Danger
 

Well, the box that went home across the seas to the Pepper boys was a marvel, stuffed in every nook and cranny where there was a possibility that the tiniest parcel could be tucked, until Phronsie, who kept bringing up more bundles, had to be told by Polly and Jasper, who did the packing, that no more could go in.

"They are very small," sighed Phronsie, curling up on the floor by the side of the big box, almost overflowing with billows of the soft white paper on top, and holding up two pudgy little bundles.

"So you've said for the last hour, Phronsie," exclaimed Polly, in despair, and sitting quite straight, her hands in her lap. "Jasper, what shall we do?" He was over by the window laying out the long nails that were to fasten the cover on; for no one must touch this precious box, but the loving hands that got it ready.

"Oh, we can't," began Jasper. Then he turned and saw Phronsie's face. "Perhaps one might be crowded in," he added, with a look at Polly. "Which one would you rather have Polly make a try at, Phronsie?"

"This one," she said, holding up the pudgiest bundle, "because this is the china cat, and I want Joel to have that."

Down went Polly's head on the edge of the box. Jasper dropped the long nails and hurried over to her.

"I can't help it." Polly's shoulders were shaking, and she added gustily, "O dear me--and Joel does so hate cats!"

"Phronsie, I think I can tuck in that parcel," Jasper made haste to say. "There, give it to me, child," and he took it out of her hand. "For Joel" was written across it in unsteady letters.

"Is Polly sick?" asked Phronsie, wonderingly, as she resigned her cat into his hands.

"No, only a bit tired, I think," answered Jasper. "Well, now, Phronsie, I think there is just room enough to tuck that parcel in this corner," said Jasper, crowding his fingers down in between the various bundles to make a space. "There, in it pops!" suiting the action to the word.

"I am so very glad," said Phronsie, smoothing her brown gown in great satisfaction; "for then Joel will know that I sent it all by myself."

"He'll know that nobody else sent it," said Polly to herself. "And I know it's a perfectly awful cat, for Phronsie always picks out the very ugliest she can find."

Well, the box was off, at last, the Pepper children and Jasper seeing it till the very last minute. And old Mr. King was nearly as excited as the young folks, and the Parson and Mrs. Henderson said it reminded them of Christmas times over again, and Mother Fisher and the little doctor were in a great state of happiness.

And that night when Polly was in bed, and Mother Fisher came into her room and Phronsie's, which opened into her own, to say "Good night," Polly turned on her pillow. "Mamsie," she said, "I do so very much wish that we could send a box to the Henderson boys. They must be so homesick for their mother and father."

Mrs. Fisher stopped and thought a bit, "A very good idea, Polly," she said, "and I'm glad you thought of it. I'll speak to your father and see if he approves, before we say anything to Mr. King."

"You see," said Polly, rolling over to get hold of one of Mother Fisher's hands, and speaking very fast, "of course the Henderson boys are having a good time at dear Deacon Blodgett's, but then their mother and father are away off. Oh, Mamsie!" She reached over and threw both arms around her mother and hugged her tightly.

"Yes, I know, Polly," said Mother Fisher, holding her big girl to her heart, "and we must look out for other people's boys; that's what you mean to say, isn't it?"

"Yes," said Polly, happy that Mamsie always understood, "and now that Ben's and Joel's and David's box is off, why, I wish we could, Mamsie, send the other one."

"I really think it can be done," said Mrs. Fisher, "but I must ask your father first. And now, daughter, go to sleep, like Phronsie." She glanced over at the other little bed, where Phronsie's yellow head was lost in dreams.

"You know we are going to Marken tomorrow."

"I know," said Polly, with a happy little wriggle under the bedclothes.

"And it never would do for you to be all tired out in the morning. That would be very unkind to dear Mr. King, who is trying so hard to make us all happy," continued Mrs. Fisher.

"I know," said Polly, again. "Well, good night, Mamsie." She set three or four kisses on Mother Fisher's cheek, then turned over, with her face to the wall.

"I'll shut the door until you get to sleep, Polly," said Mrs. Fisher, "then I will open it again," as she went out.

As Mother Fisher had said, they were going to the Island of Marken to-morrow; and Polly tumbled asleep with her head full of all the strange things they were to see there, and that Jasper and she had been reading about,--how the people wore the same kind of funny costume that their great-great-ever-so-many-times great-grandfathers and grandmothers had worn; and how the houses were of different colours, and built in different layers or mounds of land, with cunning little windows and scarcely any stairs; and how they were going in the haying season when everybody would be out raking up and gleaning--and--and--Polly was completely lost in her happy dreams.

Somebody seemed to be pulling her arm. What! Oh, she remembered they were going to Marken, and she must hurry and get her bath and fly into her clothes. "Yes, Mamsie!" she cried, flying up to sit straight in the bed. "I'll get right up and dress; oh, won't we have fun!"

"Polly," said Mother Fisher. She had on a dressing-gown, and her black hair was hanging down her back. She looked pale and worried; Polly could see that, although she blinked at the sudden light. "It isn't morning, but the middle of the night. You must get up this minute. Pull on your shoes; don't stop for stockings, and slip into your wrapper. Don't ask questions," as Polly's lips moved.

Polly obeyed with an awful feeling at her heart. She glanced at Phronsie's little bed; she was not there! Mrs. Fisher threw the pink wrapper over her head; Polly thrust her arms into the sleeves, feeling as if she were sinking way down. "Now come." And Mamsie seized her hand and hurried her through her own room without another word. It was empty. Father Fisher and Phronsie were nowhere to be seen. And now for the first time Polly was conscious of a great noise out in the corridor. It seemed to spread and fasten itself to a number of other noises, and something made Polly feel queerly in her throat as if she should choke. She looked up in her mother's eyes, as they sped through the room.

"Yes, Polly," said Mother Fisher, "it is fire. The hotel is on fire; you will be brave, my child, I know."

"Phronsie!" gasped Polly. They were now in the corridor and hurrying along.

"She is safe; her father took her."

"Oh, Mamsie, Jasper and Grandpapa!"

"They know it; your father ran and told them. Obey me, Polly; come!"

Mrs. Fisher's firm hand on her arm really hurt Polly, as they hurried on through the dense waves of smoke that now engulfed them.

"Oh, Mamsie, not this way; we must find the stairs." But Mrs. Fisher held her with firmer fingers than ever, and they turned into a narrower hall, up toward a blinking red light that sent a small bright spark out through the thick smoke, and in a minute, or very much less, they were out on the fire-escape, and looking down to hear--for they couldn't see--Jasper's voice calling from below, "We are all here, Polly," and "Be careful, wife, how you come down," from Dr. Fisher.

"Oh," cried Polly, as the little group drew her and Mamsie into their arms, "are we all here?"

"Yes, Polly; yes, yes," answered Jasper. And "Oh, yes," cried old Mr. King, his arm around Phronsie, "but we shouldn't have been but for this doctor of ours."

"And Mr. and Mrs. Henderson?" cried Polly, shivering at Grandpapa's words.

"We are here, dear child," said the parson's wife, pressing forward, and then the crowd surged up against them this way and that, and more people came down the fire-escape, and some were screaming and saying they had lost everything, and they must go back for their jewels, and one woman brought down a big feather pillow, and set it carefully on the grass, she was so crazed with fright.

"O dear, dear, can't we help them?" cried Polly, wringing her hands, "Look at that girl!"

She was about as old as Polly, and she rushed by them plunging into the thickest of the crowd surging up against the fire-escape. "I'm going up," she kept screaming.

Polly remembered her face as she flashed by. She sat at the next table to theirs in the dining room, with a slender, gentle, little old lady whom she called "Grandmamma." "O dear!" groaned Polly, "we must help her!"

Jasper dashed after the girl, and Polly ran, too. He laid his hand on the arm of the flying figure as she broke through the crowd, but she shook him off like a feather. "She's up there," pointing above, "and I must get her."

One of the firemen seized her and held her fast. Jasper sprang for the fire- escape. "Jasper!" called Polly, hoarsely, "it will kill Grandpapa if you go--oh!" She turned at a cry from the girl, whose arms were around a bent, shaking, little figure, and they had both sunk to the ground.

"I brought her down long ago," said another fireman, who could speak English, pointing to the white-haired old lady, who, on hearing her granddaughter's voice, had pushed her way through the crowd, as Dr. Fisher hurried up.

And then Mr. King and his party gathered his group, and they hurried to another hotel close by, Jasper and Mr. Henderson and Mother Fisher waiting to see to the belongings of the party; for the fire was now subdued, although the guests had to go elsewhere for shelter, and the little doctor was in his element, taking care of the old lady, and then he rushed off to look after a score or more of other fainting women.

But nobody was really hurt--the smoke and the panic had been the worst, only the poor thing who had dragged down the feather pillow sat by it till the little doctor, discovering her, called two stout men, who took her up in their arms-- she screaming all the while for her treasure--and bore her to a neighbouring house that kindly opened its doors to some of the people so suddenly thrown out of shelter. And it wasn't till near breakfast time that the little doctor came to the hotel that was now their home.

"Brain-fever patient," he said briefly. "Wife, I must get a cold plunge, or I'll be having it next." And when breakfast was really set before their party, he appeared with the others fresh from his bath, and as cheery as if nothing had happened to break his good night's rest.

"O dear me! How did you ever get so many things over here, in all this world, and why didn't you let me stay with you?" Polly had exclaimed in one breath, looking at the array of dresses, sacks, and hats disposed around the room. And Mamsie was kneeling before an open trunk to take out more.

"It wasn't best, Polly," said her mother, who had longed for Polly as no one knew better than did Mother Fisher herself. "You were really needed here with Grandpapa and Phronsie. You truly were, my dear."

"I know," said Polly. "Well, do let me take those out, Mamsie; you're tired to death, already. Oh, and you've brought my dear little American flag!" She seized it and hugged it with delight.

"Did you suppose I could come back without that flag," exclaimed Mother Fisher in a reproving tone, "when you've put it up in your room every place where we've stopped?--why, Polly!"

"No, Mamsie, I really didn't think you could," answered Polly, quickly, and running to her, little silk flag and all, to throw her arms around her neck, "only it's so good to see the dear thing again."

"You may take the things from me, and hang them up somewhere," said her mother; "that will help me the most," giving her an armful. "I don't see how you ever thought of so many things, Mamsie!" exclaimed Polly going off with her armful.

"I brought all I thought we needed just at first," said Mother Fisher, diving into the trunk depths again.

"How did you ever do it?" cried Polly, for the fiftieth time, as she sorted, and hung the various garments in their proper places.

"Oh, Jasper helped me pack them, and then he got the hotel porter to bring over the trunks," answered Mother Fisher, her head in the trunk. "I've locked up our rooms, and got the keys, so I can get the rest by and by."

"But how did you first hear of the fire?" asked Polly, when they were all finally seated around the breakfast table, little Mrs. Gray--for so the white- haired old lady was called--and her granddaughter Adela being invited to join, "do tell me, Mamsie, I don't understand," she added in a puzzled way.

"No, you were talking about Marken in your sleep," said Mother Fisher, "when I went to call you, and how you would be ready in the morning."

"Marken?" repeated old Mr. King, looking up from the egg he was carefully breaking for Phronsie so that she might eat it from the shell. "So we were going there this morning. Well, we won't see that island now for a good many days; at least, till we get over this fright. Beside, we have things to settle here, and to get comfortably fixed. But we'll have that excursion all in good time, never fear."

"Well, how did you, Mamsie," Polly begged again, "first hear of the fire? Do tell me."

"Somebody made a good deal of noise down in the corridor," said Mother Fisher, "and your father went out to see what was the matter, and then he came back and told me what to do, and he took Phronsie and went for old Mr. King. But he had sent a porter to warn them in 165, and they would tell the Hendersons in the next room, before he ran upstairs to me." It was a long speech for Mother Fisher.

"Mamsie," asked Polly, suddenly, after she had leaned across her mother and beamed at the little doctor, which so delighted him that his big spectacles nearly fell off in his plate, "how did you know where the fire-escape was?"

"Oh, that was your father's doings, too," said Mother Fisher. She couldn't help but show her pride. "He told me all about it the first day we got to the hotel. He always does; he says it's better to know these things."

"Wife--wife," begged the little doctor, imploringly.

"I'm going to tell, Adoniram," said Mother Fisher, proudly, "the whole story; they ought to know."

"Indeed we had; and so you shall," commanded Mr. King, from the head of the table.

"I can't help it! I really must!" exclaimed Polly, hopping out of her chair,-- there were no other people in the breakfast room beside their party, so really it wasn't so very dreadful after all,--and she ran back of her mother's chair, and threw her arms around the little doctor's neck. "Oh, Papa Fisher," she cried, setting ever so many kisses on his cheeks under the big spectacles, "you've saved all our lives."

"There--there, Polly," cried the little doctor, quite overcome.

"And ours, too," said little Mrs. Gray, in a shaking voice.