Chapter X. Phronsie Has a Plan.
 

Phronsie was the first to reach Charlotte's door.

"Charlotte?" she called softly through the keyhole. There was no answer, and after one or two ineffectual attempts, Phronsie turned fearfully away.

"I do believe something is in the room with Charlotte," she said, as Polly came running up the stairs. Then she sat down on the top step and clasped her hands. "I heard it raging up and down."

"Oh, no, Phronsie," said Polly reassuringly, "there couldn't be anything in there with Charlotte. I'll try," and she laid a quick hand on the knob. "Oh, Charlotte, do open the door; you are worrying us all so," called Polly imploringly.

Charlotte flung wide the door. Two red spots burned on her cheeks, and her pale blue eyes snapped. But when she saw Polly, she said, "I'm sorry I frightened you, but I'm best alone."

"Isn't there really anything in here with you, Charlotte?" asked Phronsie, getting off from her stair, to peer past Polly. "Oh, I'm sure I heard it raging up and down."

"That was I," said Charlotte; "I was the wild beast, Phronsie."

"Oh, dear," breathed Phronsie.

"And oh!" exclaimed Polly.

"Charlotte," said Phronsie, coming in to slip her hand into Charlotte's, "it was just beautiful when you sang; I thought it was birds when you went clear up into the air. I did really, Charlotte."

"Oh, don't!" begged Charlotte, looking over at Polly.

"Come down to dinner, Charlotte," said Polly quickly. "Really you must, else I am afraid Grandpapa will be up here after you."

"I don't want any dinner," said Charlotte, drawing back.

"Indeed, but you must come down," said Polly firmly, holding out her hand. "Come, Charlotte."

"Let me smooth your hair," begged Phronsie, standing on tiptoe; "do bend down just a very little, please. There, that's it," patting Charlotte's head with both hands; "now you look very nice; you really do--doesn't she, Polly."

"Yes, indeed," said Polly cheerily, "just as fine as can be. There, they are coming after us," as quick footsteps sounded in the hall below. "Hurry, Charlotte, do. We're coming, boys," she called.

They had just finished dinner, when a note was handed Polly. It ran thus:

"Do, dear Polly, run over to-morrow morning early. I want to consult you in regard to asking Miss Chatterton to sing at my next 'At Home.' I should be charmed to have her favor us.

"FELICIA A. CABOT."

"The very thing!" exclaimed Jasper, with only a thought for Polly's pleasure, when Polly had cried, "How nice of Mrs. Cabot!" "Don't you say so, father?" he added.

"Assuredly," said old Mr. King with great satisfaction in Polly's pleasure, and at her success in drawing Charlotte out. And then he thought no more about it, and the bell ringing and Mr. Alstyne coming in, he went off into the library for a quiet chat.

And after this, there were no more quiet days for Charlotte Chatterton. Everybody who was musical, wanted to revel in her voice; and everybody who wasn't, wanted the same thing because it was so talked about. So she was asked to sing at musicales and receptions without end, until Alexia exclaimed at last, "They are all raving, stark-mad over her, and it's all Polly's own fault, the whole of it."

Phronsie laid down the note she was writing to Mrs. Fargo, a fortnight later, and said to herself, "I would better do it now, I think," and going out, she went deliberately to old Mr. King's room, and rapped at the door.

"Come in!" called the old gentleman, "come in! Oh, bless me, it's you, Phronsie!" in pleased surprise.

"Yes, Grandpapa," said Phronsie, coming in and shutting the door carefully, "I came on purpose to see you all alone."

"So you did, dear," said Mr. King, highly gratified, and pushing away his writing table, he held out his hand. "Now, then, Phronsie, you are never going to be too big, you know, to sit on my knee, so hop up now."

"Oh, no, Grandpapa," cried Phronsie in a rapture, "I could never be too big for that," so she perched up as of old on his knee, then she folded her hands and looked gravely in his face.

"Well, my dear, what is it?" asked the old gentleman presently, "you've come to tell me something, I suppose."

"Yes, Grandpapa, I have," said Phronsie decidedly, "and it is most important too, Grandpapa, and oh, I do wish it so much," and she clasped her hands tighter and sighed.

"Well, then, Phronsie, if you want it, I suppose it must be," said Mr. King, quite as a matter of course. "But first, child, tell me what it is," and he stroked her yellow hair.

"Grandpapa," asked Phronsie suddenly, "how much money did Mrs. Chatterton say I was to have?"

"Oh, bless me!" exclaimed Mr. King, with a start. "Why, what makes you ask such a question? Oh, she left you everything she had, Phronsie; a couple of millions or so it is; why?"

"Grandpapa," asked Phronsie, looking intently at him, "isn't Charlotte very, very poor?"

"Charlotte poor?" repeated the old gentleman. "Why, no, not exactly; her father isn't rich, but Charlotte, I think, may do very well, especially as I intend to keep her here for a while, and then I shall never let her suffer, Phronsie; never, indeed."

"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, "wasn't Mrs. Chatterton aunt to Charlotte?"

"Yes; that is, to Charlotte's father," corrected Mr. King. "But what of that, child, pray? What have you got into your head, Phronsie?"

"If Mrs. Chatterton was aunt to Charlotte," persisted Phronsie slowly, "it seems as if Charlotte ought to have some of the money. It really does, Grandpapa."

"But Cousin Eunice didn't think so, else she'd have left it to Charlotte," said Mr. King abruptly, "and she did choose to leave it to you. So there's an end of it, Phronsie. I didn't want you to have it, but the thing was fixed, and I couldn't help myself. And neither can we do anything now, but take matters as they are."

"I do think," said Phronsie, without taking her eyes from his face, "that maybe Mrs. Chatterton is sorry now, and wishes that she had left some money to Charlotte. Don't you suppose so, Grandpapa?" and one hand stole up to his neck.

"Maybe," said the old gentleman, with a short laugh, "and I shouldn't wonder if Cousin Eunice was sorry over a few other things too, Phronsie."

"Wouldn't it make her very glad if I gave Charlotte some of the money?" Phronsie's red lips were very close to his ear now, "oh, I do want to so much; you can't think, Grandpapa, how much!"

For answer, Mr. King set her down hastily on the floor, and took two or three turns up and down the room. Phronsie stood a moment quite still where he left her, then she ran up to him and slipped her hand within his.

"Oh, I do so wish I might," she said, "there's so much for a little girl like me. It would be so nice to have Charlotte have some with me."

Still no answer. So Phronsie went up and down silently by his side for a few more turns. Then she spoke again. "Does it make you sorry, Grandpapa dear, to have me want Charlotte to have the money with me?" she asked timidly.

"No, no, child," answered Mr. King hastily, "and yet I don't know what to say. I don't feel that it would be right for you to give any of your money to her."

"Right?" cried Phronsie, opening her brown eyes very wide. "Why, isn't the money my very own, Grandpapa?"

"Yes, yes, of course; but you are too young to judge of such things," said the old gentleman decidedly, "as the giving away of property and all that."

"Oh, Grandpapa!" exclaimed Phronsie, in gentle reproach, and standing very tall. "Why, I am thirteen."

"And when you get to be ten years older, you might blame me," said Mr. King, "and I can't say but what you'd have reason if I let you do such a thing as to give away any money to Charlotte."

"Blame you? Why, Grandpapa, I couldn't." Phronsie drew a long breath, then threw herself convulsively into his arms, her face working hard in her efforts not to cry. But it was no use, and Mr. King caught her in time to see the quick drops roll down Phronsie's cheek and to feel them fall on his hand.

"Oh, dear me!" he cried in great distress, "there, there, child, you shall give away the whole if you wish; I've enough for you without it--only don't cry, Phronsie. You may do anything you like, dear. There," mopping up her wet little face with his handkerchief, "now that's a good child; Phronsie, you are not going to cry, of course not. There, do smile a bit; that's my girl now," as a faint light stole into Phronsie's eyes. "I didn't mean you'd really blame me, only"--

"I couldn't," still said Phronsie, and it looked as if the shower were about to fall again.

"I know, child; you think your old Grandpapa does just about right," said Mr. King soothingly, and highly gratified.

"He's ever and always right," said Phronsie, still not moving.

"Bless you, child," cried the old gentleman, much moved, "I wish I could say I believed what you say. But many things in my life might have been bettered."

"Oh, no, Grandpapa," protested Phronsie in a tone of horror, "they couldn't have been better. Don't, Grandpapa, don't!" she caught him around the neck imploringly.

"Well, I won't, child," promised Mr. King, holding her close. "And now, Phronsie, I'll tell you; I'll think of all this that you and I have talked over, and I'll let you know by and by what you ought to do about it, and you mustn't say anything about it to anybody, not to a single soul, child. It shall be just a secret between you and me."

"I won't, Grandpapa," said Phronsie obediently, and patting his broad back with her soft hand.

"And, meantime," said Mr. King, quite satisfied, "why, Charlotte is having pretty good times, I think. Polly is looking out for that."

"Polly is making her have beautiful times," said Phronsie happily, "oh, very beautiful times indeed, Grandpapa."

"I expect she's an awful nuisance," the old gentleman broke out suddenly.

"Oh, Grandpapa!" exclaimed Phronsie, breaking away from him to look into his face.

"Well, well, perhaps I shouldn't say quite that," said Mr. King, correcting himself. "But, well, now, Phronsie, you run back to your play, child, and I'll set to work at once to think out this matter."

"I was writing a note to Mrs. Fargo," said Phronsie, putting up her lips for a kiss. "You are sure you won't make your head ache thinking about it, Grandpapa?" she asked anxiously.

"Sure as I can be, Phronsie," said old Mr. King, smiling. "Good-by, dear."

       *       *       *       *       *

"See here, Pickering," Mr. Cabot threw wide the door of his private office with a nervous hand. "It is time I had a good talk with you. Come in; I never get one nowadays."

"Can't stop, Uncle," said Pickering hastily. "Besides, what would be the use, you never see anything encouraging about me or my career. And I believe I am going to the dogs."

"Indeed you are not, Pickering," cried Mr. Cabot quickly, the color rising to his cheek. "There, there, my sister's boy shall never say that. But come in, come in." He laid hold of Pickering's arm and gently forced him into the little room.

Not to be ungracious, the young man threw himself into a chair. "Well, what is it, Uncle? Do out with it; I'm in no mood for a lecture, though, this morning."

"I'm not going to lecture you, my boy," said Mr. Cabot, closing the door, then going to the mantel to lean one elbow on it, a favorite attitude of his, while he scanned his nephew. "But something worse than common has come to you. Can I help in any way?"

"No, no, don't ask me," ejaculated Pickering, striking his knee with one glove, and turning apprehensively in his chair. "Oh, hang it, Uncle, why can't you let me alone?"

"I've seen this thing, whatever it is, coming upon you for sometime," said Mr. Cabot, too nervous to notice the entreaty in Pickering's voice and manner, "and I cannot wait any longer to find out the trouble. It's my right, Pickering; you have no father to see to you, and I've always wanted to have the best success be yours." He turned away his head now, a break coming in his voice.

"You have, Uncle, you have," assented Pickering, brought out a trifle from his distress, "but then I'm not equal to the strain my relatives put upon me. Not worth it, either," he added, relapsing into his gloom. Then he shoved his chair so that he could not look his uncle in the face, and bent a steady glance out of the window.

Mr. Cabot gave a nervous start that carried him away from the mantel a step or two. But when he was there, he felt so much worse, that he soon got back into the old position.

"I don't see, Pickering," he resumed, "why you shouldn't get along. You're through college."

"Which is a wonder," interpolated Pickering.

"Well, I can't say but that I was a good deal disturbed at one time," said Mr. Cabot frankly; "but never mind that now, you are through," and he heaved a sigh of relief, "and nicely established with Van Metre and Cartwright. It's the best law firm in the town, Pickering." Mr. Cabot brought his elbow off from the mantel enough to smite his palms together smartly in enthusiasm. "I got you in there."

"I know you did, Uncle," said Pickering; "you've done everything that's good. Only I repeat I'm not worth it," and he drummed on the chair-arm.

"For Heaven's sake, Pickering!" cried his uncle, darting in front of the chair and its restless occupant, "don't say that again. It's enough to make a man go to the bad, to lose hope. What have you been doing lately? Do you gamble?"

"What do you take me for?" demanded Pickering, starting to his feet with flashing eyes, and throwing open his top-coat as if the weight oppressed him. "I've been a lazy dog all my life, and a good-for-naught; but I hope I've not sunk to that."

"Oh, nothing, nothing--I'm sure I didn't mean," cried Mr. Cabot, starting back suddenly in astonishment. "Dear me, Pickering," taking off his eyeglasses to blow his nose, "you needn't pick me up so violently. I've been much worried about you," settling his glasses again for another look at his nephew. "And I can't tolerate any thoughts I cannot speak."

"I should think not," retorted Pickering shortly; "the trouble is in having the thoughts."

"And I am very much relieved to find that my fears are groundless--that you've been about nothing that my sister or I should be ashamed of," and he picked up courage to step forward gingerly and pat the young man on the shoulder. "You are in trouble, though, and I insist on knowing what it is."

Pickering dropped suddenly beneath his uncle's hand, into the nearest chair.