mothers
of the several boys and girls who were to form it, taking instantly to the
idea, the two girls and Jasper set to work to write the notices of the
first meeting.

"We ought to have another boy," said Jasper, "on the Committee."

Alexia wrinkled up her face. "Oh, don't; boys are so tiresome," she said.

"Why, I am a boy," said Jasper, bursting into a laugh.

"Oh, well, you are different," said Alexia; "we always expect you around."

"Thank you," said Jasper, with a low bow; "I'm sure I ought to feel very
much complimented, Alexia," and he laughed again.

"Well, I'm sure boys are such nuisances," said Alexia, leaning her long
arms on the table (they were in the library at Mr. King's), "and besides
they won't want to come to our Cooking Club, I verily believe, so what's
the use of having them on the Committee?"

"Oh, yes, they will," declared Jasper eagerly; "you don't know anything
about it, if you say that. Why, Clare, and Pickering, and ever so many more
are just wild to be asked."

"Oh, well, then if we've got to have some boy on the Committee," said
Alexia, accepting the situation, "let's ask Pickering Dodge."

"I'd rather have Pick," said Jasper in a tone of great satisfaction; and
Polly saying the same thing, it was decided then and there.

"Well, now that matter is off our hands," said Alexia, "let's get to
writing these old notices," and her hands began to bustle about among the
little pile of paper and envelopes.

"Hold on," said Jasper; "if Pick is to be on this committee, he must help
us with these things; and he'll want to, for it will be great fun."

"O bother!" exclaimed Alexia, jerking back her chair, "now we've got to
wait. You see for yourself what a nuisance it is to try to get you boys in,
Jasper."

"Oh, I'll get Pick over here in a jiffy," declared Jasper, plunging out of
the library; "you won't have to wait long for us, Alexia."

It wasn't more than ten minutes by the clock, when in rushed the two boys
and swarmed around the big table.

"Well, I declare," cried Alexia, looking up admiringly from a receipt book
which Mrs. Fisher had loaned them, and over which the heads of the two
girls were bent, "if you boys haven't been quick, though!"

"Haven't we?" cried Jasper, and his eyes twinkled.

"Don't tell," whispered Pickering over his shoulder.

"And what are you two whispering about?" cried Alexia, deserting the
cook-book: "Now, tell us," she demanded, dreadfully afraid she would miss
some news.

"Well, you see--" began Jasper.

"Hush--hush!" said Pickering.

"Now don't pay any attention to Pickering," said Alexia, turning a cold
shoulder to the last-mentioned individual; "do tell us, Jasper, what is
it?"

"The fact is," said Jasper, laughing, "I didn't have to go for Pickering at
all; that is, only to the corner. He was coming here."

"And Jasper nearly knocked the breath out of me," finished Pickering, "he
bolted into me so."

"Well, you were on the wrong side of the pavement," retorted Jasper.

"Is that all?" cried Alexia, horribly disappointed to get no news. "Oh,
dear me! Well, do sit down, now you have come, and let us get to these
horrible old notices."

So the boys drew up their chairs, and Polly pushed the cook-book, with an
affectionate little pat, into the center of the table. "That's what we are
going to study," she said gleefully.

"Study?" echoed Pickering, with a very long face. "I didn't come over here
to study; I get enough of that at school," and he glared in a very injured
way at Jasper.

"Don't get upset," said Jasper, patting him on the back; "you'll like this,
Pick, I tell you."

"And it's a cook-book," said Polly, laughing merrily.

"All right," said Pickering, immensely relieved, and reaching out his long
arm, he seized it, and whirled the leaves. "'Lemon pie'--that sounds good.
'How to cook cabbage'--oh, dear me!"

"See here now"--Jasper seized the book and shut it up with a bang--"no one
is going to look into that, until we write these notices. Why, we haven't
even got a Cooking Club yet."

"Give it back," roared Pickering after him, as Jasper hopped out of his
chair, carrying the book.

"No, sir," cried Jasper, bearing off the book out of the room. "There,
you'll never find that," he observed, coming back to slip into his seat
with satisfaction.

"Well, now," said Alexia sweetly, "if you two boys are through scrapping,
we'll begin on these notices." She picked an envelope off from the pile.
"Oh, dear me! who is the first one to ask?"

"I think Larry ought to have it," said Polly.

"Oh, Polly Pepper!" exclaimed Alexia, "Larry can't come for ever so long,
with his collar bone all smashed and his leg hurt. The very idea!"

Polly gave a little shiver, "Well, he would like to be asked," she said.

"And I think so, too," declared Jasper; "a chap would enjoy it twice as
much to get an invitation when he was abed and couldn't come."

"Well, that's nice to say," cried Alexia, bursting into a loud laugh, in
which Pickering joined.

"You've done it now," he said, clapping Jasper on the back. "I'm glad of
it, old chap, after the way you acted about that old cook-book."

"So I have," said Jasper grimly. Then he laughed as hard as the others.
"Well, you know what I mean, and we ought to give Larry the first
attention."

"I'm going to write the notice to him," declared Alexia, dipping her pen in
the ink-well and beginning with a flourish. But she threw it down before
she had finished his first name. "Polly, you ought to write the first
notice," she cried; "you proposed the Club."

"That's no matter," said Polly, "so long as we are going to have the Club.
Go ahead, Alexia."

"No, I'm not going to," said Alexia obstinately, and leaning back in her
chair; "you've just got to do it, Polly, so there!"

"There'll be no peace, Polly, for any of us until you do," said Pickering,
thrusting his hands lazily into his pockets.

"And I think people would do better to go to work and help," said Alexia
decidedly, "than to set other people against--oh, dear me!" as she found
herself hopelessly entangled.

"You would do better to get yourself out of that sentence, Alexia," laughed
Jasper, "before you do anything else."

"Well, I don't care," said Alexia, joining in the general laugh; "it's too
mean for anything, Pickering, to say I fight, when everybody knows I suffer
just everything before I say a word."

"Oh, dear me!" cried Pickering faintly.

"And when you two stop sparring," said Jasper, "perhaps we can do some
work. Come now, Polly and I don't propose to do the whole."

Alexia, at this, scrabbled up another envelope, and began to write as fast
as she could. And Pickering selecting a pen and getting down to business,
the room began to assume a very work-like aspect.

"Now that's done," said Alexia, tossing aside the envelope. "I've addressed
notice number two."

"Whose is it?" asked Pickering, glancing up from his own to the scrawling
characters where the envelope lay face uppermost on the table. "Who is
number two, Alexia?"

"You mustn't see," cried Alexia, twitching it away; "you go on and address
your own, Pickering, and let mine alone."

"Well, I've seen already," said Pickering coolly. "It would be impossible
not to read your writing a mile off, Alexia."

"Well, that's much better than to write such mean, lazy little words that
nobody can make them out," she retorted.

"Oh, clear! we haven't a pattern of the notice made yet," said Polly,
leaning back in her chair, after the labor of getting the first envelope
addressed; and she pushed up the little brown rings of hair from her brow,
for Polly didn't like very well to write, and it always took her some time
to achieve anything in that line. "Jasper, you draw up one, do," she
begged.

"Oh, dear me!" cried Jasper, aghast, "I can't, Polly; you can do it much
better."

"Misery me!" exclaimed Polly, "I couldn't do it in all this world," and she
looked so distressed that Jasper hastened to say:

"Come along then, Pick, and help me out, and I'll try."

But Picketing protesting that he didn't know any more how to write such a
notice than Prince lying on the rug before the fire, Jasper in despair drew
up a sheet of paper, and wrote in big staring letters and with a great
flourish, clear across the top of the page:

"ATTENTION."

"Goodness me!" cried Pickering, his pale eyes following Jasper's pen, "it
looks like a fire-alarm summons."

"Or just like Miss Salisbury when she's going to say something quite ugly
and horrid," said Alexia, with a grimace.

"Oh, Alexia!" said Polly.

"Well, it does," said Alexia; "you know for yourself, Polly, she always
stands up quite stiff on the platform and says, 'Attention, young ladies!'
Oh, I quite hate the word, because we all have to look at her."

"Well, it does good service then," said Jasper coolly, "since it makes you
do the very thing wanted."

"And we wouldn't mind looking at her," said Alexia, running on with her
reminiscences, "if she didn't make us do every single thing she says."

"That's too bad," said Jasper, with a laugh, and flourishing away on the
second line of the notice.

"You needn't laugh," said Alexia grimly; "I guess you wouldn't if you had
our Miss Salisbury at your school, Jasper King."

"Is she any worse than our Mr. Fraser?" said Jasper. "I wonder. I tell you
what, Alexia, he keeps us boys at it! Doesn't he, Pick?"

"Well, I rather guess," said Picketing concisely, but his look told
volumes.

"Oh, you boys have an easy enough time," said Alexia, with a sniff, "and
you are always grumbling about how hard it is, while I don't say a word,
but just bear things."

"I'm so sorry for poor Miss Salisbury," observed Pickering, lazily watching
Jasper's efforts.

"Well, you needn't be," retorted Alexia; "she's very fond of me, Miss
Salisbury is, and I don't in the least know what she'd do if I left her
school. But I never shall go away, for I just dote on her."

"It looks like it," said Pickering, with a laugh.

"Well, I do," declared Alexia; "she's my very sweetest friend, except Polly
Pepper, so there!"

"Oh, dear me! I don't know what next to say," cried Jasper, holding off the
notice at arm's length, and scowling at it dreadfully.

"You ought to see your face, Jasper," cried Alexia. "Dear me! it's
positively awful."

"Well, it's not half as bad as I feel," said Jasper, "with this terrible
old notice weighing me down."

"'Attention'," drawled Pickering, reading the two lines. "'You are
requested to appear--'"

"Hold on!" cried Jasper, turning over the notice. "Who told you to read it
out, pray tell?"

"I'm on the Committee, I'd have you know," said Pickering coolly.

"Well, we'll pitch you out," said Jasper, "neck and heels, if you don't
take care. Well, but really this is awful work." He whirled over the notice
again, and glared at it savagely.

"Why don't we just say, 'A Cooking Club is to be formed'?" proposed Polly,
"and----"

"Oh, that will be elegant," interrupted Alexia, clapping her hands. "Oh,
Polly, you write it."

"Oh, I couldn't," said Polly, drawing back.

"Yes, Polly, do," begged Jasper.

"Oh, no, you write it," said Polly.

"Well, then, you tell me what to say," said Jasper, laughing.

"She did," said Alexia impatiently. "A Cooking Club is to be
formed'--didn't you hear her?"

"I have that," said Jasper, scribbling away on a fresh piece of paper. "Now
what next?"

"Go on, Polly," said Alexia.

"Well--oh, 'Will you please come to the first meeting?'"

"'And see how you like it,'" finished Alexia; "that's just elegant--do
write it down, Jasper."

"You may be sure I will," cried Jasper, vastly pleased that he was to be
helped out, and finishing it all up with great energy. "Well, what else?"
and he poised his pen in air and looked at Polly.

"Why, isn't that enough?" said Polly, a little pucker beginning to come on
her forehead.

"I should think so," said Pickering; "it tells all the story."

"And they will come, you may be sure," said Jasper, holding off the notice
again, this time for everybody's inspection, "and that's the main thing."

"And now we can all begin to write them," said Alexia, in great
satisfaction, seizing her pen, which she had dropped. "Do put it in the
middle of the table, Jasper, where we can all see."

"Wait till I write a good one," said Jasper, beginning on a fresh sheet of
paper. "I was hurrying so to get it all down; you can hardly read it." So
he wrote it out in his best hand, then propped the notice up against the
book-rack. "Now begin," he said.

"Let's race," cried Alexia, already scrawling the first words at a great
rate.

"Oh, dear me! we shan't do it decently then," said Polly, in alarm. "I
mean, I shan't, if we race."

"Nor I, either," said Jasper.

"Well, I'm not going to race, anyway," declared Pickering, making slow,
lazy strokes with his pen; "it's quite bad enough to have to write these
odious things, without breaking one's neck over them."

"Well, don't let's talk," said Alexia, seeing that she couldn't have any
part in the conversation since all her mind had to go into her task. "Oh,
dear me! I left out the dot to my 'i,' and misery! there's a blot! It was
all because I was listening to you, Pickering Dodge."

"Well, we'll all be as still as mice now," said Polly; so no sound was
heard save the scratching of pens over the paper, as the work went gayly
on.

"Oh, isn't it too bad that we can't any of us find that ten-dollar bill
Joel lost at the garden party?" broke out Alexia, when this sort of thing
had proceeded for some time.

"Ugh!" cried Polly, and her pen slipped, making an awful scratch and just
spoiling the best notice she had written.

Jasper raised his head and cast a warning glance over the table at Alexia,
but it was too late.

"I do believe we shall find it some time," said Polly, scraping away with
the ink-eraser and only making matters worse.

"Take care, Polly; the ink is too fresh," warned Jasper. "Wait until it
dries."

"Well, I've smeared it all up now," said Polly, leaning back in her chair
and viewing her work with despair.

"Perhaps it can be fixed," said Alexia, overwhelmed with distress and
leaning forward to see the worst. "I 'most know it can; let me try, Polly."

"No, no, Alexia, I wouldn't," said Jasper; "it's quite bad enough already."

"Well, maybe I can do it," persisted Alexia, "if I could only try."

"You may try," said Polly, pushing the paper toward her, when she saw
Alexia's face, "but it's no matter anyway, I'll write another." And she had
already begun it when Alexia threw down the ink-eraser.

"It's no sort of use," she said, "and I've made a shocking hole in the
paper. Oh, dear me!" and she looked so utterly miserable that Polly's brow
cleared and she began to laugh.

"Dear me!" she said, "it isn't a bit of matter, and see, I've ever so much
done already on this. And I do believe we shall find that ten-dollar note
sometime. I do verily believe so, Alexia."

"So do I," cried Jasper heartily.

Pickering said nothing; he didn't really believe the ten-dollar bill would
ever be found, having helped Jasper to ransack so many possible and
impossible places, but he wasn't going to say so, and thus add to the
general gloom.

"And I think it was awfully nice of Joel to do that dreadful work over Mr.
King's old books, and earn the money," said Alexia.

Polly looked up with a smile. "Wasn't it?" she cried radiantly.

"And Father says Joe does the lists so well," said Jasper heartily; "he
sticks at it every day like a leech, and there can't anything get him off
to play till the hour is over."

"Well, I don't see how he can," said Alexia, drawing a long breath. "Dear
me, it would just tire me to death. Why, Polly Pepper!" Alexia threw clown
her pen and stared at her. "When is the first meeting to be?"

"Why, you know," said Polly, writing away, laboriously; "next Wednesday
evening, of course."

"Well, we don't say so," said Alexia. "How in the world are they to know?"

The other members of the Committee stopped work immediately and glanced
ruefully at the little pile of notices accumulating in the middle of the
table.

"We can never write those all over," began Polly tragically.

Pickering put out a long hand and picked out from the pile the one he had
written.

"I shall just write, 'Wednesday evening, July 21st,' down in one corner,"
he said.

"Oh, goody!" exclaimed Alexia, her face brightening; "I shall do mine
so"--pulling out her scrawls from the heap of notices.

"But we don't tell where the meeting is to be," said Jasper after they had
all fallen to work again.

At this second fright no one seemed to be able to speak. It was Alexia who
first found her voice.

"Why not put it in the other corner?" she said.

"And that just balances," said Jasper, holding one of his notices up when
the two additions had been made, "so it really looks better than ever."

"But we mustn't make any more blunders," observed Pickering wisely, "for we
haven't any extra corners to go to now."

"Oh, we aren't going to make any," declared Alexia, "and we will soon be
through, thank goodness!"--as the pens set up lively work once more.

"I hope so." Polly gave a long sigh. "Oh, dear me! it wouldn't be one-half
so hard to do cooking for the Club, as to write a single one of these
things."



XXV

JACK PARISH


"Grandpapa!" Joel came in with a shout, rushed around the room two or three
times, and finally came up to the big writing-table, quite blown.

"Dear me!" exclaimed old Mr. King, laying down his pen, "have you really
got through, Joe?"

"Grandpapa," said Joel, his black eyes shining, and bobbing over his head
to get a good look into the old gentleman's face, "she's asked him, she
really has!"

"Who?" asked Mr. King, very much puzzled.

"Mrs. Sterling," said Joel, in a tone of the greatest satisfaction. Then he
began to dance again, snapping his brown fingers to keep time.

"When you come out of that war dance, Joel," said old Mr. King, leaning
back in his big chair to laugh at him, "perhaps you'll have the goodness to
tell me whom you are talking about all this time."

Joel stopped his mad career and ran up to the old gentleman's side.

"Why Jack Parish--I thought you knew, Grandpapa," he added reproachfully.

"I suppose I might have known if I'd stopped to consider that you've talked
your Parish boy every day since the little affair on the pond," said Mr.
King, still laughing. "Well, and so Mrs. Sterling has invited your friend,
Joel, to some festivity, I suppose, eh?"

"Yes," said Joel, "she has"--his satisfaction returning--"it's a supper at
her house, to-morrow night, Grandpapa." He leaned over to bring his brown
cheek close to the one under the white hair. "Just think of that!"

"Whew!" ejaculated the old gentleman, "and she hasn't had company for ten
years!"

"Well, she's going to have us, every single one in the Comfort committee,"
declared Joel decidedly, "and she asked Jack, most particularly; she did,
Grandpapa--she really did. May I go down and tell him now? May I,
Grandpapa?" he cried eagerly.

"Why, if your mother says so, I suppose--" began Mr. King.

"She says I may go, if you think best," cried Joel, hanging to the arms of
the big chair and having hard work to curb his impatience. "Oh, Grandpapa,
please hurry and say yes."

Instead of complying with this demand, the old gentleman leaned back in his
chair and steadily gazed into space while he revolved something in his
mind. At last, when Joel thought he couldn't brook the delay another
minute, Mr. King whirled suddenly around in his chair.

"I tell you what it is, Joel, you and I will go down to see your friend
ourselves."

"Oh, Grandpapa!" Joel gave a leap, and seized Mr. King's arm with both
hands. "Right away now?" he cried, with sparkling eyes.

"Right away now," declared old Mr. King, getting out of his chair; "that
is, as soon as we can make ourselves presentable for our walk. Goodness me,
Joe, what a whirlwind you are!"--bursting into another laugh.

Joel didn't care what he was called so long as he was really going to see
Jack Parish and carry him the wonderful invitation, and all the way down to
the little grocer's on Common Street he just bubbled over with happiness,
till everybody who passed the two felt a glow at the heart at the merry
comrades: and many were the backward glances cast at the old, white-haired
gentleman of stately mien, with a chubby-faced boy of the jolliest
appearance hanging to his hand.

"Well, well, well, and so here we are." Old Mr. King looked up curiously at
the little sign above the door--"Ichabod Parish, Grocer"--then down over
the shop windows overrunning with canned goods, and, to finish up, an
outside stall on which jostled and overcrowded each other every description
of vegetable in the market, from a cabbage down. A fat, red-faced man with
a big apron that had been white earlier in the day, came out of the shop
and stood by the stall.

"Anything in our line to-day, sir?" he said. He had a little pad of paper
in one hand and a pencil in the other.

"Well, yes," said old Mr. King, with a twinkle in his eye, for by this time
he perceived some lines along the fat cheeks that showed very plainly the
habit of smiles running up and down in them. "I've come for a boy, if you
please."

"A boy?" said the fat, red-faced man, laughing, till the round cheeks were
all wrinkled up. "Well, now, I take it, you're joking, sir."

"Oh, no, I'm not," said old Mr. King very seriously, but the other man had
been just as observing in his way, and had seen the twinkle in the keen
eyes. So now he laughed some more and waited patiently for the joke to be
explained.

"I take it you have a boy named Jack, hereabout," said Mr. King presently.

All the wrinkles dropped suddenly out of the fat, red cheeks. "He hain't
done nothin' wrong, Jack hain't?" gasped the man.

"Oh, Grandpapa, tell him what we've come for," cried Joel, twitching Mr.
King's hand, and quite aghast to see the suffering in Jack's father. "Do,
please, Grandpapa."

Old Mr. King was rapidly exclaiming: "No, no; bless you, did you think I'd
come at you in such a way? Why, this boy here"--thrusting Joel
forward--"has got an invitation for him. Now, then Joel, my boy, speak up."

And Joel did speak up; and in a minute they were all there in the little
shop, and the fat grocer was bustling around to work a chair out from
behind the counter. But as the big store cat and several parcels were on
it, it took a bit of time. Meanwhile, old Mr. King sat down upon a box of
soap, while Joel hung over his shoulder.

A woman came in with a jug to be filled with molasses, and a small girl for
a box of matches. But the little grocer told them to wait, and after he had
placed the chair and gotten Mr. King off from the soap-box and into it, he
bustled to a door at the head of the shop.

"Ma," he cried, putting his head into the room to which it opened, "do you
know where Jack is?"

"He's upstairs," said a voice, evidently "Ma's."

"Well, tell him to come down," said the fat grocer.

"All right, Ichabod."

"Jack's to home," announced the grocer, coming back with the air of
imparting a piece of news, just as much as if every word had not been
heard. "Well, now, Mis. Jones, I'll fill your jug." He took it from her and
she settled herself comfortably, during the slow process, to watch the
stately, white-haired figure in the chair to her heart's content; her
example being followed by the small girl who had, of course, been obliged
to wait for the box of matches.

A pair of feet could be heard coming through the room just mentioned.

"I don't know what your Pa wants you for," said a woman's voice; "most
likely for an errand."

So Jack, free from his sling, for Doctor Fisher had found him surprisingly
quick at recovery, bolted through the doorway, and into the shop, and
without a bit of warning brought up against old Mr. Horatio King and Joel.

"Great Scott!" he cried, scared out of his usual shyness.

"Yes," said Joel, sociably bobbing his face into Jack's, "I've come to ask
you to supper. Mrs. Sterling told me to, most particularly, you know."

"Dear me, Joe!" exclaimed old Mr. King, "do give it to him more slowly";
for Jack's head of light hair was wagging from one to the other of the
visitors in great distress.

"I am," said Joel; "awful slow, Grandpapa."

"It doesn't look much like it," said the old gentleman, bursting into a
laugh. The fat grocer over at the molasses barrel, looked across anxiously
at the group, and for once in his life wished Mrs. Jones, although one of
his best customers, anywhere but in his shop.

[Illustration: He stood in the middle of the little shop. ]

"Well, try again, Joel," said Mr. King. So Joel began once more, and before
long, Jack Parish understood fairly that Mrs. Sterling had actually invited
him to supper on the following night with the Comfort committee, just as if
he were not the son of Ichabod Parish, the little grocer on Common Street,
but were one of the rich boys of Joel Pepper's set.

"Pa," he shouted (he wanted some one of his own family to help understand
this puzzle), "do come here."

The fat grocer, hearing this cry, could stand it no longer trying to stamp
out his curiosity; so deserting the molasses barrel and forgetting to turn
the spigot, he bore off the jug.

"There, Mis. Jones, there you are"--depositing it with a thump on the
counter, and waddled over to his son and the visitors.

When he comprehended the matter, as after an infinite deal of pains he did,
his astonishment knew no bounds. It absolutely struck him speechless, and
there he stood in the middle of the little shop, lost to the fact that he
was a small grocer on an obscure street. He was the father of Jack,
hitherto obliged to go with boys of the neighborhood, not of specially nice
families, with manners and aims to match, now--oh, joy!--with a chance for
something better, that might reach to unknown heights. He might even become
an alderman! The little grocer's breast heaved with delight, but even in
that blissful moment, his first thought was of his wife.

"Won't your mother be proud, Jack!" he made out to utter.

"Your molasses is all runnin' out," proclaimed the small girl who was
waiting for the box of matches.

And Jack springing to help his father, who bounded to the molasses barrel,
old Mr. King and Joel took themselves off without any further embarrassment
to the little grocer, who surely never could in all this world express his
gratitude as he wanted to.

"Be at my house to-morrow afternoon, and we'll go over together," said
Joel, with longing glances at the center of bustle around the molasses
barrel.

"Oh, Grandpapa, how I do wish I could have staid and helped clean up!" Joel
burst out, as they left the shop.

"Oh, my goodness, Joel!" exclaimed old Mr. King; "such a messy job! How can
you!"

"It would have been such fun," mourned Joel, wishing he could have free
access to just such a small grocer's shop, and thinking that Jack was the
luckiest fellow alive.

"When I grow up, I'm going to have a shop like that," he declared, after
marching on in silence down the next block and surveying with favor all the
surroundings of the narrow street.

"I thought you were going to sell tin, like your Mr. Biggs, of Badgertown,"
said Mr. King mischievously.

Joel hung his head. "I was, but I think a shop would be nicer after all;
you can have everything in it, you know, Grandpapa."

"Even molasses," put in Mr. King. "Well, I wouldn't decide the matter just
now, Joel, my boy--which you will be when you are grown up. There's plenty
of time yet ahead of you."

Jack Parish, with his hair carefully oiled by his anxious mother, and his
very best clothes on, a circumstance calculated to invest him with dread
and rob him of every bit of comfort to begin with, presented himself at Mr.
King's mansion on the next afternoon. His countenance was long, and he
looked so worried that Joel, rushing out to meet him, involuntarily
ejaculated, "Oh, dear me!" in dismay.

After regarding each other uncomfortably for a minute, in which Jack began
to wish himself, a thousand times, back in the little shop, Joel burst out,
seizing his arm:

"Come up into my room--Dave's and mine," and over the stairs they went.

"Is this your room?" gasped Jack, forgetting his discomfort and staring all
about.

"Yes, it is," said Joel; "Dave's and mine. See my tennis racket, Jack.
Isn't it prime!"--darting over to pull it out of a corner.

"I should say it was," declared Jack, fingering it lovingly as Joel thrust
it into his hand with a, "Do you play?"

"A little," said Jack. He did not think it necessary to add that he was the
champion player of the Common Street team on the dingy little open space
given up to goats and tenement-house children.

"That's good!" exclaimed Joel, with shining eyes, and clapping him on the
back; "we'll have a bout together sometime. And here are my boxing-gloves."
He seized them and struck an attitude. "Come on, Jack," he cried in huge
delight.

So Jack did come on, and when he emerged, why, there were the fencing foils
to try; and when this was all over, and both boys sat down, flushed and
panting, why, Jack's best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and his oiled hair
didn't look so badly, to Joel's way of thinking.

David now ran in.

"It's time to get ready to go to Mrs. Sterling's supper," he said, with a
nod to Jack.

"So it is," cried Joel, beginning to run here and there for his other shoes
and clothes.

Jack turned away with a feeling that it wasn't good manners to be looking
on, and glanced out of the window.

"Come over and look at our butterflies," cried Joel, running over to a
cabinet against the wall, "they're just beauties."

"Oh, have you collected butterflies?" cried Jack, whirling around, greatly
excited.

"Yes; Dave and I have," said Joel, "we have lots and lots."

It didn't take Jack long to be over in front of the cabinet, and pulling
out its many drawers. So that he was lost to all the fuss of dressing that
Joel and David were undergoing, and it wasn't till he had been clapped on
the back most vigorously with a, "Wake up, old chap," that he realized that
the dreaded time had arrived when he must go out to his first company. Then
a dreadful feeling came over him.

"Oh, I can't go," he declared, his face turning as red as a beet, and he
stood still, perfectly miserable.

"Why, Mrs. Sterling expects you," began David!

Joel had no such gentle ways.

"Come along, you," he cried, hauling Jack away from the cabinet and
hurrying him off downstairs. Then he began to chatter as hard as he could,
saying the first things that came into his head, until the gray stone
mansion was reached, and they were fast and safe within the door.

Joel drew a long breath and began to mount the stairs.

"Any boys here yet?" he asked, looking up at Gibson in the upper hall.

"Yes," said Gibson; "three boys have come."

Joel didn't wait to ask who they were; he left David to bring Jack along
and raced in to speak to Mrs. Sterling and the members of the Comfort
committee.

"I am very glad to see you, Joel." Mrs. Sterling beamed at him from her
sofa, feeling quite sure of the success of the first company she had given
to the boys, now that Joel Pepper had come.

Joel gave her a bright little nod; then, remembering himself, he went over
to her sofa and stuck out his little brown hand.

"I'm glad I've come," he said, bobbing at the same time in great
satisfaction to the boys.

"Where is your friend, Joel?" asked Mrs. Sterling, in disappointment. "I
surely thought you would bring him."

Joel glanced around in dismay, then pranced out into the hall. A scuffling
noise struck upon his ear, and leaning over the banister, he saw David and
Jack apparently hanging on to each other and whirling around in the hall
below. He was down over the stairs in a flash.

"He says he must go home," said David, still holding fast to the edge of
Jack's jacket, and looking up with a very pink face.

Jack looked thoroughly ashamed, but he still cast wild eyes at the big
front door, as Joel considering whatever was to be done at all, should be
done quickly, launched him upstairs, and before he had a moment to breathe
freely, pushed him into the beautiful sitting-room above with a, "Here he
is."

The room swam all around before Jack, as he went up to the sofa-edge, and
Mrs. Sterling's soft, white hand took his hot, nervous one. He didn't know
in the least what she said, or how she looked, as he couldn't raise his
eyes, but he remembered afterward that her voice was sweet and low, and
that somehow he wasn't so afraid after that, and then Joel dragged him into
a knot of boys, for by this time several were pouring into the room. And in
five minutes Jack felt as if he had known them all for years, and he quite
forgot that this was the first time he had ever gone into company.

When the bustle of the arrival was over, and every member of the Comfort
committee was present, Mrs. Sterling said:

"Now I think, Gibson, the first thing we should do is to have supper."

So Gibson went over and touched the electric button on the wall, and in
came the butler and two maids bearing trays full--well, just crowded with
all the good things a boy could desire to eat. And these having been placed
on the big, mahogany table in the center of the room, usually filled with
books and magazines, but which had been cleared for the purpose, each boy
was invited to come up and be helped to whatever he wanted, an invitation
that wasn't long left unaccepted.

Joel, in his fear that Jack would somehow be left out in the cold, bent all
his energies toward getting him something to eat. The consequence was, that
he forgot all about waiting on Mrs. Sterling, and, glancing around after he
had poked a plate of cold chicken and jelly into Jack's hand, he saw two or
three of the boys--Frick and even little Porter Knapp--vying with each
other to be the first to serve their hostess.

"Ugh!" cried Joel, seizing the first thing on the table that caught his
eye. It proved to be the salt-cellar, and he rushed up and presented it
with a flourish.

"Ho, ho!" exploded Frick, as the little knot of boys parted in the middle,
"why we've only got her a napkin and a plate."

Joel glanced down ruefully at the salt-cellar in his hand, and was going to
beat a retreat with it, quite crestfallen.

"Thank you, Joel; I shall want it pretty soon," said Mrs. Sterling, smiling
into his red face. "There, we'll put it on the table"--for Mrs. Gibson had
been busy drawing up a light stand to the side of the sofa--"and will you
bring me some cold chicken?"

"Me?" cried Joel, perfectly radiant, but scarcely believing that he could
be meant, after his awkwardness.

"Yes, you," said Mrs. Sterling, laughing; "so hurry, and get it, Joel."

No need to tell him that. Joel sprang at the table again, bore off a plate
of the desired delicacy, and a spoonful of currant jelly by its side, and
flew back again.

"Is that right?" he asked anxiously, with a dreadful feeling that he ought
to have asked her if she wanted brown or white meat.

"How did you know I am very fond of white meat, Joel?" asked Mrs. Sterling.
"And above all things I like the wing."

"Do you?" cried Joel, in a transport. "Now what else?"

"Nothing now, and the next time, why, I must let Frick and some of the
other boys help me," said Mrs. Sterling, "so run back and get something to
eat yourself, Joel."

So Joel, with a mind to edge up to see how Jack was getting on, found to
his amazement that he was laughing and talking with the last boy with whom
he would have supposed it to be possible--Curtis Park!

"Dear me!" exclaimed Joel to himself, tumbling back instinctively when he
saw that he wasn't wanted, and he fell up against David.

"I couldn't help it," said Davie, who had been quite miserable since his
ill success in getting Jack over the stairs after Joel. He was aimlessly
crumbling up a biscuit on his plate, and eating nothing.

"Well, 'tisn't any matter," said Joel, "and he's here now, and having a
good time; just hear him laugh," he added enviously.

"Is that Jack laughing?" asked David incredulously, poking his head around
the intervening boys to see for himself.

"Yes, it is," said Joel, bobbing his head decidedly.

"Oh, well, then, it's all right," said David happily. So he ran off to fill
his plate and go over in the corner to eat its contents with a group of
boys of whom he was especially fond.

Joel, left alone, was feeling very dismal, when suddenly he looked over,
and caught Jack's eye. Curtis Park was saying something very jolly--Joel
knew it was, for he caught scraps of it, and so did some of the other boys
who pushed up to hear the rest. But Jack Parish evidently didn't listen,
for his eye had been anxiously roving around the room, and just at that
moment, they rested on Joel, and they lighted up so unmistakably that Joel
sprang forward, a light in his own.

"Did you want me, Jack?"

"Yes," said Jack, "I did." The words were not much, but they seemed to
satisfy Joel.



XXVI

MR. HAMILTON DYCE A TRUE FRIEND


And after every boy protested that he couldn't eat another bit, the butler
and the two maids packed up the trays and carried them down again.

"Now, Comfort committee," said Mrs. Sterling, "all draw up here."

So the circle of chairs and crickets was made around the sofa, and the real
business of the evening began. It was in the very commencement of things
Joel noticed that every one of the members seemed to take a fancy to Jack.

Curtis Park leaned over from his chair. "I say, Frick, change places with
me." Frick was next to the visitor, Joel, of course, being on his other
side.

"No, you don't," said Frick, not over politely.

"Oh, that's mean," began Curtis, then he remembered where he was, and sat
back in his chair, biting his pencil.

Frick straightened himself up with enjoyment

"You can take my pencil," he said to Jack magnanimously; "we all brought
'em, you know, she wanted us to."

Joel caught the last of this. "Oh, dear me!" he exclaimed, in remorse, "I
forgot mine; and, Jack, I was going to bring one for you."

"He can take mine," said Frick, shoving a very stubby specimen into Jack's
hand.

"Mine's better," said Curtis, reaching over a brand-new one, just sharpened
to a fine point; "take mine, Jack, you much better."

Jack, not knowing how to refuse, took it. And the other boys, seeing Curtis
Park come down from his high-flown notions enough to notice so
conspicuously the new boy, all began to find ever so many things in him
that were worthy of, their attention. So, instead of Joel having to push
him along, Jack became quite popular. The result was that Joel was left out
in the cold.

"Now," said Mrs. Sterling brightly, after a little of this chat had been
going on, and Gibson had shaken up her pillows, and raised her mistress
into a more comfortable position, "you all know, of course, that Doctor
Fisher reports Lawrence ready for a little amusement, if we send it to him,
for no one is allowed yet to see him."

"But we will be soon. Doctor Fisher told my father so yesterday," piped out
Porter Knapp, sliding to the edge of his chair.

"I don't doubt it," said Mrs. Sterling, smiling at him, "but until that
good time does come, why we who belong to the Comfort committee ought to
set to work on something that will cheer him up. And as I believe work of
that kind always gets along better when ever so many club together at it,
why, I thought I'd ask you all to meet here, and we'd see what could be
done this evening. Now what shall we do first?"

She looked all around the circle, but no one spoke. "Oh, dear me!" she
said, and her face fell.

"I'd rather write out conundrums than anything else," said Curtis Park,
seeing some answer was expected.

"Good!" Mrs. Sterling beamed on him. "Does any other boy have something to
propose?"

"Puzzles," said Frick decidedly. "I'd a great deal rather have puzzles;
conundrums are just horrid."

"Two things to choose from," and Mrs. Sterling laughed. Her spirits were
rising now, and all the doubts she was beginning to feel overwhelming her
as to the wisdom of inviting these boys in for the evening, fled at once.

"I think puzzles are just as horrid as conundrums," said Joel Pepper,
beginning already to feel the prickles run up and down his legs, from
sitting still so long, and wishing for nothing so much as a good scamper;
"they're both as horrid as they can be."

"Oh, Joel!" exclaimed Mrs. Sterling, quite crestfallen.

"Well, propose something yourself, then, Joe," said his next neighbor, with
a nudge.

"Oh, I can't," said Joel, quite horrified; "I don't know anything that we
can write down."

Jack leaned over and whispered in his ear.

"The very thing!" cried Joel, slapping his knee. And, "Tell it yourself,
Jack," in the next breath.

"Oh, no, no," protested Jack, shrinking as far back in his chair as he
could, and getting very red in the face.

"I very much wish you would, Jack," said Mrs. Sterling. And she looked at
him in such a way, that Jack although he had wild thoughts of taking a
flying leap out of his chair, and off to the small grocery shop,
nevertheless stuck to it manfully and at last found his tongue.

"We might cut out pictures that spell the names of books," he said.

"Capital!" said Mrs. Sterling.

"Well, those are puzzles," said Frick.

"Well, not like the ones you meant," said Joel, leaning back of Jack to
bestow a punch. "Do be still," he added furiously.

"But mine would be puzzles, anyway," declared Frick, unwilling to give up
the point.

"Well, we'd much rather have these, anyway," said Curtis Park, projecting
himself into as much of the circle as possible. "Who cares for your old
puzzles, Frick?"

"Boys--boys," said Mrs. Sterling gently.

"Beg pardon," said Curtis. "But we really do want these that Jack has just
proposed, Mrs. Sterling. At least I do, and I'd give up conundrums to have
them; so please let us have these."

"How is it, Frick?" asked Mrs. Sterling. "Do you give up your puzzles in
favor of our making Jack's pictures?"

Frick wriggled in his chair; he wanted his puzzles dreadfully, and he
couldn't see, since he had proposed them first, why he shouldn't carry the
day, but every boy was looking at him sharply, so he mumbled, "Yes."

It was Jack who settled it happily after all.

"Let's have one of his"--bobbing his head at Frick--"and a conundrum," and
he looked over and smiled at Curtis, "then one of mine after that. Won't
that do, ma'am?"

"Well, now, Jack, you've fixed it cleverly," said Mrs. Sterling, much
relieved. "Get your pencils all ready while Gibson goes into my bedroom and
brings out the pile of magazines, and we'll have such a lovely evening of
work. You know you must each select pictures, and each write a puzzle, and
each give a conundrum; then they must be read aloud and we will choose the
very best ones to send. Now then "--as Gibson deposited her armful of
magazines on the little stand, and laid several pairs of scissors on the
top of the pile--"let us all set about it."

Then what a whirling of leaves and snipping of paper, because they all
decided they would begin on Jack's first.

"Can't we have some mucilage?" asked Joel.

"Yes, indeed," said Mrs. Sterling. "Gibson, will you get----"

Boom, boom, clang, clang, clang! It was the fire-bell, loud and clear and
strong. Down went all the scissors, and a whole litter of papers to the
floor, and the magazines sprawled every way, as each boy sprang out of his
chair.

"Gibson," said Mrs. Sterling faintly.

"Now, you boys," cried Gibson, hurrying in, her cap strings flying in her
perturbation, "don't you know no better than to jump up like that?"

"Gibson--Gibson," said Mrs. Sterling reprovingly, but she laid her hand on
her heart.

"It's a fire!" cried Joel, with very red cheeks, whirling around from the
window where the mass of boys was pressed.

"Well, is that any reason why you should act so and scare the mistress to
death?" said Gibson sharply.

"We didn't scare her," said Joel bluntly; "it was the fire."

"Well, we must go," declared little Porter Knapp, struggling out from the
knot of boys, who, all bigger and stronger, were pinning him against the
window most uncomfortably.

"Oh, he mustn't," Mrs. Sterling said, in alarm.

"His father wouldn't like it at all; he was to stay here until he was sent
for."

"It's a fire!" exclaimed Porter, kicking dreadfully, and his face getting
red, "and I _shall_ go!"

The other boys, just on the edge of saying the same thing, now stood quite
still. Every nerve was quivering to be off to the fire, which, from all
appearances, must be a splendid one. The bells were clanging fast and
furiously, hoarse cries were heard, as if raised from hundreds of throats,
and now, to add to the general melee, an engine dashed around the corner.
They could hear the mad plunge of the horses, the shouts of the people; and
then off in the distance, yet approaching nearer each instant, was another
and evidently a more powerful one, the horses at a mad gallop. It was too
much for any boy to stand.

"You see we _must_ go." Curtis Park went over to the sofa, and said
this hoarsely. "He's a baby"--pointing to Porter--"and he's got to stay
here, but we big boys must go."

Mrs. Sterling looked up, and her face grew white. "But your fathers
wouldn't wish you to go, I am quite sure," she said.

Curtis turned away his face, but his teeth were set. "I'm going," he said
briefly.

Jack Parish's head spun, and he clenched his hands. Why had he come to this
sick woman's house! If he were only out in the free, open air, he'd go in a
flash. His father let him run to fires, and it wouldn't be many minutes
before he'd be in the thick of it. He'd make a break and run!

But how white she looked as she laid her head on the pillow. Like it or
not, there he was in her house, an invited guest; and she'd been so kind to
him and sent him the first invitation he'd ever had. He opened his hard
fists and closed them tighter than ever. Curtis Park was now at the head of
the stairs. Having decided, he was bolting off. Little Porter Knapp was
engaged in kicking Gibson, who was detaining him by the end of his jacket,
and screaming wrathfully and slapping her hands. The other boys, most of
them making up their minds to follow Curtis, were watching proceedings.

Jack strode off to Curtis. "See here," he said, "we ought not to go, don't
you know?"

Curtis turned on him in a towering passion. "You let me alone, you grocer's
boy, you! What business is it of yours?"

"I may be a grocer's boy," said Jack, feeling himself wonder fully cool, as
the other's anger raged, "but I know something of good manners, p'raps, and
we're scaring that lady to death."

Curtis Park was dreadfully proud of his manners, and he would have stopped
there, but as it again occurred to him that this was the son of a grocer
who was setting up to be an authority, he cried angrily:

"You're a great one to teach me manners," and he dashed down the stairs and
was out of the house.

"I wish I'd stopped him," said Jack to himself. "Hello, here's the whole
mob"--as all the boys except Joel and David, and of course Porter, now
plunged out to do the same thing. "No, you don't." He squared up in front
of the staircase. "Not one of you goes down there."

They brought up with a gasp. At that instant a cheery voice in the hall
below rang out:

"Hello, boys; I knew you were to be here tonight. Don't you want to come
with me to the fire?" It was Hamilton Dyce to whom the voice belonged.

And in five minutes Hamilton Dyce set forth, with Mrs. Sterling's complete
approval; a string of boys in his wake, including little Porter, who was
parted from Gibson only on her hearing her mistress say, "Yes, indeed, he
can go; but do look out for him."

Mr. Dyce nodded over to her couch. "Come on, you little rascal"--to
Porter--"you stick close to me or--" he didn't finish the sentence.

Gibson, pale, and shaking in every limb, but seeing no reason to regret
that she had hung on to little Porter's jacket, sank into a chair, and
simply looked at her mistress.

"Nevertheless," said Mrs. Sterling, with a long breath, and beginning to
smile, "I am very glad those boys were here to supper."

If her mistress could smile, it wasn't so very black and dreadful after
all, and Gibson came enough out of her gloom to mutter, "But look at this
room," and she waved her hands in despair.

"Oh, that's nothing," said Mrs. Sterling cheerfully, and then she laughed
outright as she glanced around at the effects of the tumult. "Gibson, come
here a minute."

The old serving-woman crept out of her chair, and went over to the sofa.

"Do you know"--Mrs. Sterling took her arm and pulled her gently down to a
level with the face on the pillow, and her soft eyes twinkled--"it really
seems good to see such a muss for once in my life: you do keep me so
immaculately fine, Gibson."

"Oh, mistress!" breathed Gibson, aghast.

"And to think I have had boys, actually young life here in this room." Mrs.
Sterling raised herself suddenly to rest on one elbow.

"Mistress--mistress," implored the alarmed Gibson, with restraining hands,
"you'll hurt yourself."

"No, I shan't," protested Mrs. Sterling, her eyes beaming, and going on
resolutely, "and just to think of boys being here!"--she looked around the
room with a sudden affection--"and liking it--for they did, Gibson, they
surely did, until the fire started. Oh, it is perfectly beautiful!"

"Well, do lie back, mistress," begged Gibson, thumping up the pillows
invitingly, "else those dreadful creatures will finish you entirely."

"Don't say so," cried Mrs. Sterling laughingly, "and I will be good," and
she settled back comfortably into her accustomed place. "Yes, Gibson, I
have my young folks now, the same as other people," she added proudly. "You
needn't try to fix up the room yet; you may finish the story you were
reading to me last night."

She had to turn her face on the pillow, for the smile would come, at the
picture of Gibson, the immaculate, sitting down calmly in the midst of the
awful effects of the tumult that had so vexed her soul.

She had her young people, there was no manner of doubt after that. And
though the exit from their evening's excitement was not again made to the
clang of the fire-bell, all the subsequent visits held fun and jollity, and
quiet enjoyment, and everything else that was delightful, mixed up
together.

And the Comfort committee had so much pleasure out of the whole thing, that
one evening little Porter looked up from his laborious pasting, whereby a
joke from a funny paper was going down for the sick boy's amusement.

"I wish some one else would get hurt," he said abruptly, without stopping
to think.

"Oh, you beggar!" It was Curtis Park who turned on him, though every boy
had glanced up in surprise.

"We can't have such fun," said Porter, waving his sticky hands in both
directions, "unless they do," and he twisted uncomfortably in his chair, as
he realized the effect of his words.

"Well, we must think of somebody else to help with our Comfort committee,"
said Mrs. Sterling from her sofa. "Don't worry, Porter, we won't let
ourselves die out for want of work. Boys--" She looked at them suddenly,
and raised herself on her elbow, Gibson over in her watchful corner
trotting across in great apprehension.

"Mistress--mistress," she began.

"There are ever so many young people who are hurt and sick and distressed
and are taken right out of life." She was gazing at them now with eyes that
were large and dark and shining.

"But we don't know them," burst out Joel Pepper, for she seemed to expect
somebody to answer.

"No, but they need you."

"Mistress--mistress," begged Gibson, hanging over her.

"And if you do the work after Lawrence doesn't need it, and he is here with
us, well and happy once more, I will see that some sick or unhappy boy gets
it."

Joel Pepper hopped out of his chair, upsetting the mucilage bottle, seeing
which, Gibson left her mistress to reach the table in time to save a
disaster.

"Will you--will you?" he cried, running over to the sofa. "Will you give
our things, if we make them, to some poor sick boys who are hurt, Mrs.
Sterling?"

"I surely will, Joel," promised Mrs. Sterling, taking his two brown hands
in her thin one.

"Then I'm going to make things," declared Joel, who never in his life
before had been willing to sit still and cut out and snip and paste and
write, and he plunged back to his seat. "Oh!" he cried, in dismay, and his
face grew terribly red, "did I upset that?"--pointing to the mucilage
bottle.

"You surely did," said Gibson tartly, and taking up the last of the sticky
mess with a wet towel, "and I suppose you'll do it again, or some of the
rest of you boys will. It don't make much difference which," and she moved
off slowly.

"Gibson--Gibson," said Mrs. Sterling gently.

"Oh, Gibson!" Joel flew after her and twitched her apron string.

"What is it?" She turned on him with asperity. "I never will upset the
mucilage bottle again, I won't, Gibson, really."

"See that you don't," replied Gibson, moving off with small faith in such
promises.

And another promise had that very evening been made, just before the boys
had gathered in Mrs. Sterling's handsome sitting-room.

Curtis Park had been through several spasms of distress over his attack on
Jack, when, whirling around from the friendly attitude he had chosen to
assume, he had made a tirade on the grocer's son. Look at it whichever way
he might, it didn't seem pleasant to view. And all the delight in the fire
and the companionship of Mr. Dyce, of whom all the boys were exceedingly
fond, was suddenly blotted out. He went home that night, and crept into
bed, a most disconsolate boy.

"I was a beastly cad," he fumed, kicking the covering down to the foot, and
rolling out with the vain attempt to find some diversion. But that being
impossible, he tumbled in again, with his unhappy thoughts.

And all through the following days, go whichever way he might, there was
the fact to stare him in the face, that he, Curtis Park, who had hitherto
prided himself upon his fine manners, had dropped from his height, to
blackguard a boy, who, despite the fact of having been born the son of a
little grocer on Common Street, had yet shown himself capable of the
height.

"It's no use to deny it. I've been a bully and a cad," he groaned, and
wiped the perspiration from his face. "What can I do!"

There was only one way, and he knew it, just as well at first as after all
the fencing with himself that ensued the next few days. And at last on this
very evening, he stopped fighting the idea, and marched up to what it
suggested, like a man.

"See here, will you, though I shouldn't think you'd want to speak to me."
It was a boy who said this to Jack standing on the step of the grocer's
front door, next to the shop.

"Hey?" said Jack, in a great bewilderment. Was that really Curtis Park,
whose rap on the door had announced him?

"Oh, it's no use to deny, Jack," said Curtis, speaking rapidly and
desperately, "that I've been a cad--a mean, low cad--to talk to you in that
way. It's done, and can't be helped now, only I want you to know what I
think of it."

Jack swallowed hard. He was going to put out his hand, but luckily thought
in time, This is Curtis Park.

"I don't wonder you won't shake hands with me," said Curtis, who saw the
movement. "I'm no end sorry; and perhaps sometime, Jack, why, you will."

Jack's brown hand shot out so swiftly it nearly knocked the other boy from
the doorstep.

"It's all right," he said heartily.

"And you will never have another chance to call me a cad, I promise you,"
declared Curtis, wringing it. "Come on now, Jack"--hooking him by the
arm--"it's time to go to Mrs. Sterling's; this is the evening, you know."

And the boys who had begun to think they had made a mistake in supposing
that Curtis Park had taken a fancy to Jack Parish, were pushed back into
their first conviction by seeing them come into the meeting of the Comfort
committee arm in arm.



XXVII

A PIECE OF GOOD NEWS


Polly Pepper ran down the steps of Miss Taylor's house, and set off at a
lively pace on the pavement. Presently she came to an abrupt stop. "Oh, how
could I forget, Mamsie wouldn't like me to run in the street," she thought
remorsefully. And this took away some of the glad little thrills running
over her.

When she got to Mrs. Cummings' very select boarding-house on the avenue,
there was Miss Rhys at the window of her room, looking up from her
embroidery. When she saw Polly Pepper, she smiled.

"Oh, it's you, Polly; I'm glad to see you."

"Is Alexia there?" called Polly, looking up, and feeling her lovely bit of
news dancing within her again, so that she could hardly control her
impatience. "Do tell her to come out, please, Miss Rhys."

"She isn't here. She went down-town."

Miss Rhys laid her precious work in her lap, and put her face close to the
window screen. "Her candy wasn't a success, and she's gone down for more
confectioner's sugar."

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Polly, quite gone in distress over the failure of
the candy, and feeling very helpless in the fact that there was no one to
tell her news to, for of course Alexia must be the first one to hear it.
"Which way did she go, Miss Rhys?"--lifting a troubled face to the window
above.

"I don't know," said Miss Rhys absently, her mind on her embroidery, and
very much wishing she could return to it. "She was going to your house, I
know, for one thing, on her way down."

"Oh, she couldn't have gone there," cried Polly, "for I should have met her
on the way."

"So you would," assented Alexia's aunt, wondering whether the bunch of
grapes should be filled in solid, or worked with the mixed stitch that she
had seen in a shop. "Well, then, I think on her way back she was going to
see you, Polly."

"Then, I am going to run down and meet her," declared Polly, with a long
breath. "Was it Pennsey's where she was going for the sugar, Miss
Rhys?"--pausing a moment.

"Yes," said Miss Rhys, turning back with a sigh of relief to her embroidery
again, while Polly hurried off, wishing that she was a boy, when it would
be quite proper for her to run through the streets.

"Oh, if it were only Badgertown!" she sighed to herself, thinking of the
many happy runs she had enjoyed down the lane to Grandma Bascom's cottage,
or over across the fields to the parsonage. "Dear me!"--when a voice,
"Polly Pepper, Pol--ly Pepper!" called after her. She looked back, and
there, with the window screen up, and her face thrust well forward, was
Alexia's aunt, loudly summoning her.

When she saw that Polly heard, and had turned back, she beckoned smartly
with her long fingers, on which shone, as Alexia had once said, "all the
rings the Rhys family had ever owned," drew in her head, and waited till
Polly came up under the window again.

"Oh, Polly, it's just this--how fortunate you hadn't gotten far. I want you
to tell Alexia to get me some more green floss at Miss Angell's."

"Yes, Miss Rhys," said Polly, with a dismayed remembrance just how far it
was to the little shop where the very latest patterns and materials for
fancy work could be obtained, and the first supper of the Cooking Club to
be given to-night!

"And stay, Miss Angell may send me up some more patterns to choose from;
that is, if she has had any new ones since I was there last week, and I
presume that she has."

Polly could only utter, "Yes, Miss Rhys," so very faintly it could scarcely
be heard. Dear me! and it was three o'clock already, and all that candy to
be made over again!

She crept off on very dismal feet, till she reflected it wouldn't help
matters any to lose heart, and so she set forward at a brisk pace again.
Miss Rhys pushed down the window screen and set to work with a complacent
smile at the prospect of having her errand performed so nicely.

"That's the good of having young people around," she said; "it's so
convenient at times to get one's errands done."

Polly went the whole length of North Street to the great establishment of
Pennsey's, where the avenue people traded. But search as she might, up one
aisle and down another, there was no trace of Alexia; and inquiring of a
clerk at the sugar department, if she had been there, he whipped his pencil
out from behind his ear, and picked up his order pad before he stopped to
think.

"She's just gone," he said. "Yes, madam"--all attention to the next
customer.

Polly hurried on rapid feet. It was half-past three by the big central
clock as she went down the main aisle--well, she must hurry home, for
Alexia was probably on her way there, as Miss Rhys had said, when, "Dear
me, Polly Pepper, wait!" struck her ear.

She turned, and there before an opposite counter was Alexia, picking up her
package of sugar and preparing to race after her.

"I'm getting some more nuts," she said; "my candy was perfectly horrid, and
everything was spoiled."

"Yes, I know," said Polly, coming up close to comfort as much as possible,
for Alexia had a very long face on, and looked as if it would take a good
deal to cheer her up. "How can I tell her about that dreadful green floss
and those patterns?" said Polly over and over to herself. "I must wait till
we get out on the street."

But when the two girls were outside the shop, Polly carrying the bundle of
nuts tucked under her arm, it was just as bad, and she put it off until the
corner was reached down which they must turn to go to Miss Angell's. And
worst of all, they were hurrying on so fast the lovely bit of news must be
postponed.

"How glad I am, Aunt didn't take it into her head to send me spinning off
down there!" observed Alexia, glancing down the long thoroughfare with
anything but a pleasant expression on her long face. "I just hate that Miss
Angell's shop. Goodness me! we never could do it, with all this candy to
make, and get our Club supper to-night."

Polly stopped short, and seized Alexia's arm. "Oh, don't feel badly!" she
gasped, and then, thinking, "It's better to have the whole out at once,"
she finished in one breath, "Your aunt wants some green floss, Alexia."

"Well, she shan't have it," declared Alexia, stopping short, too, and
glaring at Polly over her bundle of sugar. "No, indeed!" and her pale eyes
grew very angry. "The very idea! she's always wanting green floss, every
single minute. Come on, Polly Pepper." She set her face straight ahead and
marched on. But not hearing Polly following, she looked over her shoulder,
and then ran back. "Why don't you come on? I shan't get that old green
floss"--all in one breath.

"We can get there in a few minutes perhaps," said Polly, "Alexia, do let us
hurry," and, turning down the corner, without so much as a glance backward,
she went swiftly on, without trusting herself to look down the long street.

"I shan't get that old green floss," declared Alexia wrathfully, standing
quite still on the corner, yet, as Polly kept steadily on, showing no
intention of stopping, she pattered after. But she kept saying, every step
of the way, "I shan't get that old green floss, Polly, _wait!_"

But it was not until the door of Miss Angell's shop was reached that the
two girls came together.

"It's a hateful mean shame," exploded Alexia, huddling up her bundle of
sugar passionately. "There, I've punched a hole with my thumb; see what
you've made me do."

Polly turned around in dismay, to see a little trail of fine sugar drifting
from the package down over Alexia's gown.

"Oh, dear me!" she exclaimed, in dismay. "I'll help you; stand still,
Alexia, do; it's all running out."

"Well, you made me," cried Alexia, whirling around and wildly patting the
bag in just the wrong places, so that the stream of sugar became now quite
big.

"Do stand still, Alexia," implored Polly; "here, I'll pinch it up," She set
down her bundle of nuts on the top step, which a lady, not seeing, came out
of the shop, and promptly fell over.

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Polly, in terror, and running down the steps. "Did
you hurt you? Oh, I'm so sorry!"--clasping her hands and looking the
picture of distress. Then she saw it was Mrs. Patterson, a friend of Auntie
Whitney's.

"No," said the lady tartly, getting up to her feet to draw a long breath
and gaze up and down the street. "Why, Polly Pepper!"--bringing her gaze
upon the flushed face.

"Are you sure you are not hurt, Mrs. Patterson?" Polly looked at her
anxiously. Oh, dear me! how could she be so careless!

"Not a bit of it," declared that lady, "but, oh, Polly, do you suppose any
one saw me?" and she gazed ruefully up and down the street again.

"I don't believe any one did," said Polly, peering this way and that.

"Polly, do come; this sugar is all running away," cried Alexia loudly.

"And do let me brush your gown," implored Polly, feeling as if everything
were going wrong this afternoon.

"Never mind, I'm going directly home, here is the carriage," said Mrs.
Patterson, as her handsome equipage drew up. "Don't you worry a bit, Polly
Pepper; I'm not in the least hurt," and off she drove.

"Polly, will you come?" called Alexia, dancing about impatiently on the top
step, and clutching the bag of sugar with nervous ringers that didn't help
matters any. "Oh, dear me, do look!"--pointing tragically to the little
pile of sweetness at her feet.

"Oh, I do hope she wasn't hurt," cried Polly, stumbling up over the steps,
how, she didn't know.

"Oh, that tiresome Mrs. Patterson! Well, it will do her good to tumble down
once in a while," said Alexia unsympathetically, "she's so stiff and
mighty; and I should think you might pay some attention to me," she cried,
in a loud, injured tone; "I'm all in a mess with this sugar, and I haven't
got any candy, and you made me come clear down to this old shop, and----"

"Well, do come in," cried Polly, interrupting her stream of complaint, and,
picking up the bag of nuts before any one else could tumble over it, she
hurried Alexia into the little shop.

"And I'm glad enough to get where I can lay this old thing down," declared
Alexia, dumping the bag of sugar upon the first resting-place she saw, an
aesthetic little lounge, covered with elaborately embroidered pieces. "Oh,
me! my arms are almost broken," and she stretched them restfully, "and
beside, the sugar is 'most all run out."

"Oh, Alexia!" cried Polly, quite aghast, as she saw where Alexia had
deposited the sugar, just as the proprietor of the shop hurried up with
dismay written all over her countenance.

"Oh, my beautiful centerpieces!" she exclaimed, raising both hands in
dismay, "I am sure they are quite, quite ruined."

"It's nothing but sugar," grumbled Alexia, as she huddled up her bundle
again.

"And I'll brush it all off," said Polly anxiously, bestowing little pats
over the various specimens of fancy work. "See, Miss Angell, I don't
believe it's hurt," she said, lifting her flushed face.

"Well, I don't wish them," declared two ladies together, coming back from
the small table Where they had gone to examine more work.

"They are quite mussed and tumbled now," added one, "and not at all what we
want. Come, Sister," and she walked to the door, viewing with disfavor
Alexia and her bundle, and Polly Pepper as well.

Miss Angell's face dropped to such a length that Polly couldn't bear to
look at it.

"Oh, please don't go," cried Polly, flying after the irate customer; "I
don't really believe the pretty things are hurt. Do just come back and see,
please."

The other lady was standing irresolutely by the lounge, but she wouldn't
even look at the centerpieces that Miss Angell was smoothing out with a
despairing hand, preparing to put them into their boxes again.

"It was clean sugar," Polly ran on, feeling quite sure if she stopped
talking, that all hope was lost.

"But they are mussed," began the lady by the door, very decidedly.

Alexia was huddling up her bundle quite gone in despair, and lost to all
the distress of having no candy to take to the Cooking Club supper. If
those two ladies would only buy the centerpieces they had selected, it was
all she hoped for in this world.

"No, indeed! Come, Sister!" and she opened the door. "Why, Mrs. Alexander!"

Mrs. Alexander, a portly person, with a great deal of black jet and lace,
that seemed to be always catching in the apparel of those who passed her,
worked her way into the small shop, and up past the knot of people, giving
friendly nods of recognition on her way.

"How d'ye do, Miss Ellicott, Miss Juliana. How are you, Polly? And, Alexia,
how is your aunt?" And without waiting for a reply, she sprang, if such a
ponderous body could be said to spring, at the box of centerpieces Miss
Angell was packing away. "Oh, oh! how beautiful! Stop"--laying her large
hand on one. "Just what I want. How much is it?"

"Fifteen dollars," said Miss Angell, whipping it neatly out of the box, her
dismal frown becoming an expansive smile. "Yes, it is a beauty--one of the
very latest things," and she spread it forth on the lounge with an
experienced little nourish.

Miss Ellicott deserted the door and hurried over to the lounge.
"I'll--I'll"--as she tried to work herself in between. But the portly Mrs.
Alexander had no idea of being interrupted at such an important crisis in
life when centerpieces were to be decided upon, so she loudly kept on in
her bargaining. "I'll take it," she said, in her most decided fashion. "And
the next one, too, I fancy; let me see that."

"But that is," gasped Miss Juliana, threading her way into the group, "the
very one that I liked."

"Eh?" said Mrs. Alexander, looking up with the acute eyes of a
bargain-hunter. "Oh, I don't wonder you like it; it's a beauty. Yes, I'll
take it also. How much did you say it was, Miss Angell?"

Miss Angell, who hadn't said, saw no reason why she shouldn't now make it
any price that appealed to her better judgment.

"Twenty dollars," she answered, clapping on a cool third of its price, and
Mrs. Alexander, who cared very little what she paid for it, beamed at her,
and said:

"Put them in a box and send it out to my carriage; they are the handsomest
things I've seen for a long time, and so wonderfully cheap! You are quite
right; they are beauties."

"If you'd done as I wanted you to," cried Miss Juliana, the tears of
vexation gathering in her eyes, as she saw the now incomparable bits of
fancy work borne off before their very faces, "you wouldn't have stopped
for such a trifle as a few crumbs of sugar, Sister."

Miss Ellicott's face was very red, but she knew better than to show the
chagrin she felt, to add to the delight of the purchaser over her bargain,
so she contented herself with saying, as she stalked to the door:

"You said you didn't want them, Juliana, the same as I did."

"But I wasn't so set about it," said Miss Juliana, with a regretful glance
at the box, now gayly tied up by the jubilant Miss Angell and delivered
into the hands of the little errand-girl to be given to the Alexander
footman, "and I'm sure if you hadn't insisted, I should have seen that they
weren't hurt."

"Well, do come on now, Juliana," said her sister sharply, in all the
anguish of having the whole blame deposited upon her person. "Since the
things are gone, what is the use of talking about the matter?"--as they
disappeared out of the shop.

Polly and Alexia, therefore, had to wait for all this confusion and
excitement to clear away, before the green floss could be bought and the
message from Miss Rhys as to the patterns could be given. Meanwhile, Polly
was tying up the package of sugar, and patting the shrunken paper bag into
shape over the hole.

"You tell your aunt," said Miss Angell, her cheeks quite flushed with
elation over her good bargain, "that I haven't any more patterns come in
since she was here. Yes, Mrs. Alexander"--to that lady, with her head over
a drawer, deep in a hunt for more bargains-"there are some exquisite
designs among those. There's the floss"--bunching it up hurriedly into a
wad, and speaking all in one breath. "Would you mind, Miss Alexia, doing
this up yourself?"--pointing to the white tissue paper on the table.

Alexia, who didn't mind anything so long as she could get out of the shop,
twisted up the floss into a wad of the paper.

"Do hurry, Polly," she cried, and scampered out to the street, Polly
following with her bag of nuts.

"Oh, dear! I've forgotten that tiresome old bundle of sugar after all," she
cried, prancing back.

"I'll carry it, and you take the nuts," said Polly, cramming her bundle
into the long arms and getting anxious fingers on the bag of sugar, as
Alexia came running up with it.

"I'm sure I wish you would." said Alexia, seizing the nuts delightedly. "I
just hate that old--Polly Pepper, it's four o'clock!"--as the church bell
on St. Stephen's tower pealed out.

So Polly didn't have a chance, after all, to tell her glad piece of news,
until they were at the Club supper, which was to be given at Larry Keep's
to celebrate his getting well.

"Oh, Alexia," she was guilty of whispering, "it's the most splendid thing."

"Isn't it!" cried Alexia, in the greatest satisfaction. "To think I got it
done after all our fright! And it's the best candy I ever made"--glancing
over the room, where the dish was being passed about eagerly.

"Yes, I know," said Polly carelessly, "but this is much better than candy,
Alexia, that I mean."

"Much better than candy!" echoed Alexia, laying clown the slice of sponge
cake that Clem had made, on her plate, and peering around into Polly's
face. "What do you mean, Polly Pepper? There can't anything possibly be
better than candy."

"Yes, there can," contradicted Polly, twisting in delight on her chair,
"and you'll say so when you hear it. It's the most beautiful thing that
could possibly have happened, Alexia Rhys. It's"--and just then the door
opened and in walked Miss Mary Taylor and Mr. Hamilton Dyce, and the first
glance that Alexia took of their faces, she guessed the whole thing.

"Polly!" she gasped, seizing Polly's arm, "you don't mean that our Miss
Mary is going to marry Mr. Dyce?"

"Yes, I do," said Polly happily, "mean just that very thing, Alexia."

"I don't believe it," declared Alexia, while all the time she knew it was
true by their radiant faces.

"Well, it is true, as true can be," said Polly, "for she told me so this
very afternoon at her house."

"And you've known it all this time," cried Alexia, for the first time In
her life in a passion at Polly, "and never told me at all!"

"Oh, Alexia, how could I?" cried Polly, in an aggrieved little voice; "for
we were in such a perfectly dreadful scrape over getting ready for the
supper! How could I, Alexia?" She turned such a miserable face that Alexia
made haste to say:

"You couldn't, you sweet thing, you!" and gave her a reassuring hug.

"Well, just look at Mr. Dyce, and hear him laugh!"

And Mr. Hamilton Dyce being unable to keep his delight within bounds, and
seeming to think it incumbent upon himself to take the young people into
his confidence, just coolly announced it. And then there was no more paying
attention to the cakes, and the little biscuits, the custards, and the
whipped cream; and even Alexia's nut candy went begging.

And Miss Mary had to sit in the center of each group of boys and girls, a
few minutes at a time, for the supper was passed around on trays, till Mr.
Dyce said he wished he hadn't told the news until the feast was ended. And
after that, when they all finished up the evening festivities with a dance,
why, every one there, tried to get her for first partner. But it was Alexia
who swept them all one side.

"She's my Sunday-school teacher," she declared, "and I shall have her
first."

"Well, so she is our Sunday-school teacher," cried half a dozen of the
girls at once, as they crowded up.

"Well, she's my very dearest friend--that is, except Polly Pepper," said
Alexia positively. "Come, Miss Mary"--hanging obstinately to her hand, on
which shone a new ring with a big, bright gem in it.

"Well, you said Miss Salisbury was," Pickering Dodge, on the fringe of the
circle of girls, couldn't help saying.

"Oh, well, I mean Miss Mary is my very dearest friend after that," said
Alexia coolly, tossing him a saucy glance, as she bore off her beloved
Sunday-school teacher down the whole length of Mrs. Keep's drawing-room
floor.



XXVIII

THE LITTLE STONE CUPBOARD


Phronsie ran down the hall.

"Oh, Mamsie!" she cried, hurrying into

Mrs. Fisher's room, "Grandpapa says she is coming--she really is!" She
clasped her hands and stood quite still in front of her mother.

"Who, dear?" asked Mrs. Fisher absently. She was standing over by the
window, with one of Phronsie's pinafores in her hand and wondering if any
more were needed to carry her through the summer.

"She really is, Mamsie," said Phronsie, very much disappointed that her
mother didn't seem to notice. Then her mouth drooped, and she gave a long
sigh.

Mrs. Fisher tore her mind off from the pinafores and looked down quickly.

"Well, I declare, child;" and she took her in her arms. "Now, then!" She
put the pinafore in a chair, and herself in another; then she drew Phronsie
into her lap. "Tell Mother all about it," she said.

"Yes," said Phronsie, "I will"--snuggling in great satisfaction up against
her mother's neck: "you see, my little girl is really coming; Grandpapa
said so."

"Oh, yes--Rachel."

"Yes." Phronsie bobbed her yellow head; then took it up from its
resting-place in her mother's neck, to peer up into the face above. "And
she'll be my little girl all the time she is here, and I must get Clorinda
fixed this very minute," she added, dreadfully excited. And, her news all
told, Phronsie clambered down from Mrs. Fisher's lap and scurried off.

And in a few minutes everybody knew all over the house that the letter had
come, in which the invitation for Rachel's visit had been accepted by Miss
Parrott. Moreover, she was to arrive on the following day.

"Whoopity-la!" sang Joel, who very much liked Rachel, for she was always
ready to play anything that he proposed, and was a perfect adept in
climbing trees and inventing a circus out of small material; "now that's
just prime! I wish she was coming to-day."

Van and Percy, just as well pleased, ran hither and yon, very much excited.

"What shall we do to show her we are glad she's coming?" asked Percy, who
seized every chance that offered itself to celebrate such events.

"Why, she'll see it," said Joel, pounding away lustily. He was mending his
tennis racket. "Whickets! I 'most split that"--holding it up ruefully.

"Mrs. Fisher told you not to say that," cried Van, who dearly loved to
bring Joel up for correction.

"Well, I didn't mean--" Joel whirled around on him, "And I guess you'd say
it if you'd 'most split your racket, so!"

"She told you not to," repeated Van, knowing his power in holding to that
simple statement.

"Well, I didn't mean to, I tell you," cried Joel loudly, and very red in
the face.

"And she won't like it," said Van, delighted to see the effect of his
words.

Joel's face worked, and he flung the broken racket across the room. It fell
with a crash; and he ran over to the bed, hopped into the middle of it, and
buried his face in his brown hands, his shoulders in distress.

"I didn't mean--go away," he screamed, kicking as hard as he could.

Van, terribly frightened at the storm he had raised, stood perfectly still
in the middle of the room.

"There, now, I hope you're satisfied," said Percy, from the other side.
"See what you've done. I guess you'll catch it, Van Whitney," he added
pleasantly.

Van, not so much worried over what he would catch as terrified about Joel,
ran over to his brother.

"Oh, do stop him," he implored, seizing Percy's hand.

"I can't stop him," said Percy; "you know yourself it's silly to ask me
that."

"I must, then," cried Van, scurrying over to the foot of the bed. "Joel, do
stop," he begged frantically.

"Go away!" screamed Joel, kicking lustily. "I didn't mean to say it. Oh,
dear me! Mamsie--Mamsie!" he blubbered, rolling from side to side on the
neat, white bed.

"I guess he's going to have a fit," said Percy cheerfully, coming up to
view matters at a safe distance from the flying feet.

At this, Van's distress knew no bounds, and, regardless of all possible
danger to himself, he ran around the bed and flung himself upon it, to
burrow close to Joel's stubby black head.

"Joe, don't," he cried, bursting into tears and hugging him with both
frantic arms.

Joel wriggled and screamed, "Go away!" and kicked more than ever, but Van
held on sturdily, and together the two boys rolled over and over across the
bed, back and forth, till their breath gave out.

"Oh, just look what you are doing," exclaimed Percy, prancing up and down
the room. He had started two or three times to run out and call Mrs.
Fisher; then thought better of it. "You've mussed the bedspread all up; and
only look at those shams!"--hanging over the footboard in extreme dismay.

Hearing these last words, both boys rolled apart and thrust up their heads,
to gaze at the details in question. There they were, spick and span as
usual at the top, but the lower parts were all mussed and wrinkled, while
the lace at one end hung down in a small tag.

"Oh, dear me!" cried Joel, huddling up to Van, to throw his arm around his
neck, "just see what I've done!"

"Oh, you didn't do it; I did," said Van, giving Joel an affectionate
squeeze. "It was all my fault."

"No such thing," declared Joel sturdily; "if you say so again, I'll fight
you."

"And perhaps you can straighten that lace," suggested Percy, with no relish
for any further hostilities.

Van and Joel drew off to the foot of the bed, and huddled up there to
regard his efforts, as he ran around to the pillows, patting and smoothing
them straight.

"That won't do any good," said Joel, in great disfavor; "you can't make the
lace whole again."

Van sorrowfully embraced his knees, his feet tucked up under him.

"Oh, what will Jane say?" he breathed fearfully.

"Jane? I don't care for her," said Joel scornfully. "It's Mamsie," and he
swallowed hard.

"Perhaps she won't care," cried Van, leaving his knees to take care of
themselves, in alarm lest Joel was going off again.

"And just see how you've mussed up the bedspread," Percy couldn't help
saying, to relieve his chagrin over the failure to make the pillow shams
look nicely, and he drew off and pointed to it tragically. "It looks as if
crocodiles had been all over it," he declared, hunting for the worst thing
he could think of.

Joel and Van rolled fearful eyes all over the bed.

"I'm going to Mamsie!" was all Joel said, as he rolled over the edge and
disappeared from the room.

"Oh, wait," screamed Van. Then he rolled off his side of the bed, took two
big steps, and stood quite still in the middle of the floor.

"You've got to go with him and help tell," said Percy pleasantly, as if
proposing the most delightful thing. But Van didn't stir.

"Aren't you ashamed!" cried Percy, with a sniff. "I'd like to know if Polly
will think it's nice for you to sneak out of it, Van Whitney."

"Ow!" squealed Van. He shot out into the hall, and without giving himself
time to think, ran as hard as he could to join Joel in Mother Fisher's
room.

Left to himself, Percy set himself to work on straightening the bedspread,
running around from one side to the other to pat and twitch impatiently.

"As soon as I get one side nice, it all comes away from the other," he said
to himself. "How in the world does Jane ever make a bed, I wonder?" And at
last he deserted it altogether and drew off with a very hot face.
"Heigh-ho! I wish we could do something to celebrate when Rachel comes,"
and he wrinkled his brows in perplexity. "Oh, I know," and he clapped his
hands in glee. Then he ran softly out and up to Ben's room.

But Ben wasn't in; so Percy, nearly bursting with a plan that now seemed to
him very grand, was obliged to take some one else into his confidence. And
that one happened to be old Mr. King, whom he met as he came downstairs
with a very rueful countenance.

"What's the matter, Percy?" asked the old gentleman, with a keen glance.

"Nothing, Grandpapa," said Percy dismally.

"Goodness me! Do you carry about such a face as that for nothing?" cried
the old gentleman, with a laugh. "You look as if you'd something on your
mind, my boy."

"Well, I have, Grandpapa," said Percy, now driven into a corner, and
looking up at last.

"Best have it out then," said Grandpapa firmly, taking one of Percy's
hands, and they went on to the writing-room.

"There, now, here is just the place for a boy to get things that are
unpleasant off his mind, I take it," he said, closing the door on them
both. "Sit down and tell me what is troubling you, Percy."

"Can't I stand up, Grandpapa?" asked Percy, over by the table.

"To be sure," laughed Grandpapa; "stand up or sit down, just as you choose.
Only let us get at this bugaboo that is worrying you, my boy. Out with it."

"It isn't a bugaboo," said Percy, with open eyes; "it's a plan, Grandpapa.
Only I can't find Ben," and he began to be dismal once more. "Dear me!
where can he be!"

"Oh, it's a plan, is it?" said Grandpapa, vastly relieved. "Well, well!"
Then he began to laugh. "And so you wanted Ben to help you with it, eh?"

"Yes, Grandpapa," said Percy, his happiness returning, and he deserted the
table and ran up to the old gentleman's side. "You see, Rachel is coming."

"Yes, she is," said old Mr. King, with a satisfied nod, "and you like it, I
hope, my boy." He looked up with a keen glance.

"Awfully," said Percy, great satisfaction settling over his face.

"Well, I think all of us like the plan," remarked the old gentleman, in
extreme complacency at achieving the visit, "for she's a very nice girl,
Rachel is, it appears to me."

"She's awfully good fun," said Percy, "only Joel will make her play with
him all the time, I suppose," and his face fell.

"Oh, you must cut Joe out," said old Mr. King, laughing heartily.

"I can't," said Percy dismally; "we can't any of us, Grandpapa," and he
opened his blue eyes very wide at the mere thought.

"Well, yes, I think we are all pleased, very much pleased indeed that
Rachel is coming," repeated old Mr. King, going back to the expected visit,
"and, as she comes to-morrow----"

"To-morrow!" echoed Percy, aghast, "why, then I can't get up my surprise,
Grandpapa." For, strange to say, the time of the arrival had slipped from
his mind. The old gentleman hastened to comfort him.

"Suppose you tell me the grand plan," he said at last; "then we'll see if
there won't be time enough."

"Oh, I was going to get Ben to take me out into the woods to-morrow,"
said Percy, feeling as if he should very much like to cry, he was so
disappointed, "and we could have dug up some cunning little plants and
ferns: Rachel said she liked them at the garden party. We could have
planted them in a box, and 'twould have been so nice, and now it's too
late." And, overcome with despair, he sat down on the first thing he
could find, which was a pile of books on the floor.

"Take care," warned Grandpapa, but over Percy had gone, the books flying
all ways under him.

"I'll pick them up," he cried, when he could get his breath.

"I am glad you are not hurt," said Grandpapa King, with a rueful glance at
the big reference volumes, only laid out for his use that morning, which
certainly wouldn't be improved by their fall. "Here, wait a bit, and I'll
help you, Percy, my boy," and he got out of his chair.

"Oh, I can do it; let me, Grandpapa; let me do it alone," begged Percy,
tugging at the books and piling as rapidly as he could, for they were quite
heavy. "There, see, they're almost back again"--as he staggered up with the
last one.

"Not quite so fast," said Grandpapa King, lending his hand to the task.
"Now next time when you want to sit down, I advise you to take a chair,
Percy, my boy. Well, now, let us think how you can get up a nice little
surprise for Rachel when she comes to-morrow."

"And nobody must know it," cried Percy, quite enchanted at the prospect of
having a secret plan with Grandpapa. "Oh, you won't tell anybody but me,
will you?" He crowded in between the old gentleman's chair and the big
table, and regarded him anxiously.

"No, indeed," cried old Mr. King, in his most emphatic way, and bringing
his hand heavily down on the table; "not a single person shall hear about
it. This is your and my secret, Percy, my boy."

And outside, in a slope of the terrace where it ran down to a tangle of
greenery, were Phronsie and little Dick. And they were making great
preparations, too, for Rachel's visit on the following day. The great task
before them was nothing more nor less than to set up their little stone
house in the boulders under the big apple tree.

"I'm going to set up the cupboard," announced little Dick.

"Wait for me, do," begged Phronsie, who was busy in putting the little
acorn cups and saucers in fine array on the big, flat stone that served
them as a table.

"Well, do hurry, then," said Dick, his fingers twitching to be at their
work, "for it's just full of everything." He had pulled out the stone from
a hole between the boulders, which, running in quite deeply, had served as
a convenient receptacle for certain treasures and accumulations, and was
therefore called the cupboard. "We haven't cleaned it out in ever 'n' ever
so long, Phronsie."

"Yes, I will hurry," said Phronsie, gently putting the little acorn she
held back into its cup. She had a soft little bit of cloth in her hand,
with which she first wiped each piece.

"I'm almost through; I haven't but one, two, 'leven more to do."

"Oh, I'll help you," cried Dick, "wash up the dishes," and he turned his
back on the cupboard. "Where's another towel?"

"You mustn't break them," said Phronsie gravely, handing him another small
portion of cloth, "because you see they're _very_ nice dishes"--and
she went back to her own polishing.

"I won't break them," promised little Dick, beginning on an acorn saucer.

"Chil--dren"--it was Polly's voice--"oh, where are you?" They could hear
her as she sped over the terrace.

Down went the little dish-towels, and over went all the cups and saucers,
for Dickie's foot knocked off what Phronsie spared, as both the small
housekeepers rushed tumultuously out.

"Oh, here we are, Polly," they cried.

"Well, you must come at once if you want to go down to Candace's," she
announced, standing on the terrace-top, her cheeks quite rosy for her run
after them. "Auntie is going to take Jasper and me down to get some things
for Rachel. Do you want to go too?"

Didn't they! Polly laughed to see them clamber along the green bank, and
she put out her hands and drew them up.

"I shall buy Rachel something," announced Phronsie, smoothing down her pink
frock with great decision, as they reached the top.

"And so shall I," cried little Dick, bobbing his head; "I shall get her the
very nicest thing that Candace has."

"Well, now, children, we must hurry," said Polly, as they all ran along,
"because you know we ought not to keep Auntie waiting. Now, then, one, two,
three, and away!"

She seized a small hand in each of her own, and away they sped. None too
soon, for Jasper was just skipping down to meet them with the announcement
that sister Marion was getting into the carriage; and there on the steps
was Mrs. Fisher, with Phronsie's hat in her hand.

"Get in, young man," said Jasper, cramming Dick's cap on his head, and he
bundled him in unceremoniously, then hopped after himself.

"I'm going to buy my little girl something," announced Phronsie, looking
back where Mamsie still stood upon the step.

"Yes, yes," she said smilingly, as Thomas started up the horses.

"Wait, wait," cried Phronsie, in a tone of great distress, and she leaned
out toward Mamsie.

"What is it, child?" said Mrs. Fisher.

And, "Wait a bit, Thomas," called Jasper.

"What's the matter, Phronsie?" asked Polly, leaning over from the opposite
seat, where she was ensconced with Mrs. Whitney.

"I want my little purse," said Phronsie, looking down at her empty hands,
then up at her in grave reproach.

"Oh, Phronsie, you can take some of my money," began Polly. "We needn't
wait for that, need we, Mamsie?" she cried, wrinkling up her forehead
impatiently.

"I want my own little purse," said Phronsie decidedly.

"Yes, Mamsie will get it," said Mrs. Fisher; "that is, if Mrs. Whitney can
wait." She cast a glance over Polly into the pleasant face above.

"Yes, indeed," said Mrs. Whitney, with a cheery smile; "I think Phronsie
had much better have her own little purse."

"And I want my own purse, too," declared little Dick, struggling to get
down from the seat where he was wedged in with Jasper and Phronsie, "Mine
is big like a man's," he added, with great importance.

"Dear me!" Mrs. Whitney burst into a merry laugh. "Mrs. Fisher, do you
think you could be troubled enough to get Dicky boy's purse, too?" she
asked.

"I don't find it any trouble," said Mrs. Fisher, with another laugh, "to
get them both." So Phronsie's little purse, with a chain to hang on her
arm, and Dick's bigger one, that folded like a pocketbook, were both handed
into the carriage, Thomas cracked the whip, and off they went to see
Candace in her little shop on Temple Place.

The next day but one, Rachel was visiting in the little stone house among
the boulders. Phronsie had carefully explained how the reason that the cups
and saucers were all on the ground and the dish-towels thrown carelessly
aside, was that they had gone away with Auntie, who couldn't be kept
waiting.

"Well, let's wash 'em up now," said Rachel, flying for one of the
diminutive dish-towels.

"I'm going to clean out the cupboard," declared little Dick, going back to
his original purpose.

"Let us do the cups and saucers first," said Phronsie, with gentle
determination, setting down Clorinda on a stone seat next to Rachel's doll,
and carefully smoothing out her dress.

"No, I want to do the cupboard," persisted little Dick, with strange
obstinacy, for he was generally quite willing to give up to Phronsie.

"I tell you, Phronsie," broke in Rachel suddenly: "let's all set up the
cupboard first, and then it will be ready to put the clean dishes into.
That's the best way."

"Oh, let us," said Phronsie, easily pleased, and giving a last pat to
Rachel's doll. So she ran over to join the others, and, getting down on her
knees, she began to fumble within the little cupboard. Dick had already
opened the door, which was accomplished by taking away the stone.

"Now you take out one thing, Phronsie, and I'll take out the next," said
little Dick, crowding up as close as he could get.

"And then I'll take the things," said Rachel, sitting down a little
distance off, between the two, "as you hand 'em out; so we'll all clean out
the cupboard. Hullo! what's this?"--as Phronsie handed out the first
article.

"That's a top," said little Dick, looking back at her.

"A top!" cried Rachel in derision. "Why, it won't spin; not a bit in this
world."

"It would before it was broken," said Phronsie, for Dick had his face
pressed close to the door of the cupboard, while his brown fingers were
prowling about its interior.

"Dear me! why don't you throw it away?" cried Rachel. "An old broken thing
like that is no good."

"Oh, we wouldn't ever throw it away, Rachel," said Phronsie, in alarm.
"That's our dear top, and it used to spin beautifully," and she took it
affectionately out of Rachel's hand.

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Rachel. "Well, what's the next thing?"--as little
Dick backed away from the cupboard. "What is it?"--as he placed some
article in her hand.

"They're a pair of her doll's eyes," said little Dick.

"Oh, misery me!" cried Rachel, tumbling backward, the pair of eyes in her
hand. "Why don't you have 'em put back in your doll, Phronsie?"

"Because these are broken," said Phronsie, hanging on to the top with one
hand, while she reached out the other, "and Grandpapa took my child down
and got her new eyes."

"Well, what makes you save these?" said Rachel, sitting straight again;
"they're no use, Phronsie, now they're broken. Throw them away, do."

"No, no," protested Phronsie, holding the pair of eyes very closely in her
warm little palm, "they were my child's; I'm going to keep them always."

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Rachel faintly, "you'll never set up your cupboard
if you're going to put everything back again the same as it was. Well, pull
out the next thing, Phronsie; it's your turn."

So Phronsie set her two treasures down in a niche in the big boulder, and
leaned over the door of the cupboard.

"I'm going clear back," she announced, running her fat little arm as far as
it would go, to bring it out with something round in the middle of her
palm.

"What is it?" asked Rachel curiously. "Whatever in all this world,
Phronsie?"--at the queer little wad in Phronsie's hand.

"Oh, that?" said little Dick, before Phronsie could answer; "that's what
the squirrel gave us, a lo--ong time ago, Rachel."

"The squirrel gave you?" she cried. "I suppose it's a nut," she added
carelessly.

"No, 'tisn't a nut," said Phronsie, still keeping it in her hand, and
shaking her head decidedly, "and he was a naughty squirrel; he was in a
bird's nest."

"In a bird's nest? What do you mean, and how could you see him?" demanded
Rachel, all three questions in one breath.

"We looked up," said little Dick, throwing his head back to illustrate his
speech, "and he was right there "--pointing up to the highest branches of
the apple tree--"way up on top."

"And the poor bird was screaming," said Phronsie, snuggling up to Rachel's
side, but still not offering to give up the little green wad. "Poor little
bird!--she made a new house, she added sorrowfully.

"And the naughty squirrel was pulling out all the things in her house,"
said little Dick, breaking in with gusto, "and flinging them down; and he
threw us this. Show her, Phronsie."

So Phronsie opened her hand and held it up, the little green wad in the
center.

"Oh, isn't it funny!" Rachel was going to say. Instead, she seized it,
twitched it apart, and hopped up to her feet; then, deserting the two
children, ran like lightning up the green bank, two torn bits of paper
fluttering in her hand. And not observing where she went, she ran directly
into old Mr. King taking a constitutional on the lawn.

"Bless me! what is it?" he gasped, putting out a strong hand to save her
from a fall.

"It's the _ten-dollar bill!_" panted Rachel. "Don't you see?"--waving
it at him.



THE END





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