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."