Phronsie was toiling up and down the long, oak staircase the next morning; slowly going from one step to the other, drawing each little fat foot into place laboriously, but with a pleased expression on her face that only gave some small idea of the rapture within. Up and down she had been going for a long time, perfectly fascinated; seeming to care for nothing else in the world but to work her way up to the top of the long flight, only to turn and come down again. She had been going on so for some time, till at last, Polly, who was afraid she would tire herself all out, sat down at the foot and begged and implored the little girl, who had nearly reached the top, to stop and rest.
“You’ll be tired to death, Phronsie!” she said, looking up at the small figure on its toilsome journey. “Why you must have gone up a million times! Do sit down, pet; we’re all going out riding, Phronsie, this afternoon; and you can’t go if you’re all tired out.”
“I won’t be tired, Polly,” said Phronsie, turning around and looking at her, “do let me go just once more!”
“Well,” said Polly, who never could refuse her anything, “just once, Phronsie, and then you must stop.”
So Phronsie kept on her way rejoicing, while Polly still sat on the lowest stair, and drummed impatiently on the stair above her, waiting for her to get through.
Jappy came through the hail and found them thus. “Hallo, Polly!” he said, stopping suddenly; “what’s the matter?”
“Oh, Phronsie’s been going so,” said Polly, looking up at the little figure above them, which had nearly reached the top in delight, “that I can’t stop her. She has really, Jappy, almost all the morning; you can’t think how crazy she is over it.”
“Is that so?” said Jasper, with a little laugh. “Hullo, Phronsie, is it nice?” and he tossed a kiss to the little girl, and then sat down by Polly.
“Oh,” said Phronsie, turning to come down, “it’s the beyew-tifiest place I ever saw, Japser! the very be-yew-tiflest!”
“I wish she could have her picture painted,” whispered Jasper, enthusiastically. “Look at her now, Polly, quick!”
“Yes,” said Polly, “isn’t she sweet!”
“Sweeter,” said Jasper. “I should think she was!”
The sunlight through an oriel window fell on the childish face and figure, glinting the yellow hair, and lighting up the radiant face, that yet had a tender, loving glance for the two who waited for her below. One little foot was poised, just in the act of stepping down to the next lower stair, and the fat hand grasped the polished railing, expressive of just enough caution to make it truly childish. In after years Jasper never thought of Phronsie without bringing up this picture on that April morning, when Polly and he sat at the foot of the stairs, and looked up and saw it.
“Where’s Jap?” called one of the boys; and then there was a clatter out into the hall.
“What are you doing?” and Van came to a full stop of amazement and stared at them.
“Resting,” said Jappy, concisely, “what do you want, Van?”
“I want you,” said Van, “we can’t do anything without you, Jappy; you know that.”
“Very well,” said Jasper, getting up. “Come on, Polly, we must go.”
“And Phronsie,” said Van, anxiously, looking up to Phronsie, who had nearly reached them by this time, “we want her, too.”
“Of course,” said Polly, running up and meeting her to give her a hug; “I don’t go unless she does.”
“Where are we going, Polly?” asked Phronsie, looking back longingly to her beloved stairs as she was borne off.
“To the greenhouse, chick!” said Jasper, “to help Turner; and it’ll be good fun, won’t it, Polly?”
“What is a greenhouse?” asked the child, wonderingly. “All green, Japser?”
“Oh, dear me,” said Van, doubling up, “do you suppose she thinks it’s painted green?”
“It’s green inside, Phronsie, dear,” said Jasper, kindly, “and that’s the best of all.”
When Phronsie was really let loose in the greenhouse she thought it decidedly best of all; and she went into nearly as much of a rapture as Polly did on her first visit to it.
In a few moments she was cooing and jumping among the plants, while old Turner, staid and particular as he was, laughed to see her go.
“She’s your sister, Miss Mary, ain’t she?” at last he asked, as Phronsie bent lovingly over a little pot of heath, and just touched one little leaf carefully with her finger.
“Yes,” said Polly, “but she don’t look like me.”
“She is like you,” said Turner, respectfully, “if she don’t look like you; and the flowers know it, too,” he added, “and they’ll love to see her coming, just as they do you.”
For Polly had won the old gardener’s heart completely by her passionate love for flowers, and nearly every morning a little nosegay, fresh and beautiful, came up to the house for “Miss Mary.”
And now nobody liked to think of the time, or to look back to it, when Phronsie hadn’t been in the house. When the little feet went pattering through halls and over stairs, it seemed to bring sunshine and happiness into every one’s heart just to hear the sounds. Polly and the boys in the schoolroom would look up from their books and nod away brightly to each other, and then fall to faster than ever on their lessons, to get through the quicker to be with her again.
One thing Phronsie always insisted on, and kept to it pertinaciously–and that was to go into the drawing-room with Polly when she went to practice, and there, with one of her numerous family of dolls, to sit down quietly in some corner and wait till she got through.
Day after day she did it, until Polly, who was worried to think how tedious it must be for her, would look around and say– “Oh, childie, do run out and play.”
“I want to stay,” Phronsie would beg in an injured tone; “please let me, Polly.”
So Polly would jump and give her a kiss, and then, delighted to know that she was there, would go at her practicing with twice the vigor and enthusiasm.
But Phronsie’s chief occupation, at least when she wasn’t with Polly, was the entertainment and amusement of Mr. King. And never was she very long absent from his side, which so pleased the old gentleman that he could scarcely contain himself, as with a gravity befitting the importance of her office, she would follow him around in a happy contented way, that took with him immensely. And now-a-days, no one ever saw the old gentleman going out of a morning, when Jasper was busy with his lessons, without Phronsie by his side, and many people turned to see the portly figure with the handsome head bent to catch the prattle of a little sunny-haired child, who trotted along, clasping his hand confidingly. And nearly all of them stopped to gaze the second time before they could convince themselves that it was really that queer, stiff old Mr. King of whom they had heard so much.
And now the accumulation of dolls in the house became something alarming, for Mr. King, observing Phronsie’s devotion to her family, thought there couldn’t possibly be too many of them; so he scarcely ever went out without bringing home one at least to add to them, until Phronsie had such a remarkable collection as would have driven almost any other child nearly crazy with delight. She, however, regarded them something in the light of a grave responsibility, to be taken care of tenderly, to be watched over carefully as to just the right kind of bringing up; and to have small morals and manners taught in just the right way.
Phronsie was playing in the corner of Mrs. Whitney’s little boudoir, engaged in sending out invitations for an elaborate tea-party to be given by one of the dolls, when Polly rushed in with consternation in her tones, and dismay written all over her face.