XIX. Phronsie is Well Again
 

But Polly was not to be told yet. When Papa Fisher walked in to dinner, the merry party around the oak table were waiting over the ices and coffee for his appearance.

"Oh, Papa Fisher!" cried Polly in dismay, turning from one of Alexia's sallies, and dropping her spoon. "Now you're all tired out--too bad!"

Mother Fisher flushed up, and set her lips closely together. Ben looked disapproval across the board, and Polly knew that the wrong thing had been said.

"Oh! I didn't mean--of course you must take care of the sick people," she said impulsively.

"Yes, I must," said Dr. Fisher wearily, and pushing up the shock of gray hair to a stiffer brush over his brow. "That's what I set out to do, I believe."

"But that's no reason why you should tire yourself to death, and break down the first year," said Mr. King, eyeing him sharply. "Zounds, man, that isn't what I brought you up from the country for."

Dr. Fisher looked into his wife's eyes and smiled. "I believe you brought me," the smile said. But he kept his tongue still.

"And you must get accustomed to seeing suffering that you can't help. Why, man alive, the town's full of it; you can't expect to stop it alone."

"I'll do what I can to help," said the little doctor between his teeth, and taking a long draught of the coffee his wife put by his plate. "I suppose there's no objection to that. Now, that's good," smacking his lips in a pleased way.

"Of course not, if you help in the right way," said old Mr. King stoutly, "but I'll wager anything that you're picking up all sorts of odd jobs among the poor, that belong to the young doctors. Your place is considerably higher, where you can pick and choose your patients."

Dr. Fisher laughed--an odd little laugh, that along with its pleasant note, carried the ring of a strong will.

"Oh! well, you know, I'm too old to learn new ways," he said. "Better let me wag on at the old ones."

Mr. King gave an exclamation of disapproval. "It's lucky your time is short," he said grimly, and the secret was nearly out!

"Phronsie is coming downstairs to-morrow, isn't she?" asked Jasper quickly, over to the doctor.

"Oh! no, indeed, I think not," answered Mr. King before Dr. Fisher had time to reply. "She would better wait a day or two longer. Isn't that so, Doctor?" at last appealing to him.

"I don't agree with you," the little doctor drew off his attention from his plate. "You see she has regained her strength remarkably. Now the quicker she is in the family life again, the better for her."

"Oh, good! good!" cried Polly, delighted at the safe withdrawal from the precipice of dangerous argument. "Alexia, now you must help us think up something to celebrate her coming downstairs."

"Not so fast, Polly." The little doctor beamed at her in a way surprising to see after the morning's affair. "Phronsie won't be ready for any celebration before next week. Then I think you may venture."

Alexia pouted and played with her spoon.

"O dear!" cried Dick dolefully, "what's the reason we must wait a whole week, pray tell?"

"Because Father Fisher says so," replied Ben across the table; "that's the principal reason--and it doesn't need any more to support it"--

"Well, I tell you," broke in Polly in her brightest way, "let us think up perfectly splendid things. It's best as it is, for it will take us a week to get ready."

"I shall get her a new doll," declared Mr. King. The rest shouted. "Her others must be quite worn out."

"What could you get her," cried Mr. Whitney, "in the way of a doll? Do tell us, for I really do not see."

"Why, one of those phonograph dolls, to be sure," cried Mr. King promptly.

"Are they on sale yet?" asked Jasper. "I thought they had not perfected them enough for the market."

"I think I know where one can be bought," said his father. "They must be perfected--it's all nonsense that I can't find one if Phronsie wants it! Yes, she shall have a phonograph doll."

"That will be perfectly elegant," exclaimed Polly, with sparkling eyes. "Won't Phronsie be delighted when she hears it talk?"

"She ought to have a Punch and Judy show," said Mrs. Whitney, "she's always so pleased with them, father."

Mr. King pushed away his coffee-cup, and pulled out his note-book.

"'Punch and Judy,' down that goes," he said, noting it after "phonograph doll." "What else?"

"Can't we have some of those boys up from the Orphan Asylum?" asked Polly, after a minute in which everybody had done a bit of hard thinking. "Phronsie loves to hear them sing when she goes there. Oh! they are so cunning."

"She'll want to give them her best toys and load them down with all her possessions. You see if she doesn't," warned Jasper.

"Well, she won't give away her new doll, anyway," cried Polly.

"No, she never gives away one of the dolls you've given her, father," said Mrs. Whitney slowly, "not a single one. I tried her one day, asking her to give me one to bestow on a poor child, and she quite reproached me by the look in her brown eyes. I haven't asked her since."

"What did she say?" asked Mr. King abruptly.

"'I can't, Auntie; dear Grandpapa gave them to me himself.' Then she ran for her savings bank, and poured out the money in my lap. 'Let's go out and buy the poor child a doll,' she begged, and I really had to do it. And there must be at least two hundred dolls in this house."

"Two hundred dolls!" cried Alexia in astonishment, and raising her hands.

"Why, yes; father has been bringing Phronsie dolls for the last five years, with the greatest faithfulness, till her family has increased to a painful extent."

"O dear me!" cried Alexia, with great emphasis. "I should think they'd be under foot in every room."

"Well, indeed they're not," said Polly; "she keeps them up in her playroom."

"And the playroom closet," said Mrs. Whitney, "that is full. I peeped in there yesterday, and the dolls are ranged according to the times when father gave them to her."

"And the baby-house is just crowded," laughed Jasper. "I know, because I saw her moving out her chairs and tables to make room."

"O dear me!" exclaimed Alexia again, for want of something else to say.

"I just hate dolls," exploded Dick. "Faugh! how can girls play with them; they're so silly. And Phronsie always has something to do for hers, so she can't come when I want her to. I wish they were burned up," he added vindictively.

Mr. King rubbed his forehead in a puzzled way. "Perhaps she has enough," he said at last. "Yet what shall I give her if I don't buy a doll?"

"I'd give her the phonograph one, father," said Mrs. Whitney, "anyway."

"Yes, of course; but after that, what shall I do?"

He looked so troubled that Mrs. Whitney hastened to say, "Oh, well, father! you know when you are abr"--and the secret Was nearly out for the second time!

But they were saved by the appearance of Alexia's father, who often dropped in on the edge of the dinner hour, for a second cup of coffee.

The next morning Phronsie was waiting for Grandpapa King, who insisted that no one else should carry her downstairs, the remainder of the household in various stages of delight and expectation, revolving around her, and curbing their impatience as best they might, in hall and on staircase.

"Oh, Grandpapa! do hurry," begged Dick, kicking his heels on the stairs.

"Hush, Dicky boy," said mamma. "Grandpapa can't come till his agent is gone. Don't you hear them talking in the library?"

"Well I wish Mr. Frazer would take himself off; he's a nuisance," declared the boy. "He's been here a whole hour."

"Here comes Grandpapa!" announced Polly gleefully, from a station nearer the library. "Hush, now, Mr. Frazer's going!"

The library door opening at this announcement, and a few sentences charged with business floating up the staircase, the bustle around Phronsie became joyfully intense.

"Mamsie, don't you think she ought to have a shawl on?" cried Polly anxiously, running over the stairs. "She's been shut up so long!"

"No," said Mother Fisher. "Doctor told me particularly not to bundle her up. It was the last thing he said before he went to his office."

"Well," said Polly with a sigh, "then there isn't absolutely anything more to do for her. Why doesn't Grandpapa come?"

"You are worse than Dicky," said Mrs. Fisher with a little laugh. "Dear me, Polly, just think how old you are."

Phronsie stood quite still in the middle of the floor and folded her hands. "I want to see Grandpapa all alone when he comes up," she said.

"What for?" cried Polly, pausing in astonishment.

"Do you want us all to go out, Phronsie?" asked her mother slowly.

"Yes," said Phronsie, shaking her yellow head with great decision, "please every single one go out, Mamsie. I want to see Grandpapa quite alone."

"All right, child," said Mrs. Fisher, with a look at Polly. So after a little demur and consequent delay on the part of the others, the door was closed and she was left standing all alone.

Phronsie drew a long breath. "I wish Grandpapa would come," she said to herself.

"And so you wanted me, did you, dear?" cried Mr. King joyfully, as he hurried in and closed the door carefully. "Well, now, see if I can guess what you want to tell me."

"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, standing quite still and turning a puzzled face toward him, "I don't want to tell you anything; I want to ask you something."

"Well, well, dear, what is it?" Old Mr. King, not stopping for a chair, leaned over her and stroked her yellow head. "Now, then, look up, and ask me right off, Phronsie."

"Must a person keep a promise?" asked Phronsie, "a really and truly promise, Grandpapa?"

"Yes, yes," said the old gentleman with great abruptness, "to be sure one must, Phronsie. To be sure. So now if any one has promised you anything, do you make him stick to it. It's mean enough to break your word, child."

Phronsie drew a long breath.

"That's all, Grandpapa," she said, and lifting up her arms; "now take me downstairs, please." She laid a cool little cheek against his, as he raised her to his shoulder.

"Remember what I say, Phronsie," laughed Mr. King, his mind more intent on the delightful fact that he was carrying down the longed-for burden to the family life, than on what he was saying, "and if any one has promised you anything, keep him up sharp to pay you. I verily believe it is that scamp Dick. Here goes!" and reaching the door he threw it wide. "Forward, march!"

"Well, is the important conference over?" asked Polly, with a keen look at them both.

Mrs. Fisher's eyes did their duty, but she said nothing.

"Yes, indeed," declared Mr. King, marching on gaily. "Now clear the way there, all you good people. Here, you Dick, drumming your heels, go ahead, sir."

"I'm glad enough to," shouted Dick, racing down the remainder of the stairs. "Halloo, Phronsie," waving his hand at her, "three cheers and a tiger! Bother! Here comes Mrs. Chatterton."

Which was quite true. To every one's astonishment the door of that lady's apartment opened slowly, disclosing her in new morning wrapper, preparing to join the cavalcade.

"Good morning, Cousin Eunice," cried Mr. King gaily. He could be merry with any one this day. "Come on, this is a festal occasion, you see; Phronsie's going downstairs for the first time. Fall into line!"

"I'm not able to go down," said Mrs. Chatterton, coming slowly out into the hall, "but I'll stand here and see the parade."

"Bully!" exploded Dick softly, peering up from the foot of the stairs.

Phronsie looked over Mr. King's shoulder at her as she was borne down the stairs, and, putting out her hand, "I'm all well now," she said.

"Yes, I see," said Mrs. Chatterton. Then she pulled up her white shawl with a shiver. "It's rather cold here," she said; "after all, I believe I must get back to my room."

Nobody noticed when she crept back, the hilarity now being so great below stairs.

"I certainly am losing ground," she muttered, "every little thing affects me so. I'll step into Bartram's office next time I go down town and set that little matter straight, since I've made up my mind to do it. It never would do to let him come to the house. Horatio would suspect something to see my lawyer here, and the whole household imagine I was going to die right off. No, no; I must go there, that's clear. Then if it's attended to, I'll live all the longer, with nothing on my mind."

Phronsie, meanwhile, was going around from room to room in a pleased way, and touching different objects gently "Everything's new, isn't it, Polly," she said at last, "when you stay upstairs? Oh! there's my kittens in the basket," pointing to a bisque vase on the table.

"Yes," said Polly; "Mamsie brought it in here. And we've some flowers; Alexia sent them over. They're out in the back hall; we saved them for you to put in yourself."

"Oh!" exclaimed Phronsie, "that's so good in you, Polly."

"Don't stop now," cried Dick in disgust. "Faugh! you can fix flowers any time. Come out into the dining-room--and you'll see something you'll like."

Phronsie smothered a sigh, and turned slowly away from the kittens waiting in their basket for Alexia's flowers. "Come on!" shouted Dick, seizing her hand. "You never can guess what it is, in all this world."

"Is it a new dog?" asked Phronsie fearfully, whose memory of Dick's latest purchase was not altogether happy.

"No," said Dick, pulling her on, "better than that."

"Don't hurry her so," said Polly. "What have you got, Dick?"

"Now, do you mind, sir," cried Jasper, "else well stop your pretty plan."

"I won't hurry her," said Dick, slackening his gait. "Well, here we are," opening the dining-room door. "Why, Jane has let it out!"

Phronsie fell back a step at this and tried to cover her feet with her gown, searching the floor for the "it."

"Lookout!" cried Dick suddenly. "There he goes!" And something whirred over Phronsie's head.

"Oh! what is it?" she cried, tumbling into Jasper's arms and clasping his neck. "Oh! oh!"

"Why, it's a swallow," cried Dick, in the babel that ensued, "a beautiful one, too. I've just caught him, and I made Jane let me bring it in here to surprise you," he added proudly.

"Well, you've succeeded," cried Jasper, holding Phronsie close. "There, there, child, it's all right. It's a bird, Phronsie, and he's gone upstairs."

"He'll frighten my dolls," cried Phronsie in new alarm, hanging to Jasper's neck. "Oh! do let us go upstairs, and tell them he's only a bird."

"Run along, Dick, and catch your old bird," cried Jasper, "and clear out with him--quick now!"

"He's the best thing there is in this house," cried Dick, going over the back stairs two at a time. "Girls are so silly."

"Bring him down," said Polly, moving along to the foot, "and I'll show him to Phronsie, and tell her about him. Then she'll like him, Dick."

"I'll like him, Dick," echoed Phronsie, "if he doesn't frighten my dolls."

This episode taking the family life to the rear of the house, no one noticed that soft footsteps were passing through the open front door, that Jane, who was sweeping the vestibule, had left ajar to run and tell Dick that she had not let the bird out of the dining-room. So the uninvited guest to the household let himself up easily to the scene of his hopes--the location of the ladies' jewel-boxes.