Five Little Peppers And How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
Phronsie was toiling up and down the long, oak staircase the next morning; slowly going from one step to the other, drawing each little fat foot into place laboriously, but with a pleased expression on her face that only gave some small idea of the rapture within. Up and down she had been going for a long time, perfectly fascinated; seeming to care for nothing else in the world but to work her way up to the top of the long flight, only to turn and come down again. She had been going on so for some time, till at last, Polly, who was afraid she would tire herself all out, sat down at the foot and begged and implored the little girl, who had nearly reached the top, to stop and rest.
"You'll be tired to death, Phronsie!" she said, looking up at the small figure on its toilsome journey. "Why you must have gone up a million times! Do sit down, pet; we're all going out riding, Phronsie, this afternoon; and you can't go if yon're all tired out."
"I won't be tired, Polly," said Phronsie, turning around and looking at her, "do let me go just once more!"
"Well," said Polly, who never could refuse her anything, "just once, Phronsie, and then you must stop."
So Phronsie kept on her way rejoicing, while Polly still sat on the lowest stair, and drummed impatiently on the stair above her, waiting for her to get through.
Jappy came through the hail and found them thus. "Halloa, Polly!" he said, stopping suddenly; "what's the matter?"
"Oh, Phronsie's been going so," said Polly, looking up at the little figure above them, which had nearly reached the top in delight, "that I can't stop her. She has really, Jappy, almost all the morning; you can't think how crazy she is over it."
"Is that so?" said Jasper, with a little laugh. "Hulloa, Phronsie, is it nice?" and he tossed a kiss to the little girl, and then sat down by Polly.
"Oh," said Phronsie, turning to come down, "it's the beyew-tifiest place I ever saw, Japser! the very be-yew-tiflest!"
"I wish she could have her picture painted," whispered Jasper, enthusiastically. "Look at her now, Polly, quick!"
"Yes," said Polly, "isn't she sweet!"
"Sweetr' said Jasper. "I should think she was!"
The sunlight through an oriel window fell on the childish face and figure, glinting the yellow hair, and lighting up the radiant face, that yet had a tender, loving glance for the two who waited for her below. One little foot was poised, just in the act of stepping down to the next lower stair, and the fat hand grasped the polished railing, expressive of just enough caution to make it truly childish. In after years Jasper never thought of Phronsie without bringing up this picture on that April morning, when Polly and he sat at the foot of the stairs, and looked up and saw it.
"Where's Jap?" called one of the boys; and then there was a clatter out into the hall.
"What are you doing?" and Van came to a full stop of amazement and stared at them.
"Resting," said Jappy, concisely, "what do you want, Van?"
"I want you," said Van, "we can't do anything without you, Jappy; you know that."
"Very well," said Jasper, getting up. "Come on, Polly, we must go."
"And Phronsie," said Van, anxiously, looking up to Phronsie, who had nearly reached them by this time, "we want her, too."
"Of course," said Polly, running up arid meeting her to give her a hug; "I don't go unless she does."
"Where are we going, Polly?" asked Phronsie, looking back longingly to her beloved stairs as she was borne off.
"To the greenhouse, chick!" said Jasper, "to help Turner; and it'll be good fun, won't it, Polly?"
"What is a greenhouse?" asked the child, wonderingly. "All green, Japser?"
"Oh, dear me," said Van, doubling up, "do you suppose she thinks it's painted green?"
"It's green inside, Phronsie, dear," said Jasper, kindly, "and that's the best of all."
When Phronsie was really let loose in the greenhouse she thought it decidedly best of all; and she went into nearly as much of a rapture as Polly did on her first visit to it.
In a few moments she was cooing and jumping among the plants, while old Turner, staid and particular as he was, laughed to see her go.
"She's your sister, Miss Mary, ain't she?" at last he asked, as Phronsie bent lovingly over a little pot of heath, and just touched one little leaf carefully with her finger.
"Yes," said Polly, "but she don't look like me."
"She is like you," said Turner, respectfully, "if she don't look like you; and the flowers know it, too," he added, "and they'll love to see her coming, just as they do you."
For Polly had won the old gardener's heart completely by her passionate love for flowers, and nearly every morning a little nosegay, fresh and beautiful, came up to the house for "Miss Mary."
And now nobody liked to think of the time, or to look back to it, when Phronsie hadn't been in the house. When the little feet went pattering through halls and over stairs, it seemed to bring sunshine and happiness into every one's heart just to hear the sounds. Polly and the boys in the schoolroom would look up from their books and nod away brightly to each other, and then fall to faster than ever on their lessons, to get through the quicker to be with her again.
One thing Phronsie always insisted on, and kept to it pertinaciously--and that was to go into the drawing-room with Polly when she went to practice, and there, with one of her numerous family of dolls, to sit down quietly in some corner and wait till she got through.
Day after day she did it, until Polly, who was worried to think how tedious it must be for her, would look around and say-- "Oh, childie, do run out and play."
"I want to stay," Phronsie would beg in an injured tone; "please let me, Polly."
So Polly would jump and give her a kiss, and then, delighted to know that she was there, would go at her practicing with twice the vigor and enthusiasm.
But Phronsie's chief occupation, at least when she wasn't with Polly, was the entertainment and amusement of Mr. King. And never was she very long absent from his side, which so pleased the old gentleman that he could scarcely contain himself, as with a gravity befitting the importance of her office, she would follow him around in a happy contented way, that took with him immensely. And now-a-days, no one ever saw the old gentleman going out of a morning, when Jasper was busy with his lessons, without Phronsie by his side, and many people turned to see the portly figure with the handsome head bent to catch the prattle of a little sunny-haired child, who trotted along, clasping his hand confidingly. And nearly all of them stopped to gaze the second time before they could convince themselves that it was really that queer, stiff old Mr. King of whom they had heard so much.
And now the accumulation of dolls in the house became something alarming, for Mr. King, observing Phronsie's devotion to her family, thought there couldn't possibly be too many of them; so he scarcely ever went out without bringing home one at least to add to them, until Phronsie had such a remarkable collection as would have driven almost any other child nearly crazy with delight. She, however, regarded them something in the light of a grave responsibility, to be taken care of tenderly, to be watched over carefully as to just the right kind of bringing up; and to have small morals and manners taught in just the right way.
Phronsie was playing in the corner of Mrs. Whitney's little boudoir, engaged in sending out invitations for an elaborate tea-party to be given by one of the dolls, when Polly rushed in with consternation in her tones, and dismay written all over her face.
"What is it, dear?" asked Mrs. Whitney, looking up from her embroidery.
"Why," said Polly, "how could I! I don't see--but I've forgotten to write to mamsie to-day; it's Wednesday, you know, and there's Monsieur coming." And poor Polly looked out in despair to see the lively little music teacher advancing towards the house at an alanning rate of speed.
"That is because you were helping Van so long last evening over his lessons," said Mrs. Whitney; "I am so sorry."
"Oh, no," cried Polly honestly, "I had plenty of time--but I forgot 'twas mamsie's day. What will she do!"
"You will have to let it go now till the afternoon, dear; there's no other way; it can go in the early morning mail."
"Oh, dear," sighed Polly, "I suppose I must." And she went down to meet Monsieur with a very distressed little heart.
Phronsie laid down the note of invitation she was scribbling, and stopped to think; and a moment or two after, at a summons from a caller, Mrs. Whitney left the room.
"I know I ought to," said Phronsie to herself and the dolls, "yes, I know I had; mamsie will feel, oh! so bad, when she don't get Polly's letter; and I know the way, I do, truly."
She got up and went to the window, where she thought a minute; and then, coming back, she took up her little stubby pencil, and bending over a small bit of paper, she commenced to trace with laborious efforts and much hard breathing, some very queer hieroglyphics that to her seemed to be admirable, as at last she held them up with great satisfaction.
"Good-bye," she said then, getting up and bowing to the dolls who sat among the interrupted invitations, "I won't be gone but a little bit of one minute," and she went out determinedly and shut the door.
Nobody saw the little figure going down the carriage drive, so of course nobody could stop her. When Phronsie got to the gateway she looked up and down the street carefully, either way.
"Yes," she said, at last, "it was down here, I'm very sure, I went with grandpa," and immediately turned down the wrong way, and went on and on, grasping carefully her small, and by this time rather soiled bit of paper.
At last she reached the business streets; and although she didn't come to the Post Office, she comforted herself by the thought--"it must be coming soon. I guess it's round this corner."
She kept turning corner after corner, until, at last, a little anxious feeling began to tug at her heart; and she began to think--"I wish I could see Polly"---- And now, she had all she could do to get out of the way of the crowds of people who were pouring up and down the thoroughfare. Everybody jostled against her, and gave her a push. "Oh dear!" thought Phronsie, "there's such a many big people!" and then there was no time for anything else but to stumble in and out, to keep from being crushed completely beneath their feet. At last, an old huckster woman, in passing along, knocked off her bonnet with the end of her big basket, which flew around and struck Phronsie's head. Not stopping to look into the piteous brown eyes, she strode on without a word. Phronsie turned in perfect despair to go down a street that looked as if there might be room enough for her in it. Thoroughly frightened, she plunged over the crossing, to reach it!
"Look out!" cried a ringing voice. "Stop!"
"The little girl'll be killed!" said others with bated breath, as a powerful pair of horses whose driver could not pull them up in time, dashed along just in front of her! With one cry, Phronsie sprang between their feet, and reached the opposite curbstone in safety!
The plunge brought her up against a knot of gentlemen who were standing talking on the corner.
"What's this!" asked one, whose back being next to the street, hadn't seen the commotion, as the small object dashed into their midst, and fell up against him.
"Didn't you see that narrow escape?" asked a second, whose face had paled in witnessing it. "This little girl was nearly killed a moment ago--careless driving enough!" And he put out his hand to catch the child.
"Bless me!" cried a third, whirling around suddenly, "Bless me! you don't say so! why"---- With a small cry, but gladsome and distinct in its utterance, Phronsie gave one look--"Oh, grandpa!" was all she could say.
"Oh! where"--Mr. King couldn't possibly have uttered another word, for then his breath gave out entirely, as he caught the small figure.
"I went to the Post Office," said the child, clinging to him in delight, her tangled hair waving over the little white face, into which a faint pink color was quickly coming back. "Only it wouldn't come; and I walked and walked--where is it, grandpa?" And Phronsie gazed up anxiously into the old gentleman's face.
"She went to the Post Officel' turning around on the others fiercely, as if they had contradicted him--"Why, my child, what were you going to do?"
"Mamsie's letter," said Phronsie, holding up for inspection the precious bit, which by this time, was decidedly forlorn-- "Polly couldn't write; and Mamsie'd feel so bad not to get one--she would really" said the child, shaking her head very soberly, "for Polly said so."
"And you've been--oh! I can't think of it," said Mr. King, tenderly taking her up on his shoulder, "well, we must get home now, or I don't know what Polly will do!" And without stopping to say a word to his friends, he hailed a passing carriage, and putting Phronsie in, he commanded the driver to get them as quickly as possible to their destination.
In a few moments they were home. Mr. King pushed into the house with his burden. "Don't anybody know," he burst out, puffing up the stairs, and scolding furiously at every step, "enough to take better care of this child, than to have such goings On!"
"What is the matter, father?" asked Mrs. Whitney, coming up the stairs, after him. "What has happened out of the way?"
"Out of the way!" roared the old gentleman, irascibly, "well, if you want Phronsie racing off to the Post Office by herself, and nearly getting killed, poor child! yes, Marian, I say nearly killed!" he continued.
"What do you mean?" gasped Mrs. Whitney.
"Why, where have you been?" asked the old gentleman, who wouldn't let Phronsie get down out of his arms, under any circumstances; so there she lay, poking up her head like a little bird, and trying to say she wasn't in the least hurt, "where's everybody been not to know she'd gone?" he exclaimed, "where's Polly--and Jasper--and all of 'em?"
"Polly's taking her music lesson," said Mrs. Whitney. "Oh, Phronsie darling!" and she bent over the child in her father's arms, and nearly smothered her with kisses.
"Twas a naughty horse," said Phronsie, sitting up straight and looking at her, "or I should have found the Post Office; and I lost off my bonnet, too," she added, for the first time realizing her loss, putting her hand to her head; "a bad old woman knocked it off with a basket--and now mamsie won't get her letter!" and she waved the bit, which she still grasped firmly between her thumb and finger, sadly towards Mrs. Whitney.
"Oh, dear," groaned that lady, "how could we talk before her! But who would have thought it! Darling," and she took the little girl from her father's arms, who at last let her go, "don't think of your mamma's letter; we'll tell her how it was," and she sat down in the first chair that she could reach; while Phronsie put her tumbled little head down on the kind shoulder and gave a weary little sigh.
"It was so long," she said, "and my shoes hurt," and she thrust out the dusty little boots, that spoke pathetically of the long and unaccustomed tramp.
"Poor little lamb!" said Mr. King, getting down to unbutton them. "What a shame!" he mumbled pulling off half of the buttons in his frantic endeavors to get them off quickly.
But Phronsie never heard the last of his objurgations, for in a minute she was fast asleep. The tangled hair fell off from the tired little face; the breathing came peaceful and regular, and with her little hand fast clasped in Mrs. Whitney's she slept on and on.
Polly came flying up-stairs, two or three at a time, and humming a scrap of her last piece that she had just conquered.
"Phronsie," she called, with a merry little laugh, "where"-- "Hush!" said Mr. King, warningly, and then just because he couldn't explain there without waking Phronsie up, he took hold of Polly's two shoulders and marched her into the iiext room, where he carefully closed the door, and told her the whole thing, using his own discretion about the very narrow escape she had passed through. He told enough, however, for Polly to see what had been so near them; and she stood there so quietly, alternately paling and flushing as he proceeded, till at last, when he finished, Mr. King was frightened almost to death at the sight of her face.
"Oh, goodness me, Polly!" he said, striding up to her, and then fumbling around on the table to find a glass of water, "you are not going to faint, are you? Phronsie's all well now, she isn't hurt in the least, I assure you; I assure you--where i.s a glass of water! Marian ought to see that there's some here--that stupid Jane!" and in utter bewilderment he was fussing here and there, knocking down so many things in general, that the noise soon brought Polly to, with a little gasp.
"Oh, don't mind me, dear Mr. King--I'm---all well."
"So you are," said the old gentleman, setting up a toilet bottle that he had knocked over, "so you are; I didn't think you'd go and tumble over, Polly, I really didn't," and he beamed admiringly down on her.
And then Polly crept away to Mrs. Whitney's side where she threw herself down on the floor, to watch the little sleeping figure. Her hand was gathered up, into the kind one that held Phronsie's; and there they watched and watched and waited.
"Oh, dear," said Phronsie, suddenly, turning over with a little sigh, and bobbing up her head to look at Polly; "I'm so hungry! I haven't had anything to eat in over an' ever so long, Polly!" and she gazed at her with a very injured countenance.
"So you must be," said Mrs. Whitney, kissing the flushed little face. "Polly must ring the bell for Jane to bring this little bird some crumbs.
"Can I have a great many?" asked Phronsie, lifting her eyes, with the dewy look of sleep hill lingering in them, "as many as two birdies?"
"Yes, dear," said Mrs. Whitney, laughing; "I think as many as three little birdies could eat, Phronsie."
"Oh," said Phronsie, and leaned back satisfied, while Polly gave the order, which was presently followed by Jane with a well-filled tray.
"Now," said Jappy, when he heard the account of the adventure, "I say that letter ought to go to your mother, Polly."
"Oh," said Polly, "it would scare mamsie most to death, Jappy!"
"Don't tell her the whole," said Jasper, quickly, "I didn't mean that--about the horses and all that--but only enough to let her see how Phronsie tried to get it to her."
"And I'm going to write to your brother Joel," said Van, drawing up to the library table; "I'll scare him, Polly, I guess; he won't tell your mother."
"Your crow-tracks'll scare him enough without anything else," said Percy, pleasantly, who really could write very nicely, while Polly broke out in an agony:
"Oh, no, Van, you mustn't! you mustn't!"
"If Van does," said Jasper, decidedly, "it'll be the last time he'll write to the 'browii house,' I can tell him; and besides, he'll go to Coventry." This had the desired effect.
"Let's all write," said Polly.
So a space on the table was cleared, and the children gathered around it, when there was great scratching of pens, and clearing of ideas; which presently resulted in a respectable budget of letters, into which Phronsie's was lovingly tucked in the centre; and then they all filed out to put it into the letterbox in the hall, for Thomas to mail with the rest in the morning.