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.