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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMarjorie's Vacation - Chapter 9. The Front Stairs
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Marjorie's Vacation - Chapter 9. The Front Stairs Post by :erika1959 Category :Long Stories Author :Carolyn Wells Date :May 2012 Read :1175

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Marjorie's Vacation - Chapter 9. The Front Stairs

CHAPTER IX. THE FRONT STAIRS

Marjorie had been at Grandma Sherwood's about weeks, and as a general thing she had been a pretty good little girl. She had tried to obey her mother's orders, and though it was not easy to keep her troublesome curls always just as they ought to be and her ribbon always in place, yet she had accomplished this fairly well, and Grandma said that she really deserved credit for it.

But to obey Grandma implicitly was harder still. Not that Marjorie ever meant to disobey or ever did it wilfully, but she was very apt to forget and, too, it seemed to be natural for her to get into mischief. And as it was always some new sort of mischief, which no one could have thought of forbidding, and as she was always so sorry for it afterward, there was more or less repentance and forgiveness going on all the time.

But, on the whole, she was improving, and Uncle Steve sometimes said that he believed she would live to grow up without tumbling off of something and breaking her neck, after all.

Grandma Sherwood found it far easier to forgive Marjorie's unintentional mischief than her forgetting of explicit commands.

One command in particular had caused trouble all summer. There were two front doors to Grandma's house and two halls. One of these halls opened into the great drawing-room on one side and a smaller reception room on the other, where callers were received. The stairs in this hall were of polished wood and were kept in a state of immaculate, mirror-like shininess by Jane, who took great pride in this especial piece of work.

The other front door opened into a hall less pretentious. This hall was between the drawingroom and the family library, and the stairs here were covered with thick, soft carpet.

It was Grandma's wish that the members of the family should usually use the carpeted stairs, for she too took great pride in the glossy, shining surface of the others. Uncle Steve preferred the carpeted stairs, anyway, as they led to the upper hall which opened into his own room, and Grandma invariably used them.

As a means of distinction, the wooden stairs were habitually called the Front Stairs; and, though they were equally front, the carpeted flight was always spoken of as the Other Stairs.

From the first, Marjorie had been explicitly forbidden to go up and down the Front Stairs; and from the first Marjorie had found this rule most difficult to remember.

Rushing from her play into the house, often with muddy or dusty shoes, she would fly into the hall, clatter up the Front Stairs, and, perhaps, down again and out, without a thought of her wrongdoing. This would leave footprints, and often scratches and heel-marks on the beautiful steps, which meant extra work for Jane; and even then the scratches were not always effaceable.

Many a serious talk had Grandma and Marjorie had on the subject; many times had Marjorie faithfully promised to obey this particular command; and, alas! many times had the child thoughtlessly broken her promise.

At last, Grandma said: "I know, my dear, you do not MEAN to forget, but you DO forget. Now this forgetting must stop. If you run up those Front Stairs again, Marjorie, I'm going to punish you."

"Do, Grandma," said Marjorie, cheerfully; "perhaps that will make me stop it. For honest and true I just resolve I won't do it, and then before I know it I'm just like Jack and the Beanstalk, 'a- hitchet, a-hatchet, a-up I go!' and, though I don't mean to, there I am!"

Grandma felt like smiling at Marjorie's naive confession, but she said very seriously: "That's the trouble, dearie, you DO forget and you must be made to remember. I hope it won't be necessary, but if it is, you'll have to be punished."

"What will the punishment be, Grandma?" asked Marjorie, with great interest. She was hanging around Mrs. Sherwood's neck and patting her face as she talked. There was great affection between these two, and though Marjorie was surprised at the new firmness her grandmother was showing, she felt no resentment, but considerable curiosity.

"Never mind; perhaps you'll never deserve punishment and then you will never know what it would have been. Indeed, I'm not sure myself, but if you don't keep off those Front Stairs we'll both of us find out in short order."

Grandma was smiling, but Marjorie knew from her determined tone that she was very much in earnest.

For several days after that Marjorie kept carefully away from the Front Stairs, except when she was wearing her dainty house slippers. It was an understood exception that, when dressed for dinner or on company occasions and her feet shod with light, thin- soled shoes, Marjorie might walk properly up or down the Front Stairs. The restriction only applied to her heavy-soled play shoes or muddied boots.

So all went well, and the question of punishment being unnecessary, it was almost forgotten.

One morning, Marjorie was getting ready to go rowing with Carter. Molly was to go too, and as the girls had learned to sit moderately still in the boat, the good-natured gardener frequently took them on short excursions.

It was a perfect summer day, and Marjorie sang a gay little tune as she made herself ready for her outing. She tied up her dark curls with a pink ribbon, and as a hat was deemed unnecessary by her elders, she was glad not to be bothered with one. She wore a fresh, pink gingham dress and thick, heavy-soled shoes, lest the boat should be damp. She took with her a small trowel, for she was going to dig some ferns to bring home; and into her pocket she stuffed a little muslin bag, which she always carried, in case she found anything in the way of pebbles or shells to bring home for her Memory Book. She danced down the Other Stairs, kissed Grandma good-by, and picking up her basket for the ferns, ran merrily off.

Molly was waiting for her, and together they trotted down the sandy path to the boathouse. It had rained the day before and the path was a bit muddy, but with heavy shoes the children did not need rubbers.

"Isn't it warm?" said Molly. "I 'most wish I'd worn a hat, it's so sunny."

"I hate a hat," said Marjorie, "but I'll tell you what, Molly, if we had my red parasol we could hold it over our heads."

"Just the thing, Mopsy; do skip back and get it. I'll hold your basket, and Carter isn't here yet."

Marjorie ran back as fast as she could, pattering along the muddy path and thinking only of the red parasol, bounded in at the front door and up the Front Stairs!

Grandma was in the upper hall, and her heart sank as she saw the child, thoughtlessly unconscious of wrongdoing, clatter up the stairs, her heavy boots splashing mud and wet on every polished step.

Her heart sank, not so much because of the mud on the steps as because of this new proof of Marjorie's thoughtlessness.

"My dear little girl!" she said, as Marjorie reached the top step, and in a flash Marjorie realized what she had done.

Crestfallen and horrified, she threw herself into her grandmother's arms.

"I'm sorry, Midget dear, but I cannot break my word. You know what I told you."

"Yes, Grandma, and _I am so sorry, but please, oh, Grandma dear, --can't you just postpone the punishment till to-morrow? 'Cause Molly and I are going to Blossom Banks to dig ferns, and it's such a BEAUTIFUL day for ferns."

Grandma Sherwood hesitated. It almost broke her heart to deprive the child of her holiday, and yet it was for Marjorie's own good that an attempt must be made to cure her of her carelessness.

"No, Marjorie; I cannot postpone the punishment until to-morrow. If you wanted to go rowing to-day, you should have waited to run up these stairs until to-morrow. You didn't postpone your naughtiness, so I cannot postpone its punishment."

Marjorie looked dumfounded. She had not intended to be naughty, but also she had never supposed her gentle grandma could be so severe. She looked utterly disconsolate, and said in despairing tones: "But, Grandma, won't you let me go rowing this morning and give me the punishment this afternoon? I must go; Molly and Carter are down by the boathouse waiting for me! Please, Grandma!"

So difficult was it for Mrs. Sherwood to resist the child's pleading tones that her own voice was more stern than she intended to make it, lest she reveal her true feeling.

"No, Marjorie; you have been very naughty now, and so you must be punished now. Listen to me. I shall send Jane to tell Carter to go back to his work and to tell Molly to go home. I'm sorry to spoil your pleasure, but remember you have really spoiled it yourself."

Marjorie did not cry, she was not that sort of a child. But she had a broken-down, wilted air, the very despondency of which almost made her grandmother relent. Had it been a more important occasion she might have done so, but the children could go on the river any day, and though it was a very real disappointment to Marjorie to stay at home, yet discipline required it.

"Now, Marjorie," went on Mrs. Sherwood, after Jane had been despatched on her errand, "take off those muddy shoes and set them on the top step of the stairs."

Rather wondering at this command, Marjorie sat down on the top step, unlaced her shoes, and did with them as she had been bidden.

"Now, this is your punishment, my child; you came up these stairs when you had been told not to do so: now you may spend the rest of the day on the stairs. You are not to leave them until six o'clock to-night. With the muddy steps and your muddy shoes in front of your eyes all day long, you may, perhaps, learn to remember better in future."

Marjorie could scarcely believe her ears. To stay on the stairs all day long seemed a funny punishment; and except for missing the row on the river, it did not seem a very hard one.

"May I have a book, Grandma," she asked, still a little bewildered by the outlook.

Grandma considered. "Yes," she said at last; "you may go to your room, put on your worsted bedroom slippers, and then you may bring back with you any books or toys you care for."

"How many?" asked Marjorie, whose spirits were rising, for her punishment seemed to promise a novel experience.

"As many as you can carry at once," replied Grandma, turning aside to hide a smile.

In a few minutes Marjorie returned. She had turned up the short, full skirt of her pink gingham frock to form a sort of bag, and into it she had tumbled, helter-skelter, several books, some paper and pens, her paper-doll's house, her paintbox, her kitten, a few odd toys, her Memory Book, and her clock. Staggering under the bulging load, but in a more cheerful frame of mind, she reached the stairs again.

"I brought my clock," she observed, "because I shall want to know as the hours so by; but I'll be careful not to scratch the stairs with it, Grandma."

"Your carefulness comes too late, Marjorie. I shall have to send for a man from town to repolish the stairs, anyway, for the nails in the heels of your heavy boots have entirely ruined them."

"Oh, Grandma, I am so sorry; and if you think a day won't be punishment enough, I'll stay for a week. Do I get anything to eat?" she added, as a sudden thought of their picnic luncheon occurred to her. "You might just send me the picnic basket."

"Jane will bring you your dinner," said her grandmother, shortly, for she began to think the punishment she had devised was more like a new game.

"Goody!" cried Marjorie. "I do love dinner on a tray. Send plenty of strawberries, please; and, Grandma, don't think that I'm not truly being punished, for I am. I shall think over my naughtiness a good deal, and when I look at those awful shoes, I don't see how I COULD have done such a wicked thing. But you know yourself, Grandma, that we ought to make the best of everything, and so I'll just get what fun I can out of my books and my strawberries."

Mrs. Sherwood went away, uncertain whether she had succeeded in what she had intended to do or not. She knew Marjorie would not leave the stairs without permission, for the little girl was exceedingly conscientious.

Left to herself, Marjorie began to take in the situation.

She carefully unpacked her dressful of things, and arranged them on the steps. In this she became greatly interested. It was a novel way of living, to go always up and down and never sideways. She planned her home for the day with care and thought. She decided to reserve a narrow space next the banister to go up and down; and to arrange her belongings on the other side of the staircase. She put her clock on the top step that she might see it from any point of view; and on the other steps she laid neatly her books, her paint-box, her writing things, and her toys. She became absorbed in this occupation, and delightedly scrambled up and down, arranging and rearranging her shelved properties.

"It's a good deal like my shelf in my own room," she thought, "except it's all in little pieces instead of straight ahead. But that doesn't really matter, and I'm not sure but I like it better this way. Now, I think I'll write a letter to Mother, first, and confess this awful thing I've done. I always feel better after I get my confessions off of my mind, and when Jane brings my dinner I expect she'll take it to be mailed."

Marjorie scrambled up to a step near the top where her little writing tablet was. She arranged her paper and took up her pen, only to discover that in her haste she had forgotten to bring any ink.

"But it doesn't matter," she thought, cheerfully, "for it would have upset in my dress probably, and, anyway, I can just as well use a pencil."

But the pencil's point was broken, and, of course, it had not occurred to her to bring a knife. She had promised Grandma not to leave the stairs without permission, so there was nothing to do but to give up the idea of letter-writing, and occupy herself with something else.

"And, anyway," she thought, "it must be nearly dinner time, for I've been here now for hours and hours."

She glanced at the clock, and found to her amazement that it was just twenty minutes since her grandmother had left her alone.

"The clock must have stopped!" she said, bending her ear to listen.

But it hadn't, and Marjorie suddenly realized that a whole day, solitary and alone, is an interminable length of time.

"Oh, dear," she sighed, putting her head down on her arms on the step above, "I do wish I had gone up the Other Stairs! This day is going to last forever! I just know it is! But if it ever DOES get over, I never want to see the Front Stairs again!"

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