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.