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.