Chapter III. Christmas at Dunraven.
 

"Grandpapa," cried Phronsie, flying down the platform, "the box of dolls isn't here!"

"Goodness me!" exclaimed old Mr. King, whirling around, "'tisn't possible, child, that we've come off without that. It must be with the other luggage."

"O, no, Grandpapa dear!" declared Phronsie in great distress, and clasping her hands to keep the tears back, "it really, surely hasn't come; Polly says so."

"Well, then, if Polly says so, it must have been left at home," said the old gentleman, "and there's no use in my going to look over the luggage," he groaned.

"What's the matter?" cried Joel, rushing up, his jolly face aglow.

"The worst thing that could possibly happen," said Mr. King irritably; "Phronsie's box of dolls is left behind." Then he began to fume up and down the platform, wholly lost to everything but his indignation.

"Whew!" ejaculated Joel, "that is a miss!" and he looked down at Phronsie, but her broad hat had drooped, the brown eyes seeking the platform floor. "See here, Phronsie."

Phronsie didn't speak for a breathing-space. "What is it, Joey?" then she said, not looking up.

"I'll go back after it; don't you worry, child."

"Oh, but you can't," cried Phronsie, throwing her head back quickly, "the train will come, and then you won't be here."

"I'll take the next train; of course I can't get back for this," said Joel, swallowing hard. "I'll bring the box all right," and he dashed off.

"Joel--oh, Joel!" cried Phronsie, running after him, "don't go!" she implored.

"Here! here! what's the matter?" cried old Mr. King, forgetting his indignation to hurry after her. "Phronsie, wait; what is it, dear?"

"Joel's gone," panted Phronsie, flying back, her broad hat falling off to her shoulders, "oh, do stop him, Grandpapa dear! I'd rather not take the dolls than to have Joel left."

"Stop him? I can't. Bless me, here--somebody!" turning off to the little knots of his party scattered over the platform, "where are you all?"

Polly came running up at this, with a pale face. "Oh, Grandpapa!" she began at sight of him.

"Joel's gone home," announced Phronsie, clasping her hands in distress, "after the box of dolls, and"--

"Joel's gone home!" echoed Polly, standing quite still.

"Yes," said Phronsie, "oh, Polly, do stop him and bring him back."

"She can't," cried the old gentleman; "that boy's legs have carried him half over the town by this time. Nobody could stop him, child."

And then, most of the little knots heard the commotion, and came hurrying up with "What is it?" and "Oh dear, what's the matter?" in time to hear Polly groan, "And Joe thought so much of going down to Dunraven with us!"

"Well, where is he?" cried Jasper, whirling around to look in all directions; while Ben took a few long strides to peer around the station, and David and the other "Harvard Fresh." who had been invited to keep him company, ran, one up, and the other down, the long platform.

"See here now," shouted old Mr. King so sharply that all the flying feet were arrested at once, "every one of you come back! Goodness me, the idea of the Bedford party being scattered to the four winds in this fashion!"

"I'd help if I could," said Mr. Hamilton Dyce, "but I really don't know what it's all about yet."

"Oh dear--dear!" Polly was yet wailing. Then she remembered, and threw her arms around Phronsie who was standing quite still by her side. "Phronsie, precious pet," and she picked up her pretty stuff gown to kneel on the platform-floor to look into the little face, "don't feel badly, dear. Joel will come on the next train."

"But he won't be with us," said Phronsie slowly, and turning her brown eyes piteously to Polly.

"I know it," Polly smothered a sigh, "but we can't help it now. Grandpapa is feeling dreadfully; oh, Phronsie, you wouldn't make him sick, dear, for all the world!"

Phronsie unclasped her hands, and went unsteadily over to the old gentleman. "Joel will come on the next train, Grandpapa," she said.

"Bless me, yes, of course," said Mr. King, seizing her hand; "I don't see what we are making such a fuss for. He'll come on the next train."

"What's the riot?" asked Livingston Bayley, sauntering up, and whirling his walking-stick, "eh?"

"Joel's absconded," said Mr. Dyce briefly.

"Eh?"

"Gone back after Phronsie's box of dolls," explained somebody else.

"Oh dear me," cried Alexia Rhys, trying to get near Polly, "just like that boy." She still called him that, in spite of his being a Harvard man, "He's always making some sort of a fuss."

"Perhaps the train will be late," suggested Mrs. Dyce, who, as Mary Taylor, never could bear to see Phronsie unhappy. "Hamilton, if you don't do something to help that child, I shall be sorry I married you," she whispered in her husband's ear.

"Late? it's late already," said Ben, pulling out his watch, "it's five minutes past time."

"Well, it may be our luck to have it late enough," said Jasper, with a glance at Polly, "as it's Christmas day and a big train; so he may possibly get here--he'll find a cabby that can make good time," he added, with a forlorn attempt at comfort.

Jack Loughead sauntered up and down, on the edge of the group, longing to be of service, but feeling himself too new a friend to offer his sympathy.

"Who the Dickens is that cad?" asked Mr. Bayley in smothered wrath, to Mrs. Dyce.

"Why, don't you know? He's another friend of Polly's," said Mary Taylor Dyce, smiling up sweetly into his face, "and he's going down to help entertain Phronsie's poor children. Isn't he nice?"

"Nice?" repeated Livingston Bayley with a black look at the tall figure stalking on. "How do I know? Who is the fellow, any way?"

But there was no time to reply.

"Here comes the train!" cried Alexia. The warning bell struck, and the rush of travelers from the waiting-room, began. "Oh dear me!" Then she forgot all about her late unpleasantness with Pickering Dodge, and running up to him, she seized his arm, "Oh, Pickering, do make the conductor wait for that horrid boy."

"I can't," said Pickering, "the train's late, any way. There, get on, Alexia," putting out his hand to help her up the steps.

"Oh, I forgot," she cried, drawing back, "that we'd had a fight. Tisn't proper for you to help me, Pickering, and you oughtn't to ask it, till you've begged my pardon."

"Then it will be a long day before you receive my assistance," said Pickering, lifting his cap, and turning on his heel at the same time.

Jasper tried to get up to Polly's side, as she was hurrying Phronsie to the car, old Mr. King holding fast to Phronsie's other hand, but Livingston Bayley got there first.

"Allow me, Miss Phronsie," he was saying, with extended hand. "'Pon me word, it's a beastly crowd going to-day, sir."

"She will do very well with my assistance," said the old gentleman, still holding Phronsie's little glove. "And I suppose Christmas Day belongs to everybody, eh, Bayley?" hurrying in.

Polly, her foot on the lower step, turned and sent a despairing glance down the platform, and Jasper who saw it through the crowd, fell back a little to give a last look for Joel.

"All aboard!" sang out the conductor, waving his hand.

"Come--oh, come!" called Polly with a frantic gesture, from the doorway of the car, as the train moved off. "Oh, Jasper!" as he swung himself up beside her.

"The next train runs down in an hour; don't feel badly, Polly," Jasper had time to beg before they were drawn into the confusion of the car.

But no one could pretend, with any sort of success, that Joel wasn't missed; and Polly had all that she could do to chase away the sorrowful expression of Phronsie's little face. And everybody tried his and her best to make it as festive a time as possible; and the other passengers nudged one another, and sent many an envious glance at the merry party.

"It's Mr. King's family going down to Bedford," said the conductor to one inquiring mind. "I take 'em every year," proudly. "He's powerful rich; but this ain't his affair. It all b'longs to that little girl with the big hat." Then he dashed off, and called a station; and after the stopping and moving of the train again, he came back and sat on the arm of the seat to finish his account.

"You see, there was an old lady, a cousin of the old gentleman's, and she made a will in favor of this child with the big hat." The conductor pointed his thumb at Phronsie, leaning over Mr. King's shoulder, the better to hear a wonderful story he was concocting for her benefit. "Why, she's got some two or three millions."

"What--that child?" cried the listeners, in amaze.

"Yes--the old lady was tough, but"--he dashed off again, called a station, slammed the door, and was back in position in less time than it takes to tell it--"she was took sudden, while Mr. King's folks was in Europe, and now that child has turned a handsome old place down yonder"--he pointed with his thumb in the direction of Bedford-- "Dunraven Lodge, the old lady always called it, into a sort of a Home, and she's chucked it full of children, mostly those whose fathers and mothers are dead; and every Christmas Day Mr. King takes down a big crowd, and"--

Here somebody called him off, not to be seen again till he put his head in the doorway, and shouted "Bedford!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Joel, swinging a big box as only Joel could, rushed into the spacious hall at Dunraven Lodge. "How are you all!"

Phronsie disentangled herself from a group around the big fire-place where the long hickory logs snapped and blazed.

"Oh, Josey!" she cried, precipitating herself into his long arms.

"Here is the toggery," cried Joel, setting down the doll-box, while he gathered Phronsie up in his arms.

"And you, Josey," cried Phronsie, with a happy little hum, "you are all here yourself," as the group left the fire, and surrounded them.

"Well--well--well!" cried old Mr. King, lifting his head in its velvet lounging cap from the sofa where he had been napping. "Are you really here, Joe!"

"Just like you," greeted Alexia, running down the broad oaken stairs. "Here, he's come!" to Polly, appearing at the head. "We were finishing the tree, and we heard the noise. Dear me, Joe, I should think it was a cyclone," as she joined the group, Polly close behind.

Joel tossed her a saucy answer, while Polly got on her tiptoes and caught his crop of short black hair in her two hands. "Oh, Joe," she said, dropping a kiss on it, "it was lovely in you to go back."

Joel felt well repaid for losing the jolly run down, and the grand entree into Dunraven, his soul loved, but he covered up what he thought, by pulling Phronsie into the middle of the hall. "Come on, Phron," he said, "for a spin like old times."

"See here," cried Alexia, "we ought to get back to that Tree, Polly Pepper, or it won't be ready. Dear me, I dropped a box of frost all over the stairs; Joel made such a noise."

At the mere mention of such a possibility as the Tree not being ready, everybody started; the last one in the procession, picking up the doll-box, their movements somewhat quickened, as loud calls were now set up above stairs, for "Polly--Polly!"

"Come on," sang out Joel, who had paid his respects in a flying fashion to Grandpapa's sofa, and leaping the stairs. "Goodness me, Alexia, I should think you did spill this frost. Why didn't you go over more ground?"

"I don't believe we can save one bit," mourned Alexia, peering up the stair-length, each step sparkling with myriad little frosty gems, as if Jack Frost himself had sprinkled it with a Christmas hand. "Oh, dear, why did you come in with such a noise, Joe Pepper?"

"Just like a girl," said Joel; "jumps at everything and drops whatever she has in her hand. You all go up the other stairs; I'll sweep this in a minute, and save what I can."

"Oh, Joe, don't stop; we want you for the Tree," begged Polly. "Phronsie has been waiting downstairs all this time for you to come. Let one of the maids do it;" Joe already had his head in a closet he knew of old, opening into the big hall.

"Give me the broom," said a voice close beside him.

"Eh--what?" cried Joel, pulling out what he wanted--a soft floor brush. "Oh, is that you, Loughead?" turning around.

"I believe so," said Jack, laughing. "Here, give me the broom. I'm no help about a Tree; I'll have the stuff up there soon," and before Joel knew it, he was racing over the back stairs, wondering how it was he had let that disagreeable Jack Loughead get hold of that broom.

"It makes me think of our first Tree, in some way," said Polly softly, with glistening eyes, looking up at the beautiful branching spruce, its countless arms shaking out brilliant pendants, and gay with streamers and candles, wherever a decoration could be placed, the whole tipped with a shining star. "Oh, Bensie, can you ever forget that?"

Ben looked down from the top of the step-ladder where he was adjusting some last bit of ornament.

"Never, Polly," he said, his eyes meeting hers.

"That was so beautiful," cried Polly. "And we had it in our 'Provision Room,' and Mrs. Henderson brought my bird over, and the other things the last minute, and"--

"I had to," broke in Mrs. Henderson with a laugh, and shaking the snips of green from her white apron, "for you and Ben would have discovered the whole surprise. You were dreadful that day."

"I'm glad somebody else was dreadful in those times, besides me," observed Joel from among the branches, where he was tying on the several presents Alexia handed to him.

"Well, you see," said Polly, with rosy cheeks, "it was our first Tree, and we were so afraid the children would find it out, and spoil all the surprise."

"And did we?" cried Phronsie, in intense excitement, emerging from the depths of the Tree, the better to look at Polly, "did we, Polly, and spoil it all?"

"No, Pet," cried Polly, "you were just as good as could be."

"I remember," said Joel, "you told us stories, Polly, in the kitchen, and"--

"We tooted on our tin horns," finished David; "oh, Joe, do you remember those horns?"

"And that molasses candy," said Joel, smacking his lips, "I remember I ate mine up before breakfast."

"And did I have any?" asked Phronsie, turning from one to the other.

"Yes, indeed, you did," answered Joel.

"Why, did you think we'd forget you, Phronsie?" asked Polly, a bit reproachfully.

"And don't you remember it?" said David.

"No," said Phronsie. "I don't; but I remember Seraphina's bonnet."

"It was trimmed with some of Grandma Bascom's chicken's feathers," said Joel.

"And Mamsie made it out of an old bonnet string," said Polly. "Oh dear, if only Mamsie were here to-day!" And a cloud came over her face.

"But we've Baby Fisher now," said Ben cheerfully, looking down at her. "He's worth staying at home for, Polly."

"Of course he is," said Polly, her gayety returning. "And dear Papa Fisher was master of ceremonies then; but he wouldn't enjoy it to-day without Mamsie. So we oughtn't to wish him here."

[Illustration: "And did we," cried Phronsie "find it out, Polly, and spoil it all?"]

"I wish you wouldn't begin about that Little Brown House, and what elegant times you had in it," exclaimed Alexia, twitching at a present Joel had just tied on, to be sure it was secure; "I shall think this Tree is perfectly horrid, if you do, Polly Pepper."

"Go on--do go on," begged several voices. Meanwhile, Jack Loughead had come silently up into the long hall, and deposited a neat boxful of the gleaming frost on the table, without any comments.

"Dear me, there is so much to tell," cried Polly, with a little laugh, "if we begin about Jappy's Tree."

"Who's Tree?" cried Livingston Bayley, who had been wrinkling his brows in great perplexity all through the recital.

"Why, Jasper's," said Polly and Ben together; Joel and David coming in as echoes.

"You see," said Phronsie distinctly, "that Jasper and dear Grandpapa sent the beautiful things to us."

"Mrs. Pepper and Polly and Ben had gotten the Tree ready before," said Jasper hastily. "Oh! didn't I want to be there!" he added.

"Yes; Polly almost cried because you couldn't be," said Joel in among the branches.

"But she couldn't quite cry," said Davie, "because you see we children would have found it out. Polly always sang in those days."

"Do you remember how we used to run behind the wood-pile when we wanted to plan the Tree, Polly," asked Ben, "to get away from Joel and Dave?"

"You spent most all your time in the Little Brown House in sneaking off from us," said Joel vindictively.

"Well, we had to, if we ever did anything," said Ben coolly.

"I should think so," remarked Livingston Bayley, delighted to give a thrust at somebody.

"And weren't the gilt balls pretty?" cried Polly, quite gone now in the reminiscences, though her fingers kept on at their task; "you did cover those nuts beautifully, Bensie. I don't see how you could, with such snips of paper."

"How did he make the balls?" asked Alexia, forgetting herself in her interest, and coming up to Polly.

"Why, we had some bits of bright paper, little bits, you know, and Ben covered hickory nuts with them, and pasted them all as smoothly; you can't think!"

"Oh, my!" exclaimed Alexia.

"And Polly strung all the pop-corn, and fixed the candle-ends somebody gave Mamsie, and"--

"Candle-ends? Why didn't you have whole ones?" cried Alexia.

"Why, we couldn't," said Polly, "and we were glad enough to get these. Oh! the Tree looked just beautifully with them, I tell you."

"You see," said Phronsie, drawing near to look into Alexia's face, "we were very, very poor, Alexia. So Polly and Bensie made the Tree. Don't you understand?"

"It was really Bensie's Tree," said Polly honestly, "for I didn't believe at first we could do it."

"Oh, yes, you did, Polly," corrected Ben hastily; "at any rate, you saw it in a minute."

"And it's the first time you didn't believe a thing could be done, I imagine," declared Jasper, with a bright nod at Polly.

"Well, Bensie thought of this Tree, and made me see that we could do it," persisted Polly, giving a little quirk to a rebellious pendant.

Mrs. Henderson put the corner of her white apron to her eyes. "I always have to," she said to Mrs. Dyce, "when the Little Brown House days bring those blessed children back to me."

Jack Loughead drew nearer yet; so near that he lost never a word.

"You ought to have seen what a Santa Claus Ben made!" Polly was saying.

"I cut your performance yesterday at Baby's Tree, all out, old fellow," declared Ben, descending from the step-ladder and bestowing an affectionate clap on Jasper's shoulder.

"I don't doubt it," Jasper gave back.

"We made the wig out of Mamsie's cushion hair," laughed Polly. "And we had such a piece of work putting it all back the next morning."

"And Polly shook flour all over me, for the snow," said Ben, laughing.

"Come back, Alexia, and hand me some more gimcracks, do," cried Joel, poking his head out of the branches to look at his late assistant.

"Well, do go on about your Tree in the Brown House," begged Alexia, tearing herself away to answer Joel's demands, "seeing you have begun. What did you do next, Polly?"

"Well, we all marched into the 'Provision Room,'" went on Polly, her cheeks aglow, "expecting to see our Tree just as we had left it; all but Ben, he was going to jump into the window at the right time, when the first thing"--

"Polly sat right down on the floor, saying, 'Oh!'" cried Joel, taking the words out of her mouth.

"I couldn't help it, I was so surprised," said Polly, with shining eyes. "There was a most beautiful Tree, full of just everything; and there was Mamsie, almost crying, she was so happy; and there was Cherry singing away in his cage, and the corner of the room was all a-bloom with flowers, and"--

"And Grandma Bascom was there--wasn't she funny? She used to give us hard old raisins sometimes," said Joel, afraid to show what he was feeling.

"And Phronsie screamed right out," went on Polly, "and Davie said it was Fairyland."

By this time, Alexia had dropped the present she was holding, and had run back to Polly's side again, and somehow most of the other workers followed her example, the circle of listeners closing around the little bunch of Peppers. "And Jasper sent a Christmas greeting, beside the Tree," Polly ended, "and it was perfectly lovely."

"And Santa Claus and Polly took hold of hands and danced around the Tree," said Joel; "I'll never forget that."

"Well, you would better take hold of hands and dance down to the recitation room," said Parson Henderson's deep voice, as he suddenly appeared in their midst, "the children are all ready to give their carols. Come."