Five Little Peppers Abroad by Margaret Sidney
"I've Found Him!" Exclaimed Jasper
And for the next few days Phronsie talked about the poor man, and wished they could see his children, and hoped he had bought them some nice things to eat, and worried over him because he was all skin and bones.
"Ah! the bones were real, even if the children aren't," Grandpapa would say to himself. "Well, I suppose I have been taken in, but at least the fellow hasn't starved to death."
And then off they would go sight-seeing as fast as possible, to take up the mind of Phronsie, who watched for Grandpapa's poor man in every wretched creature she saw. And there were plenty of them.
And then Adela went back to school, happy in the thought of the little pile of sketches she had to show as her summer's work, and with ever so many studies and bits to finish up under Mademoiselle's direction; and little old Mrs. Gray, breathing blessings on Mr. King's head, departed for her English country home.
"Now, then, I have ever so much shopping to do," announced old Mr. King, briskly, "and I shall want you to help me, Phronsie."
"I'll help you, Grandpapa," promised Phronsie, well pleased, and gravely set herself to the task.
So they wandered away by themselves, having the most blissful of times, and coming home to the hotel, they would gaily relate their adventures; and Phronsie would often carry a little parcel or two, which it was her greatest delight to do; and then the trail of big boxes would follow them as they were sent home to the hotel to tell of their experiences in the shops.
"And Grandpapa is going to get me a new doll," announced Phronsie, on one of these days.
"Do you mean a peasant doll to add to the collection?" asked Polly; for old Mr. King had bought a doll in the national costume in every country in which they had travelled, and they had been packed away, together with the other things as fast as purchased, and sent off home across the sea.
"Yes," said Phronsie. "I do, Polly, and it's to be a most beautiful French doll--oh!"
And sure enough, Mr. King, who knew exactly what kind of a doll he meant to purchase, and had kept his eyes open for it, stumbled upon it by a piece of rare good luck in a shop where he least expected to find it.
"Oh, may I carry her home, Grandpapa?" begged Phronsie, hanging over the doll in a transport. "Please don't have her shut up in a box--but do let me carry her in my arms."
"Oh, Phronsie, she's too big," objected Mr. King, "and very heavy."
"Oh, Grandpapa, she's not heavy," cried Phronsie, not meaning to contradict, but so anxious not to have her child sent home shut up in a box, that she forgot herself.
"Well, I don't know but what you may," said Grandpapa, relenting. "I will call a cab after we get through with this next shop," he reflected, "and it won't hurt her to carry the doll that short distance." So they came out of the shop, and deciding to take a short cut, they started across the boulevard, he taking the usual precaution to gather Phronsie's hand in his.
As they were halfway across the street, with its constant stream of pedestrians and vehicles, a sudden gust of wind flapped the doll's pink silk cape up against Phronsie's eyes, and taking her hand away from Grandpapa's a second to pull down the cape, for she couldn't see, she slipped, and before she knew it, had fallen on top of the doll in the middle of the street.
A reckless cabby, driving as only a French cabman can, came dashing down the boulevard directly in her path, while a heavily loaded omnibus going in the opposite direction was trying to get out of his way. Ever so many people screamed; and some one pulled Mr. King back as he started to pick her up. It was all done in an instant, and every person expected to see her killed, when a long, gaunt individual in a shabby coat dashed in among the plunging horses, knocked up the head of the one belonging to the reckless cabby, swung an arm at the other pair to divert their course, and before any one could quite tell how, he picked up Phronsie and bore her to the curbstone. Some one got Mr. King to the same point, too exhausted with fright to utter a word.
When he came out of his shock, the shabby man was standing by Phronsie, the crowd that saw nothing in the incident to promise further diversion, having melted away, and she was holding his hand, her little, mud-stained face radiant with happiness. "Oh, Grandpapa," she piped out, "it's your poor man!"
"The dickens it is!" exploded Mr. King. "Well, I'm glad to find you. Here, call a cab, will you? I must get this child home; that's the first thing to be done."
The shabby man hailed a cab, but the cabman jeered at him and whirled by. So the old gentleman held up his hand; Phronsie all this time, strange to say, not mentioning her doll, and Mr. King, who wouldn't have cared if a hundred dolls had been left behind, not giving it a thought. Now she looked anxiously on all sides. "Oh, where is she, Grandpapa dear?" she wailed, "my child; where is she?"
"Never mind, Phronsie," cried Mr. King, "I'll get you another one to-morrow. There, get in the cab, child."
"But I want her--I can't go home without my child!" And Phronsie's lip began to quiver. "Oh, there she is, Grandpapa!" and she darted off a few steps, where somebody had set the poor thing on the pavement, propped up against a lamp-post.
"Oh, you can't carry her home," said Mr. King, in dismay at the muddy object splashed from head to foot, with the smart pink cape that had been the cause of the disaster, now torn clear through the middle, by the hoof of a passing horse. He shuddered at the sight of it. "Do leave it, Phronsie, child."
"But she's sick now and hurt; oh, Grandpapa, I can't leave my child," sobbed Phronsie, trying with all her might to keep the tears back. All this time the shabby man stood silently by, looking on.
A bright thought struck the old gentleman. "I'll tell you, Phronsie," he said quickly. "Give the doll to this man for one of his little children; they'll take care of it, and like it."
"Oh, Grandpapa!" screamed Phronsie, skipping up and down and clapping her muddy little hands, then she picked up the doll and lifted it toward him. "Give my child to your little girl, and tell her to take good care of it," she said.
As Phronsie's French had long been one of Grandpapa's special responsibilities in the morning hours, she spoke it nearly as well as Polly herself, so the man grasped the doll as he had seized the money before.
"And now," said Mr. King, "you are not going to run away this time without telling me--oh, bless me!"
This last was brought out by an excited individual rushing up over the curbstone to get out of the way of a passing dray, and the walking-stick which he swung aloft as a protection, coming into collision with Mr. King's hat, knocked it over his eyes.
"A thousand pardons, Monsieur!" exclaimed the Frenchman, bowing and scraping.
"You may well beg a thousand pardons," cried Mr. King, angrily, "to go about in this rude fashion through the street."
"A thousand pardons," repeated the Frenchman, with more empressement than before, and tripping airily on his way.
When old Mr. King had settled his hat, he turned back to the man. "Now tell me--why--" The man was nowhere to be seen.
"It surely does look bad," said the old gentleman to himself as he stepped into the cab with Phronsie; "that man's children are a myth. And I wanted to do something for them, for he saved Phronsie's life!"
This being the only idea he could possibly retain all the way home to the hotel, he held her closely within his arm, Phronsie chattering happily all the way, how the little girl she guessed was just receiving the doll, and wondering what name she would give it, and would she wash its face clean at once, and fix the torn and muddy clothes?
"Oh, yes, yes, I hope so," answered Grandpapa, when she paused for an answer. Jasper came running out as the cab drove into the court. "Oh!" he exclaimed, at sight of Phronsie's face, then drove the words on his tongue back again, as he lifted her out.
"Give her to Polly to fix up a bit," said his father. "She's all right, Jasper, my boy, I can't talk of it now. Hurry and take her to Polly."
And for the following days, Mr. King never let Phronsie out of his sight. A new and more splendid doll, if possible, was bought, and all sorts and styles of clothes for it, which Phronsie took the greatest delight in caring for, humming happily to herself at the pleasure the poor man's little girl was taking at the same time with her other child.
"Grandpapa," she said, laying down the doll carefully on the sofa, and going over to the table where Mr. King had just put aside the newspaper, "I do wish we could go and see that poor man and all his children--why didn't he tell us where he lived?"
"The dickens!" exclaimed old Mr. King, unguardedly, "because the fellow is an impostor, Phronsie. He saved your life," and he seized Phronsie and drew her to his knee, "but he lied about those children. O dear me!" And he pulled himself up.
"Then he hasn't any little children?" said Phronsie, opening her eyes very wide, and speaking very slowly.
"Er-oh-I don't know," stammered Grandpapa; "it's impossible to tell, Phronsie."
"But you don't believe he has any," said Phronsie, with grave persistence, fastening her brown eyes on his face.
"No, Phronsie, I don't," replied old Mr. King, in desperation. "If he had, why should he run in this fashion when I was just asking him where he lived?"
"But he didn't hear you, Grandpapa," said Phronsie, "when the man knocked your hat off."
"Oh, well, he knew enough what I wanted," said Mr. King, who, now that he had let out his belief, was going to support it by all the reasons in his power. "No, no, Phronsie, it won't do; the fellow was an impostor, and we must just accept the fact, and make the best of it, my child."
"But he told a lie," said Phronsie, in horror, unable to think of anything else.
"Well." Mr. King had no words to say on that score, so he wisely said nothing.
"That poor man told a lie," repeated Phronsie, as if producing a wholly fresh statement.
"There, child, I wouldn't think anything more of it," said Grandpapa, soothingly, patting her little hand.
"Grandpapa," said Phronsie, "I've given away my child, and she's sick because she fell and hurt her, and there isn't any little girl, and--and --that poor man told a lie!" And she flung herself up against Grandpapa's waistcoat, and sobbed as if her heart would break.
Old Mr. King looked wildly around for Polly. And as good fortune would have it, in she ran. This wasn't very strange, for Polly kept nearly as close to Phronsie in these days, as Grandpapa himself.
"Here, Polly," he called brokenly, "this is something beyond me. You must fix it, child."
"Why, Phronsie!" exclaimed Polly, in dismay, and her tone was a bit reproachful. "Crying? Don't you know that you will make Grandpapa very sick unless you stop?"
Phronsie's little hand stole out from over her mouth where she had been trying to hold the sobs back, and up to give a trembling pat on old Mr. King's cheek.
"Bless you, my child," cried Grandpapa, quite overcome, so that Polly said more reproachfully, "Yes, very sick indeed, Phronsie, unless you stop this minute. You ought to see his face, Phronsie."
Phronsie gathered herself up out of his arms, and through a rain of tears looked up at him.
"Are you sick, Grandpapa?" she managed to ask.
"Yes, dear; or I shall be if you don't stop crying, Phronsie," said Mr. King, pursuing all the advantage so finely gained.
"I'll stop," said Phronsie, her small bosom heaving. "I really will, Grandpapa."
"Now, you are the very goodest child," exclaimed Polly, down on her knees by Grandpapa's side, cuddling Phronsie's toes, "the very most splendid one in all this world, Phronsie Pepper."
"And you'll be all well, Grandpapa?" asked Phronsie, anxiously.
"Yes, child," said old Mr. King, kissing her wet face; "just as well as I can be, since you are all right."
"And, oh, Grandpapa, can't we go to Fontainebleau to-day?" begged Polly.
"Phronsie, just think--it will be precisely like the country, and we can get out of the carriages, and can run and race in the forest. Can't we, Grandpapa?"
"All you want to," promised Grandpapa, recklessly, and only too thankful to have something proposed for a diversion. "The very thing," he added enthusiastically. "Now, Polly and Phronsie, run and tell all the others to get ready, just as fast as they can, and we'll be off. Goodness me, Jasper, what makes you run into a room in this fashion?"
"I've found him!" exclaimed Jasper, dashing in, and tossing his cap on the table, and his dark hair back from his forehead. "And he's all right--as straight as a die," he panted.
"Now what in the world are you talking of?" demanded his father, in extreme irritation. "Can't you make a plain statement, and enlighten us without all this noise and confusion, pray tell?"
Polly, who had Phronsie's hand in hers, just ready to run off, stood quite still with glowing cheek.
"Oh, I do believe--Grandpapa--it is--it is!"--she screamed suddenly--"your poor man! Isn't it, Jasper--isn't it?" she cried, turning to him.
"Yes, Polly," said Jasper, still panting from his run up the stairs; "and do hurry, father, and see for yourself; and we'll all go to him. I'll tell you all about it on the way."
When Mr. King comprehended that the man was found, and that he was "all right," as Jasper vehemently repeated over and over, he communicated that fact to Phronsie, whose delight knew no bounds, and in less time than it takes to write it, Tom, who was the only one of the party to be collected on such short notice, had joined them, and they were bowling along in a big carriage, Jasper as guide, to the spot where the man was waiting.
"You see it was just this way," Jasper was rapidly telling off. "I was going down by the Madeleine, and I thought I would bring Phronsie some flowers; so I stopped at the market, and I couldn't find a little pot of primroses I wanted, though I went the whole length; and at last, when I had given up, I saw just one in front of a woman who sat at the very end."
"Do hurry, Jasper, and get to the conclusion," said his father, impatiently.
Polly dearly loved to have the story go on in just this way, as she leaned forward, her eyes on Jasper's face, but she said nothing, only sighed.
"Well," said Jasper, "I'll tell it as quickly as I can, father. And there were a lot of children, father, all round the woman where she sat on a box, and she was tying in a bunch some flowers that were huddled in her lap, and the children were picking out the good ones for her; and just then a man, who was bending over back of them all, breaking off some little branches from a big green one, straightened up suddenly, and, father, as true as you live," cried Jasper, in intense excitement, "it was your poor man!"
"The children?" asked Mr. King, as soon as he could be heard for the excitement.
"Are all his," cried Jasper, "and he took the money you gave him, and set his wife up in the flower business down in front of the Madeleine. Oh! and Phronsie, the doll you gave him was sitting up on another box, and every once in a while the littlest girl would stop picking out the flowers in her mother's lap, and would run over and wipe its face with her apron."