III. The Rehearsal
 

"Now, Phronsie," said Polly, on her knees before the Princess, who was slowly evolving into "a thing of beauty," "do hold still just a minute, dear. There," as she thrust in another pin, then turned her head critically to view her work, "I do hope that is right."

Phronsie sighed. "May I just stretch a wee little bit, Polly," she asked timidly, "before you pin it up? Just a very little bit?"

"To be sure you may," said Polly, looking into the flushed little face; "I'll tell you, you may walk over to the window and back, once; that'll rest you and give me a chance to see what is the matter with that back drapery."

So Phronsie, well pleased, gathered up the embyro robe of the Princess and moved off, a bewildering tangle of silver spangles and floating lace, drawn over the skirt of one of Mrs. Whitney's white satin gowns.

"There ought to be a dash of royal purple somewhere," said Polly, sitting on the floor to see her go, and resting her tired hands on her knees. "Now where shall I get it, and where shall I put it when I do have it?" She wrinkled up her eyebrows a moment, lost in thought over the momentous problem. "Oh! I know," and she sprang up exultingly. "Phronsie, won't this be perfectly lovely? we can take that piece of tissue paper Auntie gave you, and I can cut out little knots and sashes. It is so soft, that in the gaslight they will look like silk. How fine!"

"Can't I be a Princess unless you sew up that purple paper?" asked Phronsie, pausing suddenly to look over her shoulder in dismay at Polly.

"Why, yes, you can be, of course," said Polly, "but you can't be as good a one as if you had a dash of royal purple about you. What's a bit of tissue paper to the glory of being a Princess?" she cried, with sparkling eyes. "Dear me, I wish I could be one."

"Well, you may have it, Polly," said Phronsie with a sigh, "and then afterwards I'll rip it all off and smooth it out, and it will be almost as good as new."

"I think there won't be much left of it when the play is over," cried Polly with a laugh; "why, the dragons are going to carry you off to their cave, you know, and you are to be rescued by the knight, just think, Phronsie! You can't expect to have such perfectly delightful times, and come out with a quantity of tissue paper all safe. Something has to be scarified to royalty, child."

Phronsie sighed again. But as Polly approved of royalty so highly, she immediately lent herself to the anticipations of the pleasure before her, smothering all lesser considerations.

"When you get your little silver cap on with one of Auntie's diamond rings sewed in it, why, you'll be too magnificent for anything," said Polly, now pulling and patting with fresh enthusiasm, since the "purple dash" was forthcoming.

"Princesses don't wear silver caps with diamond rings sewed in them," observed Phronsie wisely.

"Of course not; they have diamonds by the bushel, and don't need to sew rings in their caps to make them sparkle," said Polly, plaiting and pinning rapidly, "but in dressing up for a play, we have to take a poetic license. There, turn just one bit to the right, Phronsie dear."

"What's poetic license?" demanded Phronsie, wrenching her imagination off from the bushel of diamonds to seize practical information.

"Oh! when a man writes verses and says things that aren't so," said Polly, her mind on the many details before her.

"But he ought not to," cried Phronsie, with wide eyes, "say things that are not so. I thought poets were always very good, Polly."

"Oh! well, people let him," said Polly, carelessly, "because he puts it into poetry. It would never do in prose; that would be quite shocking."

"Oh!" said Phronsie, finding the conversation some alleviation to the fitting-on process.

"Now this left side," said Polly, twisting her head to obtain a good view of the point in question, "is just right; I couldn't do it any better if I were to try a thousand times. Why won't this other one behave, and fall into a pretty curve, I wonder?"

Phronsie yawned softly as the brown eyes were safely behind her.

"I shall gather it up anyway, so," and Polly crushed the refractory folds recklessly in one hand; "that's the way Mary Gibbs's hat trimmings look, and I'm sure they're a complete success. Oh! that's lovely," cried Polly, at the effect. "Now, that's the treatment the whole drapery needs," she added in the tone of an art connoisseur. "Oh!"

A rushing noise announced the approach of two or three boys, together with the barking of Prince, as they all ran down the wide hall.

"O dear, dear!" exclaimed Polly, hurriedly pulling and pinning, "there come the boys to rehearse. It can't be four o'clock," as the door opened and three members of the cast entered.

"It's quarter-past four," said Jasper, laughing and pulling out his watch; "we gave you an extra fifteen minutes, as you had such a lot to do. Dear me! but you are fine, Phronsie. I make my obeisance to Princess Clotilde!" and he bowed low to the little silver and white figure, as did the other two boys, and then drew off to witness the final touches.

"It's a most dreadful thing," cried Polly, pushing back the brown waves from her brow, as she also fell off to their point of view, "to get up a princess. I had no idea it was such a piece of work."

"You have scored an immense success," said Jasper enthusiastically. "Oh, Phronsie! you will make the hit of the season."

"You'll think it is even much nicer when it is done," said Polly, vastly relieved that Jasper had given such a kind verdict. "It's to have a dash of royal purple on that right side, and in one of the shoulder knots, and to catch up her train."

"That will be very pretty, I don't doubt," said Jasper, trying to resolve himself into the cold critic, "but it seems to me it is almost perfect now, Polly."

"Oh! thank you so much," she cried, with blooming cheeks. "How do you like it, Clare and Bensie?"

"I can't tell," said Ben, slowly regarding the Princess on all sides; "it's so transforming."

"It's tiptop!" cried Clare. "It out-princesses any princess I've ever imagined."

"Well, it's a perfect relief," said Polly, "to have you boys come in. I've been working so over it that I was ready to say it was horrid. It's too bad, isn't it, that Dick can't be here to-day to rehearse his part?"

"To be sure," exclaimed Jasper, looking around, "where is the Princess's page?"

"He's gone to the dentist's," said Polly, making a wry face. "Auntie had to make the appointment for this afternoon, and we couldn't put off the rehearsal; Clare can't come any other time, you know."

Phronsie turned an anxious face to the window. "I hope he's not being hurt very much," she said slowly.

"I don't believe he is," Polly made haste to answer most cheerfully, "it was only one tooth, you know, Phronsie, to be filled. Auntie says Dr. Porter told her the rest are all right."

But a cloud rested on the Princess's face. "One tooth is something," she said.

"Just think how nice it will be when it is all over, and Dick comes scampering in," cried Jasper, with great hilarity.

"Do climb up on the sofa, Phronsie," urged Polly, looking into the pale little face, "you must sit down and rest a bit, you're so tired."

"I will read the prologue while she rests," said Jasper.

"So you can," said Polly. "Take care, child," in alarm, "you mustn't curl up in the corner like that; princesses don't ever do so."

"Don't they?" said Phronsie, flying off from the lovely corner, to straighten out again into the dignity required; "not when they are little girls, Polly?"

"No, indeed," said Polly, with a rescuing hand among the silver spangles and lace; they must never forget that they are princesses, Phronsie. There now, you're all right."

"Oh!" said Phronsie, sitting quite stiffly, glad if she could not be comfortable, she could be a princess.

"'Gentle ladies and brave sirs,'" began Jasper in a loud, impressive tone, from the temporary stage, the large rug in front of the crackling hearth fire.

Clare burst into a laugh. "See here now," cried Jasper, brandishing his text at him, "if you embarrass me like that, you may leave, you old dragon!"

"You ought to see your face," cried Clare. "Jap, you are anything but a hit."

"You'll be yet," declared Jasper with a pretended growl, and another flourish of the manuscript.

"Go on, do," implored Polly, "I think it is lovely. Clare, you really ought to be ashamed," and she shook her brown head severely at him.

"If I don't quench such melodrama in the outset," said Clare, "he'll ruin us all. Fair ladies and brave sirs," mimicking to perfection Jasper's tones.

"Thank you for a hint," cried Jasper, pulling out his pencil. "I didn't say 'fair'; that's better than 'gentle.' I wish critics would always be so useful as to give one good idea. Heigho! here goes again:

          "'Fair ladies and brave sirs,
           The player's art is to amuse,
           Instruct, or to confuse
           By too much good advice,
           But poorly given:
           That no one follows, because, forsooth,
           'Tis thrown at him, neck and heels.
           The drama, pure and simple, is forgot
           In tugging in the moral'"?

"I thought you were going to alter 'tugging in' to something more elegant," said Polly.

"Lugging in," suggested Clare, with another laugh.

"Morals are always tugged in by the head and shoulders," said Jasper. "Why not say so?"

"We should have pretty much the whole anatomy of the human form divine, if you had your way," cried Clare. "Listen!

"'Because, forsooth, 'tis thrown at him, neck and heels' and 'Tugging in the moral, head and shoulders.' Now just add 'by the pricking of my thumbs,' etc., and you have them all."

Jasper joined as well as Polly and Ben in the laugh at the prologue's expense, but Phronsie sat erect winking hard, her royal hands folded quite still in her lap.

"You're bound for a newspaper office, my boy," said Jasper at length. "How you will cut into the coming poet, and maul the fledgling of the prose writer! Well, I stand corrected.

          "'The drama pure and simple,
           Is forgot, in straining at the moral.'
          "Is that any better?" (To the audience.)

"Yes, I think it is," said Polly, "but I do believe it's time to talk more elegantly, Jasper. It is due to the people in the private boxes, you know."

"Oh! the boxes are to have things all right before the play is over; never you fear, Polly," said Jasper.

          "'A poor presentment,
           You will say we give;
           But cry you mercy, Sirs, and'"?

"I don't like 'cry you mercy,'" announced Ben slowly, "because it doesn't seem to mean anything."

"Oh! don't cut that out," exclaimed Polly, clasping her hands and rushing up to Ben. "That's my pet phrase; you mustn't touch that, Bensie."

"But it doesn't mean anything," reiterated Ben in a puzzled way.

"Who cares?" cried Jasper defiantly. "A great many expressions that haven't the least significance are put in a thing of this sort. Padding, you know, my dear sir."

"Oh!" said Ben literally, "I didn't know as you needed padding. All right, if it is necessary." "It's antique, and perfectly lovely, and just like Shakespeare," cried Polly, viewing Ben in alarm.

"Oh! let the Bard of Avon have one say in this production," cried Clare. "Go on, do, with your 'cry you mercy.' What's next, Jap?"

"Are you willing, Ben?" asked Jasper, with a glance at Polly.

"Ye--es," said Ben, also gazing at the rosy face and anxious eyes, "it can go as padding, I suppose."

"Oh! I am so glad," exclaimed Polly in glee, and dancing around the room. "And you won't be sorry, I know, Bensie; the audience will applaud that very thing I'm almost sure," which made Jasper sternly resolve something on the spot.

"Well, I shall never be through at this rate," he said, whirling over the manuscript to find his place. "Oh! here I am:

          "'But cry you mercy, Sirs and ladies fair,
           We aim but to be dragons,
           Not mortals posing for effect.
           We have a princess, to be sure'"?

"I should think we have," interrupted Clare with a glance over at the sofa. "Goodness me, she's fast asleep!"

"Poor little thing, she is tired to death," cried Polly remorsefully, while they all rushed over to the heap of lace and spangles, blissfully oblivious of "prologues."

"Do let her sleep through this piece of stupidity," said Jasper, bundling up another satin skirt that Mrs. Whitney had loaned for Polly to make a choice from. "There," putting it under the yellow head, "we'll call her when the dragons come on."

"Take care," cried Polly, with intercepting hand, "that's Auntie's lovely satin gown."

"Beg pardon," said Jasper, relinquishing it speedily. "Here's the sofa pillow, after all," dragging it from its temporary retirement under the theatrical debris. "Now let's get back to work; time is going fast." In a lowered voice:

          "'We have a princess, to be sure,
           A sweet and gracious Clotilde,
           And a knight who does her homage,
           But the rest of us
           Are fishy, scaly,
           Horny and altogether horrid,
           And of very low degree
           Who scarce know why we are upon the boards,
           Except for your amusement,
           So prithee'"?

"Hold!" cried Clare, "what stuff."

"Give me an inch of time," cried Jasper, hurrying on, "and I'll end the misery:

          "'So prithee, be amused;
           We're undone, if you are not,
           And all our labor lost.
           Pray laugh, and shake your sides,
           And say "'tis good;
           I' faith, 'tis very good."
           And we shall say
           "Your intellects do you credit."
           And so we bid you a fond adieu,
           And haste away to unshackle the dragons,
           Who even now do roar without.'"

Clare threw himself into the part of the dragons, and forgetful of Phronsie, gave a loud roar. Polly clapped her hands and tossed an imaginary bouquet as Jasper bowed himself off.

"Hush!" said Ben, "you'll wake up Phronsie," but it was too late; there she sat rubbing her eyes in astonishment.

"Oh! you darling," cried Polly, running over to her, to clasp her in her arms, "I'm so sorry I tired you all out, Phronsie dear, do forgive me."

"I'm not tired," said Phronsie, with dewy eyes. "Has Jasper got through reading? What was it all about, Polly?"

"Indeed and I have finished," he cried with a yawn and throwing the manuscript on the table, "and I don't know in the least what it is all about, Phronsie."

"Just a lot of dreadful words," said Clare over in the corner, pulling at a heap of costumes on the floor. "Never mind; the horrible spell is broken; come on, you fellows, and tumble into your dragon skins!"

With that the chief dragon deserted Phronsie, and presently there resounded the rattle of the scales, the clanking of chains, and the dragging about of the rest of their paraphernalia.

"Now, Phronsie," said Jasper, coming back, half-within his dragon skin and gesticulating, "you see that it's only I in this thing. Look, dear! here goes in my head," and he pulled on the scaly covering, observing great care to smile reassuringly the last thing before his countenance was obscured.

Phronsie screamed with delight and clapped her hands. "Oh, Jasper! let me have one on, do, Jasper! I'd much rather be a dragon than a princess. Really and truly I would, Jasper."

"I don't agree with you," said Jasper, in a muffled voice. "Phew! this is no end stuffy, fellows. I can't stand it long."

"I'm all coming to pieces," said Ben, turning around to regard his back where the scales yawned fearfully.

"I'll run and ask Mamsie to come and sew you up," cried Polly, flying off. "She said she would help, if we wanted her."