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Five Little Peppers Grown Up by Margaret Sidney

Part 6 out of 6

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concluded you ought to have your way, and make Charlotte a gift of some
money, if you want to."

"Oh, Grandpapa!" cried Phronsie, in a suppressed scream, and having
great difficulty not to clap her hands; "oh, how good!" then she sat
quite still, and folded them in silent rapture.

"And I'll see that it is fixed as soon as may be after we get home,"
said the old gentleman, "and I'm sure I'm glad you've done it, Phronsie,
for I think Charlotte is a very good sort of a girl."

"Charlotte is just lovely," cried Phronsie, with warmth, "and I think,
Grandpapa, that dear Mrs. Chatterton up in heaven, is glad too, that
I've done it."

Old Mr. King turned away with a mild snort, and then not finding any
words to say, picked up the newspaper, and Phronsie, full of her new
happiness, looked out the window as the cars sped along.

"There's Thomas!" cried Jasper, at sight of that functionary waiting on
his carriage-box as he had waited so many other times for them; now for
the jolliest of all home-comings.

"And the girls," finished Polly, craning her neck to look out the car
window at a knot of them restlessly curbing their impatience on the
platform as the train moved into the station and--"why, Mamsie. Oh,
Jasper! how slow we are!"

Pickering Dodge shook his long legs impatiently as he got out of his
seat. "Don't try to help me, Mr. Loughead," he said testily, as the old
gentleman offered his arm; "I'm not sick now. No, thanks, I'll go out
alone."

Jasper now ran up, but he didn't offer to help, but waited patiently for
Pickering's slow movements as he worked his way unsteadily down the
aisle.

"Don't stop by me," said Pickering, rather crossly, "go ahead, Jasper,
and get the fun."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Jasper, yet feeling his heart bound at the merry
din as Polly was surrounded, and the babel of voices waxed louder; for
everybody was now out of the car but Pickering and himself--"here we are
now," as they neared the car step.

Alexia Rhys, back on the platform hanging to Polly who had one hand in
Mother Fisher's at the expense of all the other girls who couldn't get
the chance, looked up and saw Pickering Dodge, and dropping Polly's arm
she ran lightly across the stream of passengers and put out her hand.

"How do you do, Pickering? it's so good to see you back."

Pickering shot her an astonished glance, then he said gratefully, "Thank
you, Alexia," and he actually let her help him down the steps, which so
astonished her that it took away her breath and left her without a word
to say.

And the rest was all bustle and confusion--Mr. King declaring it was
worse than a boarding-school--everybody talking together--and Jasper ran
off to see to the luggage for the whole party, followed by Ben trying to
help. And old Mr. Loughead had to be introduced all around, and little
Doctor Fisher tried to get them all settled in the carriages, but at
last gave it up in despair.

"Charlotte, my girl, go and tell Polly to get in, will you?" he said,
turning to Charlotte Chatterton. "Phronsie won't stir till Polly is
settled."

"Oh, Polly! let me drive you home; I've got my dog-cart here," cried Clem
Forsythe alluringly, and trying to pull her off as Charlotte ran up with
her message.

"No, no," cried Sally Moore, "I brought my phaeton on purpose; you know
I did, Clem--come with me, Polly, do."

"You'll have to get in here," called Doctor Fisher, waiting at the
carriage, "to end it."

"Yes, I think I shall," said Polly merrily, and running to him followed
by Phronsie. "Girls, come over this evening, won't you?" she looked back
to call after them.

"Yes, we'll be over this evening," cried the girls back again, and
Phronsie hopping in after her, the carriage-door was shut, and off they
rolled.

And old Turner was waiting at the steps as the carriage rolled up the
winding drive, with a monstrous bouquet of his choicest blossoms for
Polly, and one exactly like it only a little smaller, for Phronsie; and
Prince came rushing out getting in every one's way and nearly devouring
Phronsie; and there was King Fisher running away on toddling feet from
his nurse to meet them, screaming with all his might; and Mrs. Fargo
with Johnny in her arms crowing with delight--all stood on the broad
stone porch.

"Oh--oh!" cried Polly, jumping out, her cheeks aflame; "are we really at
home!"

"Oh--oh!" echoed Phronsie, flying at them all, and trying to keep hold
of Prince at the same time.

And there in the wide hall drawn back within the shadow of the oaken
door, were Mr. and Mrs. Whitney and Dick ready to pounce upon them in a
moment.

And no one ever hinted a suspicion that the college boys were steaming
along as fast as they could, for the evening's festivities; and old Mr.
King appeared superbly indifferent to the fact that Mr. Marlowe was
waiting at a hotel for that hour to arrive; and everybody rushed off to
get ready for dinner, with the exception of Polly and Jasper and
Phronsie.

"Oh! we must go in the conservatory just for a minute," begged Phronsie,
flying off on eager feet.

"We'll only take one peep," said Polly, just as eagerly, "come on,
Jasper."

And then Polly had to run into the long drawing-room, and just look at
her piano, and lay her fingers lovingly on the keys.

"Don't try it with your lame hand, Polly," begged Jasper, close beside.

"No, I won't," promised Polly, running light scales with the fingers of
the other hand. "But oh! Jasper, I do verily believe I could. My arm
feels so well."

"Well, don't, Polly," begged Jasper again.

"No, of course I won't," said Polly, with a little laugh, "but it won't
be many weeks, you dear"--this to the piano, as she unwillingly got up
from the music-stool, and let Jasper lead her off--"before you and I
have all our good times together!"

* * * * *

Polly, in a soft white gown, sat on a low seat by Mother Fisher's side,
her head in Mamsie's lap. It was after dinner, and the gas was turned
low.

"Mamsie," said Polly, and she threw one hand over her head to clasp
Mother Fisher's strong fingers closer, "it's so good to be home--oh! you
can't think how I wanted you."

Just then somebody looked into Mother Fisher's bedroom.

"Oh! beg pardon," said Jasper, as he saw them. But there was so much
longing in the voice that Polly called out, "Oh! come, Jasper. May he,
Mamsie?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Fisher; "come in, Jasper."

Jasper came in quickly and stood a moment looking down at them. "It's so
lovely to be home, Jasper," said Polly, looking up at him and playing
with her mother's fingers.

"Isn't it?" cried Jasper, with feeling, "there never was anything so
nice! Mrs. Fisher, may I sit down by you here?" and he went over to her
where she sat on the sofa--it was the same big comfortable affair where
Joel had flung himself, when he declared he could not keep on at school;
and where Mamsie had often sat when the children brought her their
troubles, declaring it was easier to tell her everything on the roomy,
old-fashioned sofa, than anywhere else.

"Yes, indeed!" cried Mrs. Fisher cordially, and making way for him to
sit down by her side.

"Now isn't this nice!" breathed Polly, lifting her head out of her
mother's lap to look at him on Mamsie's other side. "Now, Jasper, you
begin, and we'll tell her all about it, as we always do, you know, when
we get home from places."

"I want to tell her something--and to you too, Polly," began Jasper
quietly. "Mrs. Fisher--may I speak?" He leaned over and looked into the
black eyes above Polly's shining brown hair.

"Yes," said Mother Fisher as quietly.

"How funny you are, Jasper," cried Polly with a laugh, "asking Mamsie in
such a solemn way. There now, begin, do."

"Polly," said Jasper, "look at me, do, dear!"

Polly lifted her brown eyes quietly. "Why, Jasper?"

[Illustration: "NOW, JASPER, YOU BEGIN," CRIED POLLY, "AND WE'LL TELL
MAMSIE ALL ABOUT IT, AS WE ALWAYS DO WHEN WE GET HOME!"]

"I waited because I thought I ought," said Jasper, trying not to speak
too quickly. "It seemed at one time as if you were going to be happy,
and I should spoil it, Polly, if I spoke; but now--oh, Polly!" He put
out his hand, and Polly instinctively laid her own warm palm within it.
"Do you think you could love me--I've loved you ever since the Little
Brown House days, dear!"

"Oh, Jasper!" Polly cried, with a glad ring in her voice, "how good you
are," and she clung to his hand across Mamsie's lap.

"Will you, Polly?" cried Jasper, holding her hand so tightly that she
winced a bit, "tell me quickly, dear."

"Will I what?" asked Polly wonderingly.

"Love me, Polly."

"Oh! I do--I do," she cried; "you know it, Jasper. I love you with all
my heart."

"Polly, will you marry me? Tell her, Mrs. Fisher, do, and make her
understand," begged Jasper, turning to Mother Fisher imploringly.

"Polly, child," said Mamsie, putting both arms around her, careful not
to disturb Jasper's hand over Polly's, "Jasper wants you to be his
wife--do you love him enough for that?"

Polly, not taking her brown eyes from Jasper's face, laid her other hand
upon his, "I love him enough," she said, "for that; oh, Jasper!"

Old Mr. King walked proudly down the long drawing-room with Polly on his
arm. Everybody was in the highest possible spirits. The Lord of Misrule
had made a triumphant entree, covering himself with glory and winning
great applause for his long train of masquers; whose costumes if not
gotten up on strict historical lines, made up any lack by the variety of
other contrivances, each one following his own sweet will in dressing.
They had gone through with the minuet and the pantomimes; and Charlotte,
in a peaked hat and a big flowered brocade gown rich with tambour lace,
had sung "like a nightingale," as more than one declared, and now the
room was in a buzz of applause.

Old Mr. King took this time to walk up and down the long room with Polly
several times quite pompously; and once in a while the little Lord of
Misrule would rush up to them, say something very earnest, seize Polly's
hand and give it a shake and then dart away; which proceeding Joel would
imitate, at such times leaving Robert Bingley to his own devices--until
Joel, evidently struck by remorse, would as suddenly fly back and
introduce his college friend violently to right and left, to make up for
lost time.

"That's three times you've introduced me to that girl in blue," said
Bingley, on one of these occasions, when he could get Joel aside for a
minute. "Do let me alone--I was having a good enough time where I was."

"Did I?" cried Joel, opening his black eyes at him, "oh! beg pardon,"
and off he rushed at Polly again.

"How queerly they do act!" cried Alexia, to a knot of the girls. "And
just look at Mr. King, he holds on to Polly every minute--I'm going to
see what it's all about."

So she hurried across the room as fast as her high-heeled slippers would
let her. "Polly--Polly, did you really like it all?" she asked
breathlessly. "Oh! dear me, this ruff will be the death of me," picking
at it with impatient fingers.

"Don't, Alexia," cried Polly, "it's so pretty--it was all just as fine
as could be, and splendidly gotten up!"

"Well, it nearly killed us," declared Alexia, fanning herself violently,
"and this old ruff will end me. There!" and she made a little break in
the starched affair under her chin, "that's one degree less of misery."

"What would Queen Bess do to you?" cried Polly, saying the first thing
that came in her head, to keep off questions she saw trembling on
Alexia's tongue.

"Queen Bess was an old goose to wear such a thing," retorted Alexia.
"Oh, Polly! do come with us. Let her, do, Mr. King," to the old
gentleman who made all sorts of signs that served to show he meant to
keep Polly to himself. "We girls want her now," she added saucily.

"You keep away," said old Mr. King, with an emphatic nod and a twinkle
in his eye, "and the other girls; I'm going to have Polly tonight; you
can come over in the morning and see her." And he moved off coolly,
carrying Polly with him.

[Illustration: "POLLY, DO COME WITH US !"]

Alexia stood a moment transfixed with astonishment. "Joel--Joel, what is
it?" she cried in a stage whisper, as that individual pranced by in one
of his fits of remorse looking up Bingley. "Do tell me what's come over
Polly, and why does Mr. King act so queerly?"

Joel flashed her a smile, but wouldn't say anything, and his eyes
twinkled so exactly like Mr. King's, that Alexia lost all patience.

"Oh! you horrid boy," she cried, and ran back dismally to the girls,
with nothing to tell.

And Charlotte Chatterton walked as if she disdained the ground, her
peaked hat towering threateningly, while her sallow face was wreathed
with smiles; and it seemed as if she couldn't sing enough, throwing in
encores in a perfectly reckless fashion.

"What is it? oh! I shall die if I don't know," exclaimed Alexia, over
and over. "Girls, if some of you don't find out what's going on, I shall
fly crazy!"

And the room buzzed and buzzed with delight, the growing mystery not
lessening the hilarity.

"That's an uncommonly fine fellow I've just been talking with," said
Mason Whitney, coming up to old Mr. King still keeping Polly by his
side; "I haven't met such a man in one spell; he's a thorough-going
intellectual chap, and he's been around the world a good deal, it's easy
to see by his fine manner. Where did you pick him up?"

"Whom are you talking of, Mason?" asked Mr. King, in his crispest
fashion.

"Why, that new man--Mr.--Mr.--I didn't catch the name when I was
introduced, that you invited here to-night," said Mr. Whitney, with a
little touch of the asperity yet remaining over the failure of his plan
for Jasper, and he jerked his head in the direction of Mr. Marlowe.

"He?--oh! that's Jasper's publisher, Mr. Marlowe," said the old
gentleman, trying to speak carelessly; then he burst into a laugh at Mr.
Whitney's face.

"Whew!" exclaimed that gentleman, as soon as he could speak, "I've got
to eat humble pie before my fourteen-year-old son Dick, and you've taken
my breath away, Polly," looking at her blooming cheeks and happy eyes,
"with that piece of news, and"--

"What news--oh, what news?" cried Alexia, coming up, too frantic to
remember her manners. "Please tell us girls, for we are dying to know."

"You come away!" retorted Mr. Whitney unceremoniously, and Mr. King
laughed, and Polly shook her white fan at them as the two moved off, and
it was just as bad as ever!

"Pickering, do you know?" at last demanded Alexia, as he leaned against
the doorway surveying the bright crowd.

"Yes, I know enough--that is, I can guess--don't ask me."

"Oh, what!" breathlessly cried Alexia, seizing his arm; "do tell me,
Pickering, that is a dear--oh, I thought I was talking to the girls--I
don't know what I'm doing anyway, Polly has so upset me."

"Well, she has upset me, too, Alexia," said Pickering gloomily, "but it
isn't her fault; she couldn't help it."

Alexia, feeling that here was coming something quite worth her while to
hear, waited patiently.

"You all know I've loved Polly for years," said Pickering steadily; "I
made no secret of it."

"I know it," said Alexia, full of sympathy, and not daring to breathe,
lest she should spoil it all. "Well, go on."

"And when I was sick, I hoped that things might be different--for Polly
was sorry for me. But one day Aunt was talking about it to me, in a way
that made me mad, and I knew that Polly would be bothered awfully if she
ever got at her, so I told Polly the first chance I got, that she was
never to be sorry for me any more, for I'd made up my mind not to think
of her in that way again; which was an awful lie," declared Pickering
suddenly, standing quite erect, "for I can't help it."

"Oh, dear--dear!" exclaimed Alexia, quite gone in sympathy, "aren't
things just shameful in the world! Of course you oughtn't to be allowed
to marry Polly, for you are not half good enough for her, Pickering,"
she added frankly, "but I'm so sorry for you!" and she put out her hand
instinctively.

Pickering took it, and held it a minute in a calm grasp, with the air of
a man considering it better to take the little, since he couldn't get
all he wanted.

[Illustration: "And you will be my own brother, Jasper," said Phronsie.]

"But now tell why Polly and Mr. King and all the family act so funnily?"
cried Alexia, pulling away her hand and suddenly awaking to the fact
that this important piece of news had not been made known to her.

"Can't you see for yourself?" cried Pickering, with an impatient stare.
"Why, Alexia, where are your eyes?" which was all she could get him to
say, as Pickering walked off immediately.

Jasper all this while seemed to find it impossible to be separated from
Mother Fisher; and together they wandered up and down the drawing-room,
Phronsie clinging to his hand. "I always longed since the Little Brown
House days, to call you Mamsie," he said affectionately, looking down
into Mrs. Fisher's face, "and now I can!"

"And you will really and truly be my very own brother, Jasper," said
Phronsie, as they walked on.

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