FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW
By Margaret Sidney
To the Memory of MY MOTHER; wise in counsel—tender in judgment, and in all charity —strengthful in Christian faith and purpose —I dedicate, with reverence, this simple book.
A HOME VIEW
MAKING HAPPINESS FOR MAMSIE
TROUBLE FOR THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE
HARD DAYS FOR POLLY
THE CLOUD OVER THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE
A THREATENED BLOW
PHRONSIE PAYS A DEBT OF GRATITUDE
A LETTER TO JASPER
GETTING A CHRISTMAS FOR THE LITTLE ONES
BRAVE WORK AND THE REWARD
POLLY IS COMFORTED
GETTING READY FOR MAMSIE AND THE BOYS
WHICH TREATS OF A GOOD MANY MATTERS
POLLY'S DISMAL MORNING
POLLY'S BIG BUNDLE
FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS
A HOME VIEW
The little old kitchen had quieted down from the bustle and confusion of mid-day; and now, with its afternoon manners on, presented a holiday aspect, that as the principal room in the brown house, it was eminently proper it should have. It was just on the edge of the twilight; and the little Peppers, all except Ben, the oldest of the flock, were enjoying a "breathing spell," as their mother called it, which meant some quiet work suitable for the hour. All the "breathing spell" they could remember however, poor things; for times were always hard with them nowadays; and since the father died, when Phronsie was a baby, Mrs. Pepper had had hard work to scrape together money enough to put bread into her children's mouths, and to pay the rent of the little brown house.
But she had met life too bravely to be beaten down now. So with a stout heart and a cheery face, she had worked away day after day at making coats, and tailoring and mending of all descriptions; and she had seen with pride that couldn't be concealed, her noisy, happy brood growing up around her, and filling her heart with comfort, and making the little brown house fairly ring with jollity and fun.
"Poor things!" she would say to herself, "they haven't had any bringing up; they've just scrambled up!" And then she would set her lips together tightly, and fly at her work faster than ever. "I must get schooling for them some way, but I don't see how!"
Once or twice she had thought, "Now the time is coming!" but it never did: for winter shut in very cold, and it took so much more to feed and warm them, that the money went faster than ever. And then, when the way seemed clear again, the store changed hands, so that for a long time she failed to get her usual supply of sacks and coats to make; and that made sad havoc in the quarters and half-dollars laid up as her nest egg. But—"Well, it'll come some time," she would say to herself; "because it must!" And so at it again she would fly, brisker than ever.
"To help mother," was the great ambition of all the children, older and younger; but in Polly's and Ben's souls, the desire grew so overwhelmingly great as to absorb all lesser thoughts. Many and vast were their secret plans, by which they were to astonish her at some future day, which they would only confide—as they did everything else—to one another. For this brother and sister were everything to each other, and stood loyally together through "thick and thin."
Polly was ten, and Ben one year older; and the younger three of the "Five Little Peppers," as they were always called, looked up to them with the intensest admiration and love. What they failed to do, couldn't very well be done by any One!
"Oh dear!" exclaimed Polly as she sat over in the corner by the window helping her mother pull out basting threads from a coat she had just finished, and giving an impatient twitch to the sleeve, "I do wish we could ever have any light—just as much as we want!"
"You don't need any light to see these threads," said Mrs. Pepper, winding up hers carefully, as she spoke, on an old spool. "Take care, Polly, you broke that; thread's dear now."
"I couldn't help it," said Polly, vexedly; "it snapped; everything's dear now, it seems to me! I wish we could have—oh! ever an' ever so many candles; as many as we wanted. I'd light 'em all, so there! and have it light here one night, anyway!"
"Yes, and go dark all the rest of the year, like as anyway," observed Mrs. Pepper, stopping to untie a knot. "Folks who do so never have any candles," she added, sententiously.
"How many'd you have, Polly?" asked Joel, curiously, laying down his hammer, and regarding her with the utmost anxiety.
"Oh, two hundred!" said Polly, decidedly. "I'd have two hundred, all in a row!"
"Two hundred candles!" echoed Joel, in amazement. "My whockety! what a lot!"
"Don't say such dreadful words, Joel," put in Polly, nervously, stopping to pick up her spool of basting thread that was racing away all by itself; "tisn't nice."
"Tisn't worse than to wish you'd got things you haven't," retorted Joel. "I don't believe you'd light 'em all at once," he added, incredulously.
"Yes, I would too!" replied Polly, reckessly; "two hundred of 'em, if I had a chance; all at once, so there, Joey Pepper!"
"Oh," said little Davie, drawing a long sigh. "Why, 'twould be just like heaven, Polly! but wouldn't it cost money, though!"
"I don't care," said Polly, giving a flounce in her chair, which snapped another thread; "oh dear me! I didn't mean to, mammy; well, I wouldn't care how much money it cost, we'd have as much light as we wanted, for once; so!"
"Mercy!" said Mrs. Pepper, "you'd have the house afire! Two hundred candles! who ever heard of such a thing!"
"Would they burn?" asked Phronsie, anxiously, getting up from the floor where she was crouching with David, overseeing Joel nail on the cover of an old box; and going to Polly's side she awaited her answer patiently.
"Burn?" said Polly. "There, that's done now, mamsie dear!" And she put the coat, with a last little pat, into her mother's lap. "I guess they would, Phronsie pet." And Polly caught up the little girl, and spun round and round the old kitchen till they were both glad to stop.
"Then," said Phronsie, as Polly put her down, and stood breathless after her last glorious spin, "I do so wish we might, Polly; oh, just this very one minute!"
And Phronsie clasped her fat little hands in rapture at the thought.
"Well," said Polly, giving a look up at the old clock in the corner; "deary me! it's half-past five; and most time for Ben to come home!"
Away she flew to get supper. So for the next few moments nothing was heard but the pulling out of the old table into the middle of the floor, the laying the cloth, and all the other bustle attendant upon the being ready for Ben. Polly went skipping around, cutting the bread, and bringing dishes; only stopping long enough to fling some scraps of reassuring nonsense to the two boys, who were thoroughly dismayed at being obliged to remove their traps into a corner.
Phronsie still stood just where Polly left her. Two hundred candles! oh! what could it mean! She gazed up to the old beams overhead, and around the dingy walls, and to the old black stove, with the fire nearly out, and then over everything the kitchen contained, trying to think how it would seem. To have it bright and winsome and warm! to suit Polly—"oh!" she screamed.
"Goodness!" said Polly, taking her head out of the old cupboard in the corner, "how you scared me, Phronsie!"
"Would they ever go out?" asked the child gravely, still standing where Polly left her.
"What?" asked Polly, stopping with a dish of cold potatoes in her hand. "What, Phronsie?"
"Why, the candles," said the child, "the ever-an'-ever so many pretty lights!"
"Oh, my senses!" cried Polly, with a little laugh, "haven't you forgotten that! Yes—no, that is, Phronsie, if we could have 'em at all, we wouldn't ever let 'em go out!"
"Not once?" asked Phronsie, coming up to Polly with a little skip, and nearly upsetting her, potatoes and all—"not once, Polly, truly?"
"No, not forever-an'-ever," said Polly; "take care, Phronsie! there goes a potato; no, we'd keep 'em always!"
"No, you don't want to," said Mrs. Pepper, coming out of the bedroom in time to catch the last words; "they won't be good to-morrow; better have them to-night, Polly."
"Ma'am!" said Polly, setting down her potato-dish on the table, and staring at her mother with all her might—"have what, mother?"
"Why, the potatoes, to be sure," replied Mrs. Pepper; "didn't you say you better keep them, child?"
"Twasn't potatoes—at all," said Polly, with a little gasp; "twas—dear me! here's Ben!" For the door opened, and Phronsie, with a scream of delight, bounded into Ben's arms.
"It's just jolly," said Ben, coming in, his chubby face all aglow, and his big blue eyes shining so honest and true; "it's just jolly to get home! supper ready, Polly?"
"Yes," said Polly; "that is—all but—" and she dashed off for Phronsie's eating apron.
"Sometime," said Phronsie, with her mouth half full, when the meal was nearly over, "we're going to be awful rich; we are, Ben, truly!"
"No?" said Ben, affecting the most hearty astonishment; "you don't say so, Chick!"
"Yes," said Phronsie, shaking her yellow head very wisely at him, and diving down into her cup of very weak milk and water to see if Polly had put any sugar in by mistake—a proceeding always expectantly observed. "Yes, we are really, Bensie, very dreadful rich!"
"I wish we could be rich now, then," said Ben, taking another generous slice of the brown bread; "in time for mamsie's birthday," and he cast a sorrowful glance at Polly.
"I know," said Polly; "oh dear! if we only could celebrate it!"
"I don't want any other celebration," said Mrs. Pepper, beaming on them so that a little flash of sunshine seemed to hop right down on the table, "than to look round on you all; I'm rich now, and that's a fact!"
"Mamsie don't mind her five bothers," cried Polly, jumping up and running to hug her mother; thereby producing a like desire in all the others, who immediately left their seats and followed her example.
"Mother's rich enough," ejaculated Mrs. Pepper; her bright, black eyes glistening with delight, as the noisy troop filed back to their bread and potatoes; "if we can only keep together, dears, and grow up good, so that the little brown house won't be ashamed of us, that's all I ask."
"Well," said Polly, in a burst of confidence to Ben, after the table had been pushed back against the wall, the dishes nicely washed, wiped, and set up neatly in the cupboard, and all traces of the meal cleared away; "I don't care; let's try and get a celebration, somehow, for mamsie!"
"How are you going to do it?" asked Ben, who was of a decidedly practical turn of mind, and thus couldn't always follow Polly in her flights of imagination.
"I don't know," said Polly; "but we must some way."
"Phoh! that's no good," said Ben, disdainfully; then seeing Polly's face, he added kindly: "let's think, though; and perhaps there'll be some way."
"Oh, I know," cried Polly, in delight; "I know the very thing, Ben! let's make her a cake; a big one, you know, and—"
"She'll see you bake it," said Ben; "or else she'll smell it, and that'd be just as bad."
"No, she won't either," replied Polly. "Don't you know she's going to help Mrs. Henderson to-morrow; so there!"
"So she is," said Ben; "good for you, Polly, you always think of everything!"
"And then," said Polly, with a comfortable little feeling at her heart at Ben's praise, "why, we can have it all out of the way splendidly, you know, when she comes home—and besides, Grandma Bascom'll tell me how. You know we've only got brown flour, Ben; I mean to go right over and ask her now."
"Oh, no, you mustn't," cried Ben, catching hold of her arm as she was preparing to fly off. "Mammy'll find it out; better wait till to-morrow; and besides Polly—" And Ben stopped, unwilling to dampen this propitious beginning. "The stove'll act like everything, to-morrow! I know 'twill; then what'll you do!"
"It sha'n't!" said Polly, running up to look it in the face; "if it does, I'll shake it; the mean old thing!"
The idea of Polly's shaking the lumbering old black affair, sent Ben into such a peal of laughter that it brought all the other children running to the spot; and nothing would do but they must one and all, be told the reason. So Polly and Ben took them into confidence, which so elated them that half an hour after, when long past her bedtime, Phronsie declared, "I'm not going to bed! I want to sit up like Polly!"
"Don't tease her," whispered Polly to Ben, who thought she ought to go; so she sat straight up on her little stool, winking like everything to keep awake.
At last, as Polly was in the midst of one of her liveliest sallies, over tumbled Phronsie, a sleepy little heap, upon the floor.
"I want—to go—to bed!" she said; "take me—Polly!"
"I thought so," laughed Polly, and bundled her off into the bedroom.
MAKING HAPPINESS FOR MAMSIE
And so, the minute her mother had departed for the minister's house next morning, and Ben had gone to his day's work, chopping wood for Deacon Blodgett, Polly assembled her force around the old stove, and proceeded to business. She and the children had been up betimes that morning to get through with the work; and now, as they glanced around with a look of pride on the neatly swept floor, the dishes all done, and everything in order, the moment their mother's back was turned they began to implore Polly to hurry and begin.
"It's most 'leven o'clock," said Joel, who, having no work to do outside, that day, was prancing around, wild to help along the festivities; "it's most 'leven o'clock, Polly Pepper! you won't have it done."
"Oh, no; 'tisn't either, Joe;" said Polly, with a very flushed face, and her arms full of kindlings, glancing up at the old clock as she spoke; "tisn't but quarter of nine; there, take care, Phronsie! you can't lift off the cover; do help her, Davie."
"No; let me!" cried Joel, springing forward; "it's my turn; Dave got the shingles; it's my turn, Polly."
"So 'tis," said Polly; "I forgot; there," as she flung in the wood, and poked it all up in a nice little heap coaxingly. "It can't help but burn; what a cake we'll have for mamsie!"
"It'll be so big," cried Phronsie, hopping around on one set of toes, "that mamsie won't know what to do, will she, Polly?"
"No, I don't believe she will," said Polly, gayly, stuffing in more wood; "Oh, dear! there goes Ben's putty; it's all come out!"
"So it has," said Joel, going around back of the stove to explore; and then he added cheerfully, "it's bigger'n ever; oh! it's an awful big hole, Polly!"
"Now, whatever shall we do!" said Polly, in great distress; "that hateful old crack! and Ben's clear off to Deacon Blodgett's!"
"I'll run and get him," cried Joel, briskly; "I'll bring him right home in ten minutes."
"Oh, no, you must not, Joe," cried Polly in alarm; "it wouldn't ever be right to take him off from his work; mamsie wouldn't like it."
"What will you do, then?" asked Joel, pausing on his way to the door.
"I'm sure I don't know," said Polly, getting down on her knees to examine the crack; "I shall have to stuff it with paper, I s'pose."
"'Twon't stay in," said Joel, scornfully; "don't you know you stuffed it before, last week?"
"I know," said Polly, with a small sigh; and sitting down on the floor, she remained quite still for a minute, with her two black hands thrust out straight before her.
"Can't you fix it?" asked Davie, soberly, coming up; "then we can't have the cake."
"Dear me!" exclaimed Polly, springing up quickly; "don't be afraid; we're going to have that cake! There, you ugly old thing, you!" (this to the stove) "see what you've done!" as two big tears flew out of Phronsie's brown eyes at the direful prospect; and the sorrowful faces of the two boys looked up into Polly's own, for comfort. "I can fix it, I most know; do get some paper, Joe, as quick as you can."
"Don't know where there is any," said Joel, rummaging around; "it's all tore up; 'xcept the almanac; can't I take that?"
"Oh dear, no!" cried Polly; "put it right back, Joe; I guess there's some in the wood-shed."
"There isn't either," said little Davie, quickly; "Joel and I took it to make kites with."
"Oh dear," groaned Polly; "I don't know what we shall do; unless," as a bright thought struck her, "you let me have the kites, boys."
"Can't," said Joel; "they're all flew away; and torn up."
"Well, now, children," said Polly, turning round impressively upon them, the effect of which was heightened by the extremely crocky appearance she had gained in her explorations, "we must have some paper, or something to stop up that old hole with—some way, there!"
"I know," said little Davie, "where we'll get it; it's upstairs;" and without another word he flew out of the room, and in another minute he put into Polly's hand an old leather boot-top, one of his most treasured possessions. "You can chip it," he said, "real fine, and then 'twill go in."
"So we can," said Polly; "and you're a real good boy, Davie, to give it; that's a splendid present to help celebrate for mamsie!"
"I'd a-given a boot-top," said Joel, looking grimly at the precious bit of leather which Polly was rapidly stripping into little bits, "if I'd a-hed it; I don't have anything!"
"I know you would, Joey," said Polly, kindly; "there now, you'll stay, I guess!" as with the united efforts of the two boys, cheered on by Phronsie's enthusiastic little crow of delight, the leather was crowded into place, and the fire began to burn.
"Now, boys," said Polly, getting up, and drawing a long breath, "I'm going over to Grandma Bascom's to get her to tell me how to make the cake; and you must stay and keep house."
"I'm going to nail," said Joel; "I've got lots to do."
"All right," said Polly, tying on her hood; "Phronsie'll love to watch you; I won't be gone long," and she was off.
"Grandma Bascom," wasn't really the children's grandmother; only everybody in the village called her so by courtesy. Her cottage was over across the lane, and just a bit around the corner; and Polly flew along and up to the door, fully knowing that now she would be helped out of her difficulty. She didn't stop to knock, as the old lady was so deaf she knew she wouldn't hear her, but opened the door and walked in. Grandma was sweeping up the floor, already as neat as a pin; when she saw Polly coming, she stopped, and leaned on her broom.
"How's your ma?" she asked, when Polly had said "good morning," and then hesitated.
"Oh, mammy's pretty well," shouted Polly into the old lady's ear; "and to-morrow's her birthday!"
"To-morrow'll be a bad day!" said grandma. "Oh, don't never say that. You mustn't borrow trouble, child."
"I didn't," said Polly; "I mean—it's her birthday, grandma!" this last so loud that grandma's cap-border vibrated perceptibly.
"The land's sakes 'tis!" cried Mrs. Bascom, delightedly; "you don't say so!"
"Yes," said Polly, skipping around the old lady, and giving her a small hug; "and we're going to give her a surprise."
"What is the matter with her eyes?" asked grandma, sharply, turning around and facing her; "she's been a-sewin' too stiddy, hain't she?"
"A surprise!" shouted Polly, standing upon tiptoe, to bring her mouth on a level with the old lady's ear; "a cake, grandma, a big one!"
"A cake!" exclaimed grandma, dropping the broom to settle her cap, which Polly in her extreme endeavors to carry on the conversation, had knocked slightly awry; "well, that'll be fine."
"Yes," said Polly, picking up the broom, and flinging off her hood at the same time; "and, oh! won't you please tell me how to make it, grandma!"
"To be sure; to be sure;" cried the old lady, delighted beyond measure to give advice; "I've got splendid receets; I'll go get 'em right off," and she ambled to the door of the pantry.
"And I'll finish sweeping up," said Polly, which grandma didn't hear; so she took up the broom, and sent it energetically, and merrily flying away to the tune of her own happy thoughts.
"Yes, they're right in here," said grandma, waddling back with an old tin teapot in her hand;—"goodness, child! what a dust you've kicked up! that ain't the way to sweep." And she took the broom out of Polly's hand, who stood quite still in mortification.
"There," she said, drawing it mildly over the few bits she could scrape together, and gently coaxing them into a little heap; "that's the way; and then they don't go all over the room.
"I'm sorry," began poor Polly.
"'Tain't any matter," said Mrs. Bascom kindly, catching sight of Polly's discomfited face; "tain't a mite of matter; you'll sweep better next time; now let's go to the cake;" and putting the broom into the corner, she waddled back again to the table, followed by Polly, and proceeded to turn out the contents of the teapot, in search of just the right "receet."
But the right one didn't seem to appear; not even after the teapot was turned upside down and shaken by both grandma's and Polly's anxious hands. Every other "receet" seemed to tumble out gladly, and stare them in the face—little dingy rolls of yellow paper, with an ancient odor of spice still clinging to them; but all efforts to find this particular one failed utterly.
"Won't some other one do?" asked Polly, in the interval of fruitless searching, when grandma bewailed and lamented, and wondered, "where I could a put it!"
"No, no, child," answered the old lady; "now, where do you s'pose 'tis!" and she clapped both hands to her head, to see if she could possibly remember; "no, no, child," she repeated. "Why, they had it down to my niece Mirandy's weddin'—'twas just elegant! light as a feather; and 'twan't rich either," she added; "no eggs, nor—"
"Oh, I couldn't have eggs;" cried Polly, in amazement at the thought of such luxury; "and we've only brown flour, grandma, you know."
"Well, you can make it of brown," said Mrs. Bascom, kindly; "when the raisins is in 'twill look quite nice."
"Oh, we haven't any raisins," answered Polly.
"Haven't any raisins!" echoed grandma, looking at her over her spectacles; "what are you goin' to put in?"
"Oh—cinnamon," said Polly, briskly; "we've got plenty of that, and—it'll be good, I guess, grandma!" she finished, anxiously; "anyway, we must have a cake; there isn't any other way to celebrate mamsie's birthday."
"Well, now," said grandma, bustling around; "I shouldn't be surprised if you had real good luck, Polly. And your ma'll set ever so much by it; now, if we only could find that receet!" and returning to the charge she commenced to fumble among her bits of paper again; "I never shall forget how they eat on it; why, there wasn't a crumb left, Polly!"
"Oh, dear," said Polly, to whom "Mirandy's wedding cake" now became the height of her desires; "if you only can find it! can't I climb up and look on the pantry shelves?"
"Maybe 'tis there," said Mrs. Bascom, slowly; "you might try; sometimes I do put things away, so's to have 'em safe."
So Polly got an old wooden chair, according to direction, and then mounted up on it, with grandma below to direct, she handed down bowl after bowl, interspersed at the right intervals with cracked teacups and handleless pitchers. But at the end of these explorations, "Mirandy's wedding cake" was further off than ever.
"Tain't a mite o' use," at last said the old lady, sinking down in despair, while Polly perched on the top of the chair and looked at her; "I must a-give it away."
"Can't I have the next best one, then?" asked Polly, despairingly, feeling sure that "Mirandy's wedding cake" would have celebrated the day just right; "and I must hurry right home, please," she added, getting down from the chair, and tying on her hood; "or Phronsie won't know what to do."
So another "receet" was looked over, and selected; and with many charges, and bits of advice not to let the oven get too hot, etc., etc., Polly took the precious bit in her hand, and flew over home.
"Now, we've got to—" she began, bounding in merrily, with dancing eyes; but her delight had a sudden stop, as she brought up so suddenly at the sight within, that she couldn't utter another word. Phronsie was crouching, a miserable little heap of woe, in one corner of the mother's big calico-covered rocking-chair, and crying bitterly, while Joel hung over her in the utmost concern.
"What's the matter?" gasped Polly. Flinging the "receet" on the table, she rushed up to the old chair and was down on her knees before it, her arms around the little figure. Phronsie turned, and threw herself into Polly's protecting arms, who gathered her up, and sitting down in the depths of the chair, comforted her as only she could.
"What is it?" she asked of Joel, who was nervously begging Phronsie not to cry; "now, tell me all that's happened."
"I was a-nailing," began Joel; "oh dear! don't cry, Phronsie! do stop her, Polly."
"Go on," said Polly, hoarsely.
"I was a-nailing," began Joel, slowly; "and—and—Davie's gone to get the peppermint," he added, brightening up.
"Tell me, Joe," said Polly, "all that's been going on," and she looked sternly into his face; "or I'll get Davie to," as little Davie came running back, with a bottle of castor oil, which in his flurry he had mistaken for peppermint. This he presented with a flourish to Polly, who was too excited to see it.
"Oh, no!" cried Joel, in intense alarm; "Davie isn't going to! I'll tell, Polly; I will truly."
"Go on, then," said Polly; "tell at once;" (feeling as if somebody didn't tell pretty quick, she should tumble over.)
"Well," said Joel, gathering himself up with a fresh effort, "the old hammer was a-shaking and Phronsie stuck her foot in the way—and—I couldn't help it, Polly—no, I just couldn't, Polly."
Quick as a flash, Polly tore off the little old shoe, and well-worn stocking, and brought to light Phronsie's fat little foot. Tenderly taking hold of the white toes, the boys clustering around in the greatest anxiety, she worked them back and forth, and up and down. "Nothing's broken," she said at last, and drew a long breath.
"It's there," said Phronsie, through a rain of tears; "and it hurts, Polly;" and she began to wiggle the big toe, where around the nail was settling a small black spot.
"Poor little toe," began Polly, cuddling up the suffering foot. Just then, a small and peculiar noise struck her ear; and looking up she saw Joel, with a very distorted face, making violent efforts to keep from bursting out into a loud cry. All his attempts, however, failed; and he flung himself into Polly's lap in a perfect torrent of tears. "I didn't—mean to—Polly," he cried; "'twas the—ugly, old hammer! oh dear!"
"There, there, Joey, dear," said Polly, gathering him up in the other corner of the old chair, close to her side; "don't feel bad; I know you didn't mean to," and she dropped a kiss on his stubby black hair.
When Phronsie saw that anybody else could cry, she stopped immediately, and leaning over Polly, put one little fat hand on Joel's neck. "Don't cry," she said; "does your toe ache?"
At this, Joel screamed louder than ever; and Polly was at her wit's end to know what to do; for the boy's heart was almost broken. That he should have hurt Phronsie! the baby, the pet of the whole house, upon whom all their hearts centered—it was too much. So for the next few moments, Polly had all she could do by way of comforting and consoling him. Just as she had succeeded, the door opened, and Grandma Bascom walked in.
"Settin' down?" said she; "I hope your cake ain't in, Polly," looking anxiously at the stove, "for I've found it;" and she waved a small piece of paper triumphantly towards the rocking-chair as she spoke.
"Do tell her," said Polly to little David, "what's happened; for I can't get up."
So little Davie went up to the old lady, and standing on tiptoe, screamed into her ear all the particulars he could think of, concerning the accident that had just happened.
"Hey?" said grandma, in a perfect bewilderment; "what's he a-sayin', Polly—I can't make it out."
"You'll have to go all over it again, David," said Polly, despairingly; "she didn't hear one word, I don't believe."
So David tried again; this time with better success. And then he got down from his tiptoes, and escorted grandma to Phronsie, in flushed triumph.
"Land alive!" said the old lady, sitting down in the chair which he brought her; "you got pounded, did you?" looking at Phronsie, as she took the little foot in her ample hand.
"Yes'm," said Polly, quickly; "twasn't any one's fault; what'll we do for it, grandma?"
"Wormwood," said the old lady, adjusting her spectacles in extreme deliberation, and then examining the little black and blue spot, which was spreading rapidly, "is the very best thing; and I've got some to home—you run right over," she said, turning round on David, quickly, "an' get it; it's a-hang-in' by the chimbley."
"Let me; let me!" cried Joel, springing out of the old chair, so suddenly that grandma's spectacles nearly dropped off in fright; "oh! I want to do it for Phronsie!"
"Yes, let Joel, please," put in Polly; "he'll find it, grandma." So Joel departed with great speed; and presently returned, with a bunch of dry herbs, which dangled comfortingly by his side, as he came in.
"Now I'll fix it," said Mrs. Bascom, getting up and taking off her shawl; "there's a few raisins for you, Polly; I don't want 'em, and they'll make your cake go better," and she placed a little parcel on the table as she spoke. "Yes, I'll put it to steep; an' after it's put on real strong, and tied up in an old cloth, Phronsie won't know as she's got any toes!" and grandma broke up a generous supply of the herb, and put it into an old tin cup, which she covered up with a saucer, and placed on the stove.
"Oh!" said Polly; "I can't thank you! for the raisins and all—you're so good!"
"They're awful hard," said Joel, investigating into the bundle with Davie, which, however, luckily the old lady didn't hear.
"There, don't try," she said cheerily; "an' I found cousin Mirandy's weddin' cake receet, for—"
"Did you?" cried Polly; "oh! I'm so glad!" feeling as if that were comfort enough for a good deal.
"Yes, 'twas in my Bible," said Mrs. Bascom; "I remember now; I put it there to be ready to give John's folks when they come in; they wanted it; so you'll go all straight now; and I must get home, for I left some meat a-boilin'." So grandma put on her shawl, and waddled off, leaving a great deal of comfort behind her.
"Now, says I," said Polly to Phronsie, when the little foot was snugly tied up in the wet wormwood, "you've got to have one of mamsie's old slippers."
"Oh, ho," laughed Phronsie; "won't that be funny, Polly!"
"I should think it would," laughed Polly, back again, pulling on the big cloth slipper, which Joel produced from the bedroom, the two boys joining uproariously, as the old black thing flapped dismally up and down, and showed strong symptoms of flying off. "We shall have to tie it on."
"It looks like a pudding bag," said Joel, as Polly tied it securely through the middle with a bit of twine; "an old black pudding bag!" he finished.
"Old black pudding bag!" echoed Phronsie, with a merry little crow; and then all of a sudden she grew very sober, and looked intently at the foot thrust out straight before her, as she still sat in the chair.
"What is it, Phronsie?" asked Polly, who was bustling around, making preparations for the cake-making.
"Can I ever wear my new shoes again?" asked the child, gravely, looking dismally at the black bundle before her.
"Oh, yes; my goodness, yes!" cried Polly; "as quick again as ever; you'll be around again as smart as a cricket in a week—see if you aren't!"
"Will it go on?" asked Phronsie, still looking incredulously at the bundle, "and button up?"
"Yes, indeed!" cried Polly, again; "button into every one of the little holes, Phronsie Pepper; just as elegant as ever!"
"Oh!" said Phronsie; and then she gave a sigh of relief, and thought no more of it, because Polly had said that all would be right.
"Run down and get the cinnamon, will you, Joey?" said Polly; "it's in the 'Provision Room."
The "Provision Room" was a little shed that was tacked on to the main house, and reached by a short flight of rickety steps; so called, because as Polly said, "'twas a good place to keep provisions in, even if we haven't any; and besides," she always finished, "it sounds nice!"
"Come on, Dave! then we'll get something to eat!"
So the cinnamon was handed up, and then Joel flew back to Davie.
And now, Polly's cake was done, and ready for the oven. With many admiring glances from herself, and Phronsie, who with Seraphina, an extremely old but greatly revered doll, tightly hugged in her arms was watching everything with the biggest of eyes from the depths of the old chair, it was placed in the oven, the door shut to with a happy little bang, then Polly gathered Phronsie up in her arms, and sat down in the chair to have a good time with her and to watch the process of cooking.
There was a bumping noise that came from the "Provision Room" that sounded ominous, and then a smothered sound of words, followed by a scuffling over the old floor.
"Boys!" called Polly. No answer; everything was just as still as a mouse. "Joel and David!" called Polly again, in her loudest tones.
"Yes," came up the crooked stairs, in Davie's voice.
"Come up here, right away!" went back again from Polly. So up the stairs trudged the two boys, and presented themselves rather sheepishly before the big chair.
"What was that noise?" she asked; "what have you been doing?"
"Twasn't anything but the pail," answered Joel, not looking at her.
"We had something to eat," said Davie, by way of explanation; "you always let us."
"I know," said Polly; "that's right, you can have as much bread as you want to; but what you been doing with the pail?"
"Nothing," said Joel; "'twouldn't hangup, that's all."
"And you've been bumping it," said Polly; "oh! Joel, how could you! You might have broken it; then what would mamsie say?"
"I didn't," said Joel, stoutly, with his hands in his pockets, "bump it worse'n Davie, so there!"
"Why, Davie," said Polly, turning to him sorrowfully, "I shouldn't have thought you would!"
"Well, I'm tired of hanging it up," said little Davie, vehemently; "and I said I wasn't a-goin' to; Joel always makes me; I've done it for two million times, I guess!"
"Oh, dear," said Polly, sinking back into the chair, "I don't know what I ever shall do; here's Phronsie hurt; and we want to celebrate to-morrow; and you two boys are bumping and banging out the bread pail, and—"
"Oh! we won't!" cried both of the children, perfectly overwhelmed with remorse; "we'll hang it right up."
"I'll hang it," said Davie, clattering off down the stairs with a will.
"No, I will!" shouted Joel, going after him at double pace; and presently both came up with shining faces, and reported it nicely done.
"And now," said Polly, after they had all sat around the stove another half-hour, watching and sniffing expectantly, "the cake's done!—dear me! it's turning black!"
And quickly as possible Polly twitched it out with energy, and set it on the table.
Oh, dear; of all things in the world! The beautiful cake over which so many hopes had been formed, that was to have given so much happiness on the morrow to the dear mother, presented a forlorn appearance as it stood there in anything but holiday attire. It was quite black on the top, in the center of which was a depressing little dump, as if to say, "My feelings wouldn't allow me to rise to the occasion."
"Now," said Polly, turning away with a little fling, and looking at the stove, "I hope you're satisfied, you old thing; you've spoiled our mamsie's birthday!" and without a bit of warning, she sat right down in the middle of the floor and began to cry as hard as she could.
"Well, I never!" said a cheery voice, that made the children skip.
"It's Mrs. Beebe; oh, it's Mrs. Beebe!" cried Davie; "see, Polly."
Polly scrambled up to her feet, ashamed to be caught thus, and whisked away the tears; the others explaining to their new visitor the sad disappointment that had befallen them; and she was soon oh-ing, and ah-ing enough to suit even their distressed little souls.
"You poor creeters, you!" she exclaimed at last, for about the fiftieth time. "Here, Polly, here's some posies for you, and—"
"Oh, thank you!" cried Polly, with a radiant face, "why, Mrs. Beebe, we can put them in here, can't we? the very thing!"
And she set the little knot of flowers in the hollow of the cake, and there they stood and nodded away to the delighted children, like brave little comforters, as they were.
"The very thing!" echoed Mrs. Beebe, tickled to death to see their delight; "it looks beautiful, I declare! and now, I must run right along, or pa'll be worrying;" and so the good woman trotted out to her waiting husband, who was impatient to be off. Mr. Beebe kept a little shoe shop in town; and always being of the impression if he left it for ten minutes that crowds of customers would visit it. He was the most restless of companions on any pleasure excursion.
"And Phronsie's got hurt," said Mrs. Beebe, telling him the news, as he finished tucking her up, and started the old horse.
"Ho? you don't say so!" he cried; "whoa!"
"Dear me!" said Mrs. Beebe; "how you scat me, pal what's the matter?"
"What?—the little girl that bought the shoes?" asked her husband.
"Yes," replied his wife, "she's hurt her foot."
"Sho, now," said the old gentleman; "that's too bad," and he began to feel in all his pockets industriously; "there, can you get out again, and take her that?" and he laid a small piece of peppermint candy, thick and white, in his wife's lap.
"Oh, yes," cried Mrs. Beebe, good-naturedly, beginning to clamber over the wheel.
So the candy was handed in to Phronsie, who insisted that Polly should hold her up to the window to thank Mr. Beebe. So amid nods, and shakings of hands, the Beebes drove off, and quiet settled down over the little brown house again.
"Now, children," said Polly, after Phronsie had made them take a bite of her candy all around, "let's get the cake put away safe, for mamsie may come home early.
"Where'll you put it?" asked Joel, wishing the world was all peppermint candy.
"Oh—in the cupboard," said Polly, taking it up; "there, Joe, you can climb up, and put it clear back in the corner, oh! wait; I must take the posies off, and keep them fresh in water;" so the cake was finally deposited in a place of safety, followed by the eyes of all the children.
"Now," said Polly, as they shut the door tight, "don't you go to looking at the cupboard, Joey, or mammy'll guess something."
"Can't I just open it a little crack, and take one smell when she isn't looking?" asked Joel; "I should think you might, Polly; just one."
"No," said Polly, firmly; "not one, Joe; she'll guess if you do." But Mrs. Pepper was so utterly engrossed with her baby when she came home and heard the account of the accident, that she wouldn't have guessed if there'd been a dozen cakes in the cupboard. Joel was consoled, as his mother assured him in a satisfactory way that she never should think of blaming him; and Phronsie was comforted and coddled to her heart's content. And so the evening passed rapidly and happily away; Ben smuggling Phronsie off into a corner, where she told him all the doings of the day—the disappointment of the cake, and how it was finally crowned with flowers; all of which Phronsie, with no small pride in being the narrator, related gravely to her absorbed listener. "And don't you think, Bensie," she said, clasping her little hand in a convincing way over his two bigger, stronger ones, "that Polly's stove was very naughty to make poor Polly cry?"
"Yes, I do," said Ben, and he shut his lips tightly together.
To have Polly cry, hurt him more than he cared to have Phronsie see.
"What are you staring at, Joe?" asked Polly, a few minutes later, as her eyes fell upon Joel, who sat with his back to the cupboard, persistently gazing at the opposite wall.
"Why, you told me yourself not to look at the cupboard," said Joel, in the loudest of stage whispers.
"Dear me; that'll make mammy suspect worse'n anything else if you look like that," said Polly.
"What did you say about the cupboard?" asked Mrs. Pepper, who caught Joe's last word.
"We can't tell," said Phronsie, shaking her head at her mother; "cause there's a ca——" "Ugh!" and Polly clapped her hand on the child's mouth; "don't you want Ben to tell us a story?"
"Oh, yes!" cried little Phronsie, in which all the others joined with a whoop of delight; so a most wonderful story, drawn up in Ben's best style, followed till bedtime.
The first thing Polly did in the morning, was to run to the old cupboard, followed by all the others, to see if the cake was safe; and then it had to be drawn out, and dressed anew with the flowers, for they had decided to have it on the breakfast table.
"It looks better," whispered Polly to Ben, "than it did yesterday; and aren't the flowers pretty?"
"It looks good enough to eat, anyway," said Ben, smacking his lips.
"Well, we tried," said Polly, stilling a sigh; "now, boys, call mamsie; everything's ready."
Oh! how surprised their mother appeared when she was ushered out to the feast, and the full glory of the table burst upon her. Her delight in the cake was fully enough to satisfy the most exacting mind. She admired and admired it on every side, protesting that she shouldn't have supposed Polly could possibly have baked it as good in the old stove; and then she cut it, and gave a piece to every child, with a little posy on top. Wasn't it good, though! for like many other things, the cake proved better on trial than it looked, and so turned out to be really quite a good surprise all around.
"Why can't I ever have a birthday?" asked Joel, finishing the last crumb of his piece; "I should think I might," he added, reflectively.
"Why, you have, Joe," said Ben; "eight of 'em."
"What a story!" ejaculated Joel; "when did I have 'em? I never had a cake; did I, Polly?"
"Not a cake-birthday, Joel," said his mother; "you haven't got to that yet."
"When's it coming?" asked Joel, who was decidedly of a matter-of-fact turn of mind.
"I don't know," said Mrs. Pepper, laughing; "but there's plenty of time ahead."
TROUBLE FOR THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE
"Oh, I do wish," said Joel, a few mornings after, pushing back his chair and looking discontentedly at his bowl of mush and molasses, "that we could ever have something new besides this everlasting old breakfast! Why can't we, mammy?"
"Better be glad you've got that, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper, taking another cold potato, and sprinkling on a little salt; "folks shouldn't complain so long as they've anything to eat."
"But I'm so tired of it—same old thing!" growled Joel; "seems as if I sh'd turn into a meal-bag or a molasses jug!"
"Well, hand it over, then," proposed Ben, who was unusually hungry, and had a hard day's work before him.
"No," said Joel, alarmed at the prospect, and putting in an enormous mouthful; "it's better than nothing."
"Oh, dear," said little Phronsie, catching Joel's tone, "it isn't nice; no, it isn't." And she put down her spoon so suddenly that the molasses spun off in a big drop, that trailed off the corner of the table, and made Polly jump up and run for the floor-cloth.
"Oh, Phronsie," she said, reprovingly; "you ought not to. Never mind, pet," as she caught sight of two big tears trying to make a path in the little molasses-streaked face, "Polly'll wipe it up."
"Sha'n't we ever have anything else to eat, Polly?" asked the child, gravely, getting down from her high chair to watch the operation of cleaning the floor.
"Oh, yes," said Polly, cheerfully, "lots and lots—when our ship comes in."
"What'll they be?" asked Phronsie, in the greatest delight, prepared for anything.
"Oh, I don't know," said Polly; "ice cream for one thing, Phronsie, and maybe, little cakes."
"With pink on top?" interrupted Phronsie, getting down by Polly's side.
"Oh, yes," said Polly, warming with her subject; "ever and ever so much pink, Phronsie Pepper; more than you could eat!"
Phronsie just clasped her hands and sighed. More than she could eat was beyond her!
"Hoh!" said Joel, who caught the imaginary bill of fare, "that's nothing, Polly. I'd speak for a plum-puddin'."
"Like the one mother made us for Thanksgiving?" asked Polly, getting up and waiting a minute, cloth in hand, for the answer.
"Yes, sir," said Joel, shutting one eye and looking up at the ceiling, musingly, while he smacked his lips in remembrance; "wasn't that prime, though!"
"Yes," said Polly, thoughtfully; "would you have 'em all like that, Joe?"
"Every one," replied Joe, promptly; "I'd have seventy-five of 'em."
"Seventy-five what?" asked Mrs. Pepper, who had gone into the bedroom, and now came out, a coat in hand, to sit down in the west window, where she began to sew rapidly. "Better clear up the dishes, Polly, and set the table back—seventy-five what, Joel?"
"Plum-puddings," said Joel, kissing Phronsie.
"Dear me!" ejaculated Mrs. Pepper; "you don't know what you're saying, Joel Pepper; the house couldn't hold 'em!"
"Wouldn't long," responded Joel; "we'd eat 'em."
"That would be foolish," interposed Ben; "I'd have roast beef and fixings—and oysters—and huckleberry pie."
"Oh, dear," cried Polly; "how nice, Ben! you always do think of the very best things."
But Joel phoohed and declared he wouldn't waste his time "over old beef; he'd have something like!" And then he cried:
"Come on, Dave, what'd you choose?"
Little Davie had been quietly eating his breakfast amid all this chatter, and somehow thinking it might make the mother feel badly, he had refrained from saying just how tiresome he had really found this "everlasting breakfast" as Joel called it. But now he looked up eagerly, his answer all ready. "Oh, I know," he cried, "what would be most beautiful! toasted bread—white bread—and candy."
"What's candy?" asked Phronsie.
"Oh, don't you know, Phronsie," cried Polly, "what Mrs. Beebe gave you the day you got your shoes—the pink sticks; and—"
"And the peppermint stick Mr. Beebe gave you, Phronsie," finished Joel, his mouth watering at the remembrance.
"That day, when you got your toe pounded," added Davie, looking at Joel.
"Oh!" cried Phronsie; "I want some now, I do!"
"Well, Davie," said Polly, "you shall have that for breakfast when our ship comes in then."
"Your ships aren't ever coming," broke in Mrs. Pepper, wisely, "if you sit there talking—folks don't ever make any fortunes by wishing."
"True enough," laughed Ben, jumping up and setting back his chair. "Come on, Joe; you've got to pile to-day."
"Oh, dear," said Joel, dismally; "I wish Mr. Blodgett's wood was all a-fire."
"Never say that, Joel," said Mrs. Pepper, looking up sternly; "it's biting your own nose off to wish that wood was a-fire—and besides it's dreadfully wicked."
Joel hung his head, for his mother never spoke in that way unless she was strongly moved; but he soon recovered, and hastened off for his jacket.
"I'm sorry I can't help you do the dishes, Polly," said David, running after Joel.
"I'm going to help her," said Phronsie; "I am."
So Polly got the little wooden tub that she always used, gave Phronsie the well-worn cup-napkin, and allowed her to wipe the handleless cups and cracked saucers, which afforded the little one intense delight.
"Don't you wish, Polly," said little Phronsie, bustling around with a very important air, nearly smothered in the depths of a big brown apron that Polly had carefully tied under her chin, "that you didn't ever-an'-ever have so many dishes to do?"
"Um—maybe," said Polly, thoughtlessly. She was thinking of something else besides cups and saucers just then; of how nice it would be to go off for just one day, and do exactly as she had a mind to in everything. She even envied Ben and the boys who were going to work hard at Deacon Blodgett's woodpile.
"Well, I tell you," said Phronsie, confidentially, setting down a cup that she had polished with great care, "I'm going to do 'em all to-morrow, for you, Polly—I can truly; let me now, Polly, do."
"Nonsense!" said Polly, giving a great splash with her mop in the tub, ashamed of her inward repinings. "Phronsie, you're no bigger than a mouse!"
"Yes, I am," retorted Phronsie, very indignantly. Her face began to get very red, and she straightened up so suddenly to show Polly just how very big she was that her little head came up against the edge of the tub—over it went! a pile of saucers followed.
"There now," cried Polly, "see what you've done!"
"Ow!" whimpered Phronsie, breaking into a subdued roar; "oh, Polly! it's all running down my back."
"Is it?" said Polly, bursting out into a laugh; "never mind, Phronsie, I'll dry you."
"Dear me, Polly!" said Mrs. Pepper, who had looked up in time to see the tub racing along by itself towards the "Provision Room" door, a stream of dish-water following in its wake, "she will be wet clear through; do get off her things, quick."
"Yes'm," cried Polly, picking up the tub, and giving two or three quick sops to the floor. "Here you are, Pussy," grasping Phronsie, crying as she was, and carrying her into the bedroom.
"Oh, dear," wailed the child, still holding the wet dish towel; "I won't ever do it again, if you'll only let me do 'em all to-morrow."
"When you're big and strong," said Polly, giving her a hug, "you shall do 'em every day."
"May I really?" said little Phronsie, blinking through the tears, and looking radiant.
"Yes, truly—every day."
"Then I'll grow right away, I will," said Phronsie, bursting out merrily; and she sat down and pulled off the well-worn shoes, into which a big pool of dish-water had run, while Polly went for dry stockings.
"So you shall," said Polly, coming back, a big piece of gingerbread in her hand; "and this'll make you grow, Phronsie."
"O-o-h!" and Phronsie's little white teeth shut down quickly on the comforting morsel. Gingerbread didn't come often enough into the Pepper household to be lightly esteemed.
"Now," said Mrs. Pepper, when order was restored, the floor washed up brightly, and every cup and platter in place, hobnobbing away to themselves on the shelves of the old corner cupboard, and Polly had come as usual with needle and thread to help mother—Polly was getting so that she could do the plain parts on the coats and jackets, which filled her with pride at the very thought—"now," said Mrs. Pepper, "you needn't help me this morning, Polly: I'm getting on pretty smart; but you may just run down to the parson's, and see how he is."
"Is he sick?" asked Polly, in awe.
To have the parson sick, was something quite different from an ordinary person's illness.
"He's taken with a chill," said Mrs. Pepper, biting off a thread, "so Miss Huldy Folsom told me last night, and I'm afraid he's going to have a fever."
"Oh, dear," said Polly, in dire distress; "whatever'd we do, mammy!"
"Don't know, I'm sure," replied Mrs. Pepper, setting her stitches firmly; "the Lord'll provide. So you run along, child, and see how he is."
"Can't Phronsie go?" asked Polly, pausing half-way to the bedroom door.
"Well, yes, I suppose she might," said Mrs. Pepper, assentingly.
"No, she can't either," said Polly, coming back with her sun-bonnet in her hand, and shutting the door carefully after her, "cause she's fast asleep on the floor."
"Is she?" said Mrs. Pepper; "well, she's been running so this morning, she's tired out, I s'pose."
"And her face is dreadfully red," continued Polly, tying on her bonnet; "now, what'll I say, mammy?"
"Well, I should think 'twould be," said Mrs. Pepper, replying to the first half of Polly's speech; "she cried so. Well, you just tell Mrs. Henderson your ma wants to know how Mr. Henderson is this morning, and if 'twas a chill he had yesterday, and how he slept last night, and—"
"Oh, ma," said Polly, "I can't ever remember all that."
"Oh, yes, you can," said Mrs. Pepper, encouragingly; "just put your mind on it, Polly; 'tisn't anything to what I used to have to remember—when I was a little girl, no bigger than you are."
Polly sighed, and feeling sure that something must be the matter with her mind, gave her whole attention to the errand; till at last after a multiplicity of messages and charges not to forget any one of them, Mrs. Pepper let her depart.
Up to the old-fashioned green door, with its brass knocker, Polly went, running over in her mind just which of the messages she ought to give first. She couldn't for her life think whether "if 'twas a chill he had yesterday?" ought to come before "how he slept?" She knocked timidly, hoping Mrs. Henderson would help her out of her difficulty by telling her without the asking. All other front doors in Badgertown were ornaments, only opened on grand occasions, like a wedding or a funeral. But the minister's was accessible alike to all. So Polly let fall the knocker, and awaited the answer.
A scuffling noise sounded along the passage; and then Polly's soul sank down in dire dismay. It was the minister's sister, and not gentle little Mrs. Henderson. She never could get on with Miss Jerusha in the least. She made her feel as she told her mother once—"as if I don't know what my name is." And now here she was; and all those messages.
Miss Jerusha unbolted the door, slid back the great bar, opened the upper half, and stood there. She was a big woman, with sharp black eyes, and spectacles—over which she looked—which to Polly was much worse, for that gave her four eyes.
"Well, and what do you want?" she asked.
"I came to see—I mean my ma sent me," stammered poor Polly.
"And who is your ma?" demanded Miss Jerusha, as much like a policeman as anything; "and where do you live?"
"I live in Primrose Lane," replied Polly, wishing very much that she was back there.
"I don't want to know where you live, before I know who you are," said Miss Jerusha; "you should answer the question I asked first; always remember that."
"My ma's Mrs. Pepper," said Polly.
"Mrs. who?" repeated Miss Jerusha.
By this time Polly was so worn that she came very near turning and fleeing, but she thought of her mother's disappointment in her, and the loss of the news, and stood quite still.
"What is it, Jerusha?" a gentle voice here broke upon Polly's ear.
"I don't know," responded Miss Jerusha, tartly, still holding the door much as if Polly were a robber; "it's a little girl, and I can't make out what she wants."
"Why, it's Polly Pepper!" exclaimed Mrs. Henderson, pleasantly. "Come in, child." She opened the other half of the big door, and led the way through the wide hall into a big, old-fashioned room, with painted floor, and high, old side-board, and some stiff-backed rocking-chairs.
Miss Jerusha stalked in also and seated herself by the window, and began to knit. Polly had just opened her mouth to tell her errand, when the door also opened suddenly and Mr. Henderson walked in.
"Oh!" said Polly, and then she stopped, and the color flushed up into her face.
"What is it, my dear?" and the minister took her hand kindly, and looked down into her flushed face.
"You are not going to have a fever, and be sick and die!" she cried.
"I hope not, my little girl," he smiled back, encouragingly; and then Polly gave her messages, which now she managed easily enough.
"There," broke in Miss Jerusha, "a cat can't sneeze in this town but everybody'll know it in quarter of an hour."
And then Mrs. Henderson took Polly out to see a brood of new little chicks, that had just popped their heads out into the world; and to Polly, down on her knees, admiring, the time passed very swiftly indeed.
"Now I must go, ma'am," she said at last, looking up into the lady's face, regretfully, "for mammy didn't say I was to stay."
"Very well, dear; do you think you could carry a little pat of butter? I have some very nice my sister sent me, and I want your mother to share it."
"Oh, thank you, ma'am!" cried Polly, thinking, "how glad Davie'll be, for he does so love butter! only—"
"Wait a bit, then," said Mrs. Henderson, who didn't seem to notice the objection. So she went into the house, and Polly went down again in admiration before the fascinating little puff-balls.
But she was soon on the way, with a little pat of butter in a blue bowl, tied over with a clean cloth; happy in her gift for mammy, and in the knowledge of the minister being all well.
"I wonder if Phronsie's awake," she thought to herself, turning in at the little brown gate; "if she is, she shall have a piece of bread with lots of butter."
"Hush!" said Mrs. Pepper, from the rocking-chair in the middle of the floor. She had something in her arms. Polly stopped suddenly, almost letting the bowl fall.
"It's Phronsie," said the mother, "and I don't know what the matter is with her; you'll have to go for the doctor, Polly, and just as fast as you can."
Polly still stood, holding the bowl, and staring with all her might. Phronsie sick!
"Don't wake her," said Mrs. Pepper.
Poor Polly couldn't have stirred to save her life, for a minute; then she said—"Where shall I go?"
"Oh, run to Dr. Fisher's; and don't be gone long."
Polly set down the bowl of butter, and sped on the wings of the wind for the doctor. Something dreadful was the matter, she felt, for never had a physician been summoned to the hearty Pepper family since she could remember, only when the father died. Fear lent speed to her feet; and soon the doctor came, and bent over poor little Phronsie, who still lay in her mother's arms, in a burning fever.
"It's measles," he pronounced, "that's all; no cause for alarm; you ever had it?" he asked, turning suddenly around on Polly, who was watching with wide-open eyes for the verdict.
"No, sir," answered Polly, not knowing in the least what "measles" was.
"What shall we do!" said Mrs. Pepper; "there haven't any of them had it."
The doctor was over by the little old table under the window, mixing up some black-looking stuff in a tumbler, and he didn't hear her.
"There," he said, putting a spoonful into Phronsie's mouth, "she'll get along well enough; only keep her out of the cold." Then he pulled out a big silver watch. He was a little thin man, and the watch was immense. Polly for her life couldn't keep her eyes off from it; if Ben could only have one so fine!
"Polly," whispered Mrs. Pepper, "run and get my purse; it's in the top bureau drawer."
"Yes'm," said Polly, taking her eyes off, by a violent wrench, from the fascinating watch; and she ran quickly and got the little old stocking-leg, where the hard earnings that staid long enough to be put anywhere, always found refuge. She put it into her mother's lap, and watched while Mrs. Pepper counted out slowly one dollar in small pieces.
"Here sir," said Mrs. Pepper, holding them out towards the doctor; "and thank you for coming."
"Hey!" said the little man, spinning round; "that dollar's the Lord's!"
Mrs. Pepper looked bewildered, and still sat holding it out. "And the Lord has given it to you to take care of these children with; see that you do it." And without another word he was gone.
"Wasn't he good, mammy?" asked Polly, after the first surprise was over.
"I'm sure he was," said Mrs. Pepper. "Well, tie it up again, Polly, tie it up tight; we shall want it, I'm sure," sighing at her little sick girl.
"Mayn't I take Phronsie, ma?" asked Polly.
"No, no," said Phronsie. She had got mammy, and she meant to improve the privilege.
"What is 'measles' anyway, mammy?" asked Polly, sitting down on the floor at their feet.
"Oh, 'tis something children always have," replied Mrs. Pepper; "but I'm sure I hoped it wouldn't come just yet."
"I sha'n't have it," said Polly, decisively; "I know I sha'n't! nor Ben—nor Joe—nor—nor Davie—I guess," she added, hesitatingly, for Davie was the delicate one of the family; at least not nearly so strong as the others.
Mrs. Pepper looked at her anxiously; but Polly seemed as bright and healthy as ever, as she jumped up and ran to put the kettle on the stove.
"What'll the boys say, I wonder!" she thought to herself, feeling quite important that they really had sickness in the house. As long as Phronsie wasn't dangerous, it seemed quite like rich folks; and she forgot the toil, and the grind of poverty. She looked out from time to time as she passed the window, but no boys came.
"I'll put her in bed, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, in a whisper, as Phronsie closed her eyes and breathed regularly.
"And then will you have your dinner, ma?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper, "I don't care—if the boys come."
"The boys'll never come," said Polly, impatiently; "I don't believe—why! here they are now!"
"Oh, dear," said Joel, coming in crossly, "I'm so hungry—oh—butter! where'd you get it? I thought we never should get here!"
"I thought so too," said Polly. "Hush! why, where's Ben?"
"He's just back," began Joel, commencing to eat, "and Davie; something is the matter with Ben—he says he feels funny."
"Something the matter with Ben!" repeated Polly. She dropped the cup she held, which broke in a dozen pieces.
"Oh, whocky!" cried Joel; "see what you've done, Polly Pepper!"
But Polly didn't hear; over the big, flat door-stone she sped, and met Ben with little David, coming in the gate. His face was just like Phronsie's! And with a cold, heavy feeling at her heart, Polly realized that this was no play.
"Oh, Ben!" she cried, flinging her arms around his neck, and bursting into tears; "don't! please—I wish you wouldn't; Phronsie's got 'em, and that's enough!"
"Got what?" asked Ben, while Davie's eyes grew to their widest proportions.
"Oh, measles!" cried Polly, bursting out afresh; "the hate-fullest, horridest measles! and now you're taken!"
"Oh no, I'm not," responded Ben, cheerfully, who knew what measles were; "wipe up, Polly; I'm all right; only my head aches, and my eyes feel funny."
But Polly, only half-reassured, controlled her sobs; and the sorrowful trio repaired to mother.
"Oh, dear!" ejaculated Mrs. Pepper, sinking in a chair in dismay, at sight of Ben's red face; "whatever'll we do now!"
The prop and stay of her life would be taken away if Ben should be laid aside. No more stray half or quarter dollars would come to help her out when she didn't know where to turn.
Polly cleared off the deserted table—for once Joel had all the bread and butter he wanted. Ben took some of Phronsie's medicine, and crawled up into the loft, to bed; and quiet settled down on the little household.
"Polly," whispered Ben, as she tucked him in, "it'll be hard buckling-to now, for you, but I guess you'll do it."
"Oh, dear," said Polly to herself, the next morning, trying to get a breakfast for the sick ones out of the inevitable mush; "everything's just as bad as it can be! they can't ever eat this; I wish I had an ocean of toast!"
"Toast some of the bread in the pail, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper.
She looked worn and worried; she had been up nearly all night, back and forth from Ben's bed in the loft to restless, fretful little Phronsie in the big four-poster in the bedroom; for Phronsie wouldn't get into the crib. Polly had tried her best to help her, and had rubbed her eyes diligently to keep awake, but she was wholly unaccustomed to it, and her healthy, tired little body succumbed—and then when she awoke, shame and remorse filled her very heart.
"That isn't nice, ma," she said, glancing at the poor old pail, which she had brought out of the "Provision Room." "Old brown bread! I want to fix 'em something nice."
"Well, you can't, you know," said Mrs. Pepper, with a sigh; "but you've got butter now; that'll be splendid!"
"I know it," said Polly, running to the corner cupboard where the precious morsel in the blue bowl remained; "whatever should we do without it, mammy?"
"Do without it!" said Mrs. Pepper; "same's we have done."
"Well, 'twas splendid in Mrs. Henderson to give it to us, anyway," said Polly, longing for just one taste; "seems as if 'twas a year since I was there—oh, ma!" and here Polly took up the thread that had been so rudely snapped; "don't you think, she's got ten of the prettiest—yes, the sweetest little chickens you ever saw! Why can't we have some, mammy?"
"Costs money," replied Mrs. Pepper. "We've got too many in the house to have any outside."
"Oh, dear," said Polly, with a red face that was toasting about as much as the bread she was holding on the point of an old fork; "we never have had anything. There," she added at last; "that's the best I can do; now I'll put the butter on this little blue plate; ain't that cunning, ma?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper, approvingly; "it takes you, Polly." So Polly trotted first to Ben, up the crooked, low stairs to the loft; and while she regaled him with the brown toast and butter, she kept her tongue flying on the subject of the little chicks, and all that she saw on the famous Henderson visit. Poor Ben pretended hard to eat, but ate nothing really; and Polly saw it all, and it cut her to the heart—so she talked faster than ever.
"Now," she said, starting to go back to Phronsie; "Ben Pepper, just as soon as you get well, we'll have some chickens—so there!"
"Guess we sha'n't get 'em very soon," said Ben, despondently, "if I've got to lie here; and, besides, Polly, you know every bit we can save has got to go for the new stove."
"Oh, dear," said Polly, "I forgot that; so it has; seems to me everything's giving out!"
"You can't bake any longer in the old thing," said Ben, turning over and looking at her; "poor girl, I don't see how you've stood it so long."
"And we've been stuffing it," cried Polly merrily, "till 'twon't stuff any more."
"No," said Ben, turning back again, "that's all worn out."
"Well, you must go to sleep," said Polly, "or mammy'll be up here; and Phronsie hasn't had her breakfast either."
Phronsie was wailing away dismally, sitting up in the middle of the old bed. Her face pricked, she said, and she was rubbing it vigorously with both fat little hands, and then crying worse than ever.
"Oh me! oh my!" cried Polly; "how you look, Phronsie!"
"I want my mammy!" cried poor Phronsie.
"Mammy can't come now, Phronsie dear; she's sewing. See what Polly's got for you—butter: isn't that splendid!"
Phronsie stopped for just one moment, and took a mouthful; but the toast was hard and dry, and she cried harder than before.
"Now," said Polly, curling up on the bed beside her, "if you'll stop crying, Phronsie Pepper, I'll tell you about the cunningest, yes, the very cunningest little chickens you ever saw. One was white, and he looked just like this," said Polly, tumbling over on the bed in a heap; "he couldn't stand up straight, he was so fat."
"Did he bite?" asked Phronsie, full of interest.
"No, he didn't bite me," said Polly; "but his mother put a bug in his mouth—just as I'm doing you know," and she broke off a small piece of the toast, put on a generous bit of butter, and held it over Phronsie's mouth.
"Did he swallow it?" asked the child, obediently opening her little red lips.
"Oh, snapped it," answered Polly, "quick as ever he could, I tell you; but 'twasn't good like this, Phronsie."
"Did he have two bugs?" asked Phronsie, eying suspiciously the second morsel of dry toast that Polly was conveying to her mouth.
"Well, he would have had," replied Polly, "if there'd been bugs enough; but there were nine other chicks, Phronsie."
"Poor chickies," said Phronsie, and looked lovingly at the rest of the toast and butter on the plate; and while Polly fed it to her, listened with absorbed interest to all the particulars concerning each and every chick in the Henderson hen-coop.
"Mother," said Polly, towards evening, "I'm going to sit up with Ben to-night; say I may, do, mother."
"Oh no, you can't," replied Mrs. Pepper; "you'll get worn out; and then what shall I do? Joel can hand him his medicine."
"Oh, Joe would tumble to sleep, mammy," said Polly, "the first thing—let me."
"Perhaps Phronsie'll let me go to-night," said Mrs. Pepper, reflectively.
"Oh, no she won't, I know," replied Polly, decisively; "she wants you all the time."
"I will, Polly," said Davie, coming in with an armful of wood, in time to hear the conversation. "I'll give him his medicine, mayn't I, mammy?" and David let down his load, and came over where his mother and Polly sat sewing, to urge his rights.
"I don't know," said his mother, smiling on him. "Can you, do you think?"
"Yes, ma'am!" said Davie, straightening himself up.
When they told Ben, he said he knew a better way than for Davie to watch; he'd have a string tied to Davie's arm, and the end he'd hold in bed, and when 'twas time for medicine, he'd pull the string, and that would wake Davie up!
Polly didn't sleep much more on her shake-down on the floor than if she had watched with Ben; for Phronsie cried and moaned, and wanted a drink of water every two minutes, it seemed to her. As she went back into her nest after one of these travels, Polly thought: "Well, I don't care, if nobody else gets sick; if Ben'll only get well. To-morrow I'm goin' to do mammy's sack she's begun for Mr. Jackson; it's all plain sew-in', just like a bag; and I can do it, I know—" and so she fell into a troubled sleep, only to be awakened by Phronsie's fretful little voice: "I want a drink of water, Polly, I do."
"Don't she drink awfully, mammy?" asked Polly, after one of these excursions out to the kitchen after the necessary draught.
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper; "and she mustn't have any more; 'twill hurt her." But Phronsie fell into a delicious sleep after that, and didn't want any more, luckily.
"Here, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper, the next morning, "take this coat up to Mr. Peterses; and be sure you get the money for it."
"How'll I get it?" asked Joe, who didn't relish the long, hot walk.
"Why, tell 'em we're sick—Ben's sick," added Mrs. Pepper, as the most decisive thing; "and we must have it; and then wait for it."
"Tisn't pleasant up at the Peterses," grumbled Joel, taking the parcel and moving slowly off.
"No, no, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, "you needn't do that," seeing Polly take up some sewing after doing up the room and finishing the semi-weekly bake; "you're all beat out with that tussle over the stove; that sack'll have to go till next week."
"It can't, mammy," said Polly, snipping off a basting thread; "we've got to have the money; how much'll he give you for it?"
"Thirty cents," replied Mrs. Pepper.
"Well," said Polly, "we've got to get all the thirty centses we can, mammy dear; and I know I can do it, truly—try me once," she implored.
"Well." Mrs. Pepper relented, slowly.
"Don't feel bad, mammy dear," comforted Polly, sewing away briskly; "Ben'll get well pretty soon, and then we'll be all right."
"Maybe," said Mrs. Pepper; and went back to Phronsie, who could scarcely let her out of her sight.
Polly stitched away bravely. "Now if I do this good, mammy'll let me do it other times," she said to herself.
Davie, too, worked patiently out of doors, trying to do Ben's chores. The little fellow blundered over things that Ben would have accomplished in half the time, and he had to sit down often on the steps of the little old shed where the tools were kept, to wipe his hot face and rest.
"Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, "hadn't you better stop a little? Dear me! how fast you sew, child!"
Polly gave a delighted little hum at her mother's evident approval.
"I'm going to do 'em all next week, mammy," she said; "then Mr. Atkins won't take 'em away from us, I guess."
Mr. Atkins kept the store, and gave out coats and sacks of coarse linen and homespun to Mrs. Pepper to make; and it was the fear of losing the work that had made the mother's heart sink.
"I don't believe anybody's got such children as I have," she said; and she gave Polly a motherly little pat that the little daughter felt clear to the tips of her toes with a thrill of delight.
About half-past two, long after dinner, Joe came walking in, hungry as a beaver, but flushed and triumphant.
"Why, where have you been all this time?" asked his mother.
"Oh, Joe, you didn't stop to play?" asked Polly, from her perch where she sat sewing, giving him a reproachful glance.
"Stop to play!" retorted Joe, indignantly; "no, I guess I didn't! I've been to Old Peterses."
"Not all this time!" exclaimed Mrs. Pepper.
"Yes, I have too," replied Joel, sturdily marching up to her. "And there's your money, mother;" and he counted out a quarter of a dollar in silver pieces and pennies, which he took from a dingy wad of paper, stowed away in the depths of his pocket.
"Oh, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper, sinking back in her chair and looking at him; "what do you mean?"
Polly put her work in her lap, and waited to hear.
"Where's my dinner, Polly?" asked Joel; "I hope it's a big one.
"Yes, 'tis," said Polly; "you've got lots to-day, it's in the corner of the cupboard, covered up with the plate—so tell on, Joe."
"That's elegant!" said Joel, coming back with the well-filled plate, Ben's and his own share.
"Do tell us, Joey," implored Polly; "mother's waiting."
"Well," said Joel, his mouth half full, "I waited—and he said the coat was all right;—and—and—Mrs. Peters said 'twas all right;—and Mirandy Peters said 'twas all right; but they didn't any of 'em say anythin' about payin', so I didn't think 'twas all right—and—and—can't I have some more butter, Polly?"
"No," said Polly, sorry to refuse him, he'd been so good about the money; "the butter's got to be saved for Ben and Phronsie."
"Oh," said Joe, "I wish Miss Henderson would send us some more, I do! I think she might!"
"For shame, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper; "she was very good to send this, I think; now what else did you say?" she asked.
"Well," said Joel, taking another mouthful of bread, "so I waited; you told me to, mother, you know—and they all went to work; and they didn't mind me at all, and—there wasn't anything to look at, so I sat—and sat—Polly, can't I have some gingerbread?"
"No," said Polly, "it's all gone; I gave the last piece to Phronsie the day she was taken sick."
"Oh, dear," said Joel, "everything's gone."
"Well, do go on, Joe, do."
"And—then they had dinner; and Mr. Peters said, 'Hasn't that boy gone home yet?' and Mrs. Peters said, 'no'—and he called me in, and asked me why I didn't run along home; and I said, Phronsie was sick, and Ben had the squeezles—"
"The what?" said Polly.
"The squeezles," repeated Joel, irritably; "that's what you said."
"It's measles, Joey," corrected Mrs. Pepper; "never mind, I wouldn't feel bad."
"Well, they all laughed, and laughed, and then I said you told me to wait till I did get the money."
"Oh, Joe," began Mrs. Pepper, "you shouldn't have told 'em so—what did he say?"
"Well, he laughed, and said I was a smart boy, and he'd see; and Mirandy said, 'do pay him, pa, he must be tired to death'—and don't you think, he went to a big desk in the corner, and took out a box, and 'twas full most of money—lots! oh! and he gave me mine—and—that's all; and I'm tired to death." And Joel flung himself down on the floor, expanded his legs as only Joel could, and took a comfortable roll.
"So you must be," said Polly, pityingly, "waiting at those Peterses."
"Don't ever want to see any more Peterses," said Joel; never, never, never!
"Oh, dear," thought Polly, as she sewed on into the afternoon, "I wonder what does all my eyes! feels just like sand in 'em;" and she rubbed and rubbed to thread her needle. But she was afraid her mother would see, so she kept at her sewing. Once in awhile the bad feeling would go away, and then she would forget all about it. "There now, who says I can't do it! that's most done," she cried, jumping up, and spinning across the room, to stretch herself a bit, "and to-morrow I'll finish it."
"Well," said Mrs. Pepper, "if you can do that, Polly, you'll be the greatest help I've had yet."
So Polly tucked herself into the old shake-down with a thankful heart that night, hoping for morning.
Alas! when morning did come, Polly could hardly move. The measles! what should she do! A faint hope of driving them off made her tumble out of bed, and stagger across the room to look in the old cracked looking-glass. All hope was gone as the red reflection met her gaze. Polly was on the sick list now!
"I won't be sick," she said; "at any rate, I'll keep around." An awful feeling made her clutch the back of a chair, but she managed somehow to get into her clothes, and go groping blindly into the kitchen. Somehow, Polly couldn't see very well. She tried to set the table, but 'twas no use. "Oh, dear," she thought, "whatever'll mammy do?"
"Hulloa!" said Joel, coming in, "what's the matter, Polly?" Polly started at his sudden entrance, and, wavering a minute, fell over in a heap.
"Oh ma! ma!" screamed Joel, running to the foot of the stairs leading to the loft, where Mrs. Pepper was with Ben; "something's taken Polly! and she fell; and I guess she's in the wood-box!"
HARD DAYS FOR POLLY
"Ma," said David, coming softly into the bedroom, where poor Polly lay on the bed with Phronsie, her eyes bandaged with a soft old handkerchief, "I'll set the table."
"There isn't any table to set," said Mrs. Pepper, sadly; "there isn't anybody to eat anything, Davie; you and Joel can get something out of the cupboard."
"Can we get whatever we've a mind to, ma?" cried Joel, who followed Davie, rubbing his face with a towel after his morning ablutions.
"Yes," replied his mother, absently.
"Come on, Dave!" cried Joel; "we'll have a breakfast!"
"We mustn't," said little Davie, doubtfully, "eat the whole, Joey."
But that individual already had his head in the cupboard, which soon engrossed them both.
Dr. Fisher was called in the middle of the morning to see what was the matter with Polly's eyes. The little man looked at her keenly over his spectacles; then he said, "When were you taken?"
"This morning," answered Polly, her eyes smarting.
"Didn't you feel badly before?" questioned the doctor. Polly thought back; and then she remembered that she had felt very badly; that when she was baking over the old stove the day before her back had ached dreadfully; and that, somehow, when she sat down to sew, it didn't stop; only her eyes had bothered her so; she didn't mind her back so much.
"I thought so," said the doctor, when Polly answered. "And those eyes of yours have been used too much; what has she been doing, ma'am?" He turned around sharply on Mrs. Pepper as he asked this.
"Sewing," said Mrs. Pepper, "and everything; Polly does everything, sir."
"Humph!" said the doctor; "well, she won't again in one spell; her eyes are very bad."
At this a whoop, small but terrible to hear, came from the middle of the bed; and Phronsie sat bolt upright. Everybody started; while Phronsie broke out, "Don't make my Polly sick! oh! please don't!"
"Hey!" said the doctor; and he looked kindly at the small object with a very red face in the middle of the bed. Then he added, gently, "We're going to make Polly well, little girl; so that she can see splendidly."
"Will you, really?" asked the child, doubtfully.
"Yes," said the doctor; "we'll try hard; and you mustn't cry; 'cause then Polly'll cry, and that will make her eyes very bad; very bad indeed," he repeated, impressively.
"I won't cry," said Phronsie; "no, not one bit." And she wiped off the last tear with her fat little hand, and watched to see what next was to be done.
And Polly was left, very rebellious indeed, in the big bed, with a cooling lotion on the poor eyes, that somehow didn't cool them one bit.
"If 'twas anythin' but my eyes, mammy, I could stand it," she bewailed, flouncing over and over in her impatience; "and who'll do all the work now?"
"Don't think of the work, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper.
"I can't do anything but think," said poor Polly.
Just at that moment a queer noise out in the kitchen was heard.
"Do go out, mother, and see what 'tis," said Polly.
"I've come," said a cracked voice, close up by the bedroom door, followed by a big black cap, which could belong to no other than Grandma Bascom, "to set by you a spell; what's the matter?" she asked, and stopped, amazed to see Polly in bed.
"Oh, Polly's taken," screamed Mrs. Pepper in her ear.
"Taken!" repeated the old lady, "what is it—a fit?"
"No," said Mrs. Pepper; "the same as Ben's got; and Phronsie; the measles."
"The measles, has she?" said grandma; "well, that's bad; and Ben's away, you say."
"No, he isn't either," screamed Mrs. Pepper, "he's got them, too!"
"Got two what?" asked grandma.
"Measles! he's got the measles too," repeated Mrs. Pepper, loud as she could; so loud that the old lady's cap trembled at the noise.
"Oh! the dreadful!" said grandma; "and this girl too?" laying her hand on Phronsie's head.
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper, feeling it a little relief to tell over her miseries; "all three of them!"
"I haven't," said Joel, coming in in hopes that grandma had a stray peppermint or two in her pocket, as she sometimes did; "and I'm not going to, either."
"Oh, dear," groaned his mother; "that's what Polly said; and she's got 'em bad. It's her eyes," she screamed to grandma, who looked inquiringly.
"Her eyes, is it?" asked Mrs. Bascom; "well, I've got a receet that cousin Samanthy's folks had when John's children had 'em; and I'll run right along home and get it," and she started to go.
"No, you needn't," screamed Mrs. Pepper; "thank you, Mrs. Bascom; but Dr. Fisher's been here; and he put something on Polly's eyes; and he said it mustn't be touched."
"Hey?" said the old lady; so Mrs. Pepper had to go all over it again, till at last she made her understand that Polly's eyes were taken care of, and they must wait for time to do the rest.
"You come along of me," whispered grandma, when at last her call was done, to Joel who stood by the door. "I've got some peppermints to home; I forgot to bring 'em."
"Yes'm," said Joel, brightening up.
"Where you going, Joe?" asked Mrs. Pepper, seeing him move off with Mrs. Bascom; "I may want you."
"Oh, I've got to go over to grandma's," said Joel briskly; "she wants me."
"Well, don't be gone long then," replied his mother.
"There," said grandma, going into her "keeping-room" to an old-fashioned chest of drawers; opening one, she took therefrom a paper, from which she shook out before Joe's delighted eyes some red and white peppermint drops. "There now, you take these home; you may have some, but be sure you give the most to the sick ones; and Polly—let Polly have the biggest."
"She won't take 'em," said Joel, wishing he had the measles. "Well, you try her," said grandma; "run along now." But it was useless to tell Joel that, for he was half-way home already. He carried out grandma's wishes, and distributed conscientiously the precious drops. But when he came to Polly, she didn't answer; and looking at her in surprise he saw two big tears rolling out under the bandage and wetting the pillow.
"I don't want 'em, Joe," said Polly, when he made her understand that "twas peppermints, real peppermints;" "you may have 'em."
"Try one, Polly; they're real good," said Joel, who had an undefined wish to comfort; "there, open your mouth."
So Polly opened her mouth, and Joel put one in with satisfaction.
"Isn't it good?" he asked, watching her crunch it.
"Yes," said Polly, "real good; where'd you get 'em?"
"Over to Grandma Bascom's," said Joel; "she gave me lots for all of us; have another, Polly?"
"No," said Polly, "not yet; you put two on my pillow where I can reach 'em; and then you keep the rest, Joel."
"I'll put three," said Joel, counting out one red and two white ones, and laying them on the pillow; "there!"
"And I want another, Joey, I do," said Phronsie from the other side of the bed.
"Well, you may have one," said Joel; "a red one, Phronsie; yes, you may have two. Now come on, Dave; we'll have the rest out by the wood-pile."
How they ever got through that day, I don't know. But late in the afternoon carriage wheels were heard; and then they stopped right at the Peppers' little brown gate.
"Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, running to the bedroom door, "it's Mrs. Henderson!"
"Is it?" said Polly, from the darkened room, "oh! I'm so glad! is Miss Jerushy with her?" she asked, fearfully.
"No," said Mrs. Pepper, going back to ascertain; "why, it's the parson himself! Deary! how we look!"
"Never mind, mammy," called back Polly, longing to spring out of bed and fix up a bit.
"I'm sorry to hear the children are sick," said Mrs. Henderson, coming in, in her sweet, gentle way.
"We didn't know it," said the minister, "until this morning—can we see them?"
"Oh yes, sir," said Mrs. Pepper; "Ben's upstairs; and Polly and Phronsie are in here."
"Poor little things!" said Mrs. Henderson, compassionately; "hadn't you better," turning to the minister, "go up and see Ben first, while I will visit the little girls?"
So the minister mounted the crooked stairs; and Mrs. Henderson went straight up to Polly's side; and the first thing Polly knew, a cool, gentle hand was laid on her hot head, and a voice said, "I've come to see my little chicken now!"
"Oh, ma'am," said Polly, bursting into a sob, "I don't care about my eyes—only mammy—" and she broke right down.
"I know," said the minister's wife, soothingly; "but it's for you to bear patiently, Polly—what do you suppose the chicks were doing when I came away?" And Mrs. Henderson, while she held Polly's hand, smiled and nodded encouragingly to Phronsie, who was staring at her from the other side of the bed.
"I don't know, ma'am," said Polly; "please tell us."
"Well, they were all fighting over a grasshopper—yes, ten of them."
"Which one got it?" asked Polly in intense interest; "oh! I hope the white one did!"
"Well, he looked as much like winning as any of them," said the lady, laughing.
"Bless her!" thought Mrs. Pepper to herself out in the kitchen, finishing the sack Polly had left; "she's a parson's wife, I say!"
And then the minister came down from Ben's room, and went into the bedroom; and Mrs. Henderson went up-stairs into the loft.
"So," he said kindly, as after patting Phronsie's head he came over and sat down by Polly, "this is the little girl who came to see me when I was sick."
"Oh, sir," said Polly, "I'm so glad you wasn't!"
"Well, when I come again," said Mr. Henderson, rising after a merry chat, "I see I shall have to slip a book into my pocket, and read for those poor eyes."
"Oh, thank you!" cried Polly; and then she stopped and blushed.
"Well, what is it?" asked the minister, encouragingly.
"Ben loves to hear reading," said Polly.
"Does he? well, by that time, my little girl, I guess Ben will be down-stairs; he's all right, Polly; don't you worry about him—and I'll sit in the kitchen, by the bedroom door, and you can hear nicely."
So the Hendersons went away. But somehow, before they went, a good many things found their way out of the old-fashioned chaise into the Peppers' little kitchen.
But Polly's eyes didn't get any better, with all the care; and the lines of worry on Mrs. Pepper's face grew deeper and deeper. At last, she just confronted Dr. Fisher in the kitchen, one day after his visit to Polly, and boldly asked him if they ever could be cured. "I know she's—and there isn't any use keeping it from me," said the poor woman—"she's going to be stone-blind!"
"My good woman," Dr. Fisher's voice was very gentle; and he took the hard, brown hand in his own—"your little girl will not be blind; I tell you the truth; but it will take some time to make her eyes quite strong—time, and rest. She has strained them in some way, but she will come out of it."
"Praise the Lord!" cried Mrs. Pepper, throwing her apron over her head; and then she sobbed on, "and thank you, sir—I can't ever thank you—for—for—if Polly was blind, we might as well give up!"
The next day, Phronsie, who had the doctor's permission to sit up, only she was to be kept from taking cold, scampered around in stocking-feet in search of her shoes, which she hadn't seen since she was first taken sick.
"Oh, I want on my very best shoes," she cried; "can't I, mammy?"
"Oh, no, Phronsie; you must keep them nice," remonstrated her mother; "you can't wear 'em every-day, you know."
"'Tisn't every-day," said Phronsie, slowly; "it's only one day."
"Well, and then you'll want 'em on again tomorrow," said her mother.
"Oh, no, I won't!" cried Phronsie; "never, no more to-morrow, if I can have 'em to-day; please, mammy dear!"
Mrs. Pepper went to the lowest drawer in the high bureau, and took therefrom a small parcel done up in white tissue paper. Slowly unrolling this before the delighted eyes of the child, who stood patiently waiting, she disclosed the precious red-topped shoes which Phronsie immediately clasped to her bosom.
"My own, very own shoes! whole mine!" she cried, and trudged out into the kitchen to put them on herself.
"Hulloa!" cried Dr. Fisher, coming in about a quarter of an hour later to find her tugging laboriously at the buttons—"new shoes! I declare!"
"My own!" cried Phronsie, sticking out one foot for inspection, where every button was in the wrong button-hole, "and they've got red tops, too!"
"So they have," said the doctor, getting down on the floor beside her; "beautiful red tops, aren't they?"
"Be-yew-ti-ful," sang the child delightedly.
"Does Polly have new shoes every day?" asked the doctor in a low voice, pretending to examine the other foot.
Phronsie opened her eyes very wide at this.
"Oh, no, she don't have anything, Polly don't."
"And what does Polly want most of all—do you know? see if you can tell me." And the doctor put on the most alluring expression that he could muster.
"Oh, I know!" cried Phronsie, with a very wise look. "There now," cried the doctor, "you're the girl for me! to think you know! so, what is it?"
Phronsie got up very gravely, and with one shoe half on, she leaned over and whispered in the doctor's ear:
"A what?" said the doctor, looking at her, and then at the old, black thing in the corner, that looked as if it were ashamed of itself; "why, she's got one."
"Oh," said the child, "it won't burn; and sometimes Polly cries, she does, when she's all alone—and I see her."
"Now," said the doctor, very sympathetically, "that's too bad; that is! and then what does she do?"
"Oh, Ben stuffs it up," said the child, laughing; "and so does Polly too, with paper; and then it all tumbles out quick; oh! just as quick!" And Phronsie shook her yellow head at the dismal remembrance.
"Do you suppose," said the doctor, getting up, "that you know of any smart little girl around here, about four years old and that knows how to button on her own red-topped shoes, that would like to go to ride to-morrow morning in my carriage with me?
"Oh, I do!" cried Phronsie, hopping on one toe; "it's me!"
"Very well, then," said Dr. Fisher, going to the bedroom door, "we'll lookout for to-morrow, then."
To poor Polly, lying in the darkened room, or sitting up in the big rocking-chair—for Polly wasn't really very sick in other respects, the disease having all gone into the merry brown eyes—the time seemed interminable. Not to do anything! The very idea at any time would have filled her active, wide-awake little body with horror; and now, here she was!
"Oh, dear, I can't bear it!" she said, when she knew by the noise in the kitchen that everybody was out there; so nobody heard, except a fat, old black spider in the corner, and he didn't tell anyone!
"I know it's a week," she said, "since dinnertime! If Ben were only well, to talk to me."
"Oh, I say, Polly," screamed Joel at that moment running in, "Ben's a-comin' down the stairs!"
"Stop, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper; "you shouldn't have told; he wanted to surprise Polly."
"Oh, is he!" cried Polly, clasping her hands in rapture; "mammy, can't I take off this horrid bandage, and see him?"
"Dear me, no!" said Mrs. Pepper, springing forward; "not for the world, Polly! Dr. Fisher'd have our ears off!"
"Well, I can hear, any way," said Polly, resigning herself to the remaining comfort; "here he is! oh, Ben!"
"There," said Ben, grasping Polly, bandage and all; "now we're all right; and say, Polly, you're a brick!"
"Mammy told me not to say that the other day," said Joel, with a very virtuous air.
"Can't help it," said Ben, who was a little wild over Polly, and besides, he had been sick himself, and had borne a good deal too.
"Now," said Mrs. Pepper, after the first excitement was over, "you're so comfortable together, and Phronsie don't want me now, I'll go to the store; I must get some more work if Mr. Atkins'll give it to me."
"I'll be all right now, mammy, that Ben's here," cried Polly, settling back into her chair, with Phronsie on the stool at her feet.
"I'm goin' to tell her stories, ma," cried Ben, "so you needn't worry about us."
"Isn't it funny, Ben," said Polly, as the gate clicked after the mother, "to be sitting still, and telling stories in the daytime?"
"Rather funny!" replied Ben.
"Well, do go on," said Joel, as usual, rolling on the floor, in a dreadful hurry for the story to begin. Little David looked up quietly, as he sat on Ben's other side, his hands clasped tight together, just as eager, though he said nothing.
"Well; once upon a time," began Ben delightfully, and launched into one of the stories that the children thought perfectly lovely.
"Oh, Bensie," cried Polly, entranced, as they listened with bated breath, "however do you think of such nice things!"
"I've had time enough to think, the last week," said Ben, laughing, "to last a life-time!"
"Do go on," put in Joel, impatient at the delay.
"Don't hurry him so," said Polly, reprovingly; "he isn't strong."
"Ben," said David, drawing a long breath, his eyes very big—, "did he really see a bear?"
"No," said Ben; "oh! where was I?"
"Why, you said Tommy heard a noise," said Polly, "and he thought it was a bear."
"Oh, yes," said Ben; "I remember; 'twasn't a—"
"Oh, make it a bear, Ben!" cried Joel, terribly disappointed; "don't let it be not a bear."
"Why, I can't," said Ben; "twouldn't sound true."
"Never mind, make it sound true," insisted Joel; "you can make anything true."
"Very well," said Ben, laughing; "I suppose I must."
"Make it two bears, Ben," begged little Phronsie.
"Oh, no, Phronsie, that's too much," cried Joel; "that'll spoil it; but make it a big bear, do Ben, and have him bite him somewhere, and most kill him."
"Oh, Joel!" cried Polly, while David's eyes got bigger than ever.
So Ben drew upon his powers as story-teller, to suit his exacting audience, and was making his bear work havoc upon poor Tommy in a way captivating to all, even Joel, when, "Well, I declare," sounded Mrs. Pepper's cheery voice coming in upon them, "if this isn't comfortable!"
"Oh, mammy!" cried Phronsie, jumping out of Polly's arms, whither she had taken refuge during the thrilling tale, and running to her mother who gathered her baby up, "we've had a bear! a real, live bear, we have! Ben made him!"
"Have you!" said Mrs. Pepper, taking off her shawl, and laying her parcel of work down on the table, "now, that's nice!"
"Oh, mammy!" cried Polly, "it does seem so good to be all together again!"
"And I thank the Lord!" said Mrs. Pepper, looking down on her happy little group; and the tears were in her eyes—"and children, we ought to be very good and please Him, for He's been so good to us."
THE CLOUD OVER THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE
When Phronsie, with many crows of delight, and much chattering, had gotten fairly started the following morning on her much-anticipated drive with the doctor, the whole family excepting Polly drawn up around the door to see them off, Mrs. Pepper resolved to snatch the time and run down for an hour or two to one of her customers who had long been waiting for a little "tailoring" to be done for her boys.
"Now, Joel," she said, putting on her bonnet before the cracked looking-glass, "you stay along of Polly; Ben must go up to bed, the doctor said; and Davie's going to the store for some molasses; so you and Polly must keep house."
"Yes'm," said Joel; "may I have somethin' to eat, ma?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper; "but don't you eat the new bread; you may have as much as you want of the old."
"Isn't there any molasses, mammy?" asked Joel, as she bade Polly good-bye! and gave her numberless charges "to be careful of your eyes," and "not to let a crack of light in through the curtain," as the old green paper shade was called.
"No; if you're very hungry, you can eat bread," said Mrs. Pepper, sensibly.
"Joel," said Polly, after the mother had gone, "I do wish you could read to me."
"Well, I can't," said Joel, glad he didn't know how; "I thought the minister was comin'."
"Well, he was," said Polly, "but mammy said he had to go out of town to a consequence."
"A what!" asked Joel, very much impressed.
"A con—" repeated Polly. "Well, it began with a con—and I am sure—yes, very sure it was consequence."
"That must be splendid," said Joel, coming up to her chair, and slowly drawing a string he held in his hand back and forth, "to go to consequences, and everything! When I'm a man, Polly Pepper, I'm going to be a minister, and have a nice time, and go—just everywhere!"
"Oh, Joel!" exclaimed Polly, quite shocked; "you couldn't be one; you aren't good enough."
"I don't care," said Joel, not at all dashed by her plainness, "I'll be good then—when I'm a big man; don't you suppose, Polly," as a new idea struck him, "that Mr. Henderson ever is naughty?"
"No," said Polly, very decidedly; "never, never, never!"
"Then, I don't want to be one," said Joel, veering round with a sigh of relief, "and besides I'd rather have a pair of horses like Mr. Slocum's, and then I could go everywheres, I guess!"