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´╗┐Title: Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
Author: Sidney, Margaret
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Five Little Peppers and How They Grew" ***

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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.



CONTENTS


     A HOME VIEW

     MAKING HAPPINESS FOR MAMSIE

     MAMSIE\x92S BIRTHDAY

     TROUBLE FOR THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE

     MORE TROUBLE

     HARD DAYS FOR POLLY

     THE CLOUD OVER THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE

     JOEL\x92S TURN

     SUNSHINE AGAIN

     A THREATENED BLOW

     SAFE

     NEW FRIENDS

     PHRONSIE PAYS A DEBT OF GRATITUDE

     A LETTER TO JASPER

     JOLLY DAYS

     GETTING A CHRISTMAS FOR THE LITTLE ONES

     CHRISTMAS BELLS!

     EDUCATION AHEAD

     BRAVE WORK AND THE REWARD

     POLLY IS COMFORTED

     PHRONSIE

     GETTING READY FOR MAMSIE AND THE BOYS

     WHICH TREATS OF A GOOD MANY MATTERS

     POLLY\x92S DISMAL MORNING

     POLLY\x92S 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 \x93breathing spell,\x94 as their mother called it, which meant some
quiet work suitable for the hour. All the \x93breathing spell\x94 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\x92s 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\x92t 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.

\x93Poor things!\x94 she would say to herself, \x93they haven\x92t had any bringing
up; they\x92ve just scrambled up!\x94 And then she would set her lips together
tightly, and fly at her work faster than ever. \x93I must get schooling for
them some way, but I don\x92t see how!\x94

Once or twice she had thought, \x93Now the time is coming!\x94 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--\x93Well, it\x92ll come some time,\x94 she would say to herself; \x93because it
must!\x94 And so at it again she would fly, brisker than ever.

\x93To help mother,\x94 was the great ambition of all the children, older
and younger; but in Polly\x92s and Ben\x92s 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 \x93thick and thin.\x94

Polly was ten, and Ben one year older; and the younger three of the
\x93Five Little Peppers,\x94 as they were always called, looked up to them
with the intensest admiration and love. What they failed to do, couldn\x92t
very well be done by any One!

\x93Oh dear!\x94 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, \x93I do wish we
could ever have any light--just as much as we want!\x94

\x93You don\x92t need any light to see these threads,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper,
winding up hers carefully, as she spoke, on an old spool. \x93Take care,
Polly, you broke that; thread\x92s dear now.\x94

\x93I couldn\x92t help it,\x94 said Polly, vexedly; \x93it snapped; everything\x92s
dear now, it seems to me! I wish we could have--oh! ever an\x92 ever so
many candles; as many as we wanted. I\x92d light \x91em all, so there! and
have it light here one night, anyway!\x94

\x93Yes, and go dark all the rest of the year, like as anyway,\x94 observed
Mrs. Pepper, stopping to untie a knot. \x93Folks who do so never have any
candles,\x94 she added, sententiously.

\x93How many\x92d you have, Polly?\x94 asked Joel, curiously, laying down his
hammer, and regarding her with the utmost anxiety.

\x93Oh, two hundred!\x94 said Polly, decidedly. \x93I\x92d have two hundred, all in
a row!\x94

\x93Two hundred candles!\x94 echoed Joel, in amazement. \x93My whockety! what a
lot!\x94

\x93Don\x92t say such dreadful words, Joel,\x94 put in Polly, nervously, stopping
to pick up her spool of basting thread that was racing away all by
itself; \x93tisn\x92t nice.\x94

\x93Tisn\x92t worse than to wish you\x92d got things you haven\x92t,\x94 retorted Joel.
\x93I don\x92t believe you\x92d light \x91em all at once,\x94 he added, incredulously.

\x93Yes, I would too!\x94 replied Polly, reckessly; \x93two hundred of \x91em, if I
had a chance; all at once, so there, Joey Pepper!\x94

\x93Oh,\x94 said little Davie, drawing a long sigh. \x93Why, \x91twould be just like
heaven, Polly! but wouldn\x92t it cost money, though!\x94

\x93I don\x92t care,\x94 said Polly, giving a flounce in her chair, which snapped
another thread; \x93oh dear me! I didn\x92t mean to, mammy; well, I wouldn\x92t
care how much money it cost, we\x92d have as much light as we wanted, for
once; so!\x94

\x93Mercy!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93you\x92d have the house afire! Two hundred
candles! who ever heard of such a thing!\x94

\x93Would they burn?\x94 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\x92s side she awaited her answer patiently.

\x93Burn?\x94 said Polly. \x93There, that\x92s done now, mamsie dear!\x94 And she put
the coat, with a last little pat, into her mother\x92s lap. \x93I guess they
would, Phronsie pet.\x94 And Polly caught up the little girl, and spun
round and round the old kitchen till they were both glad to stop.

\x93Then,\x94 said Phronsie, as Polly put her down, and stood breathless after
her last glorious spin, \x93I do so wish we might, Polly; oh, just this
very one minute!\x94

And Phronsie clasped her fat little hands in rapture at the thought.

\x93Well,\x94 said Polly, giving a look up at the old clock in the corner;
\x93deary me! it\x92s half-past five; and most time for Ben to come home!\x94

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--\x93oh!\x94
 she screamed.

\x93Goodness!\x94 said Polly, taking her head out of the old cupboard in the
corner, \x93how you scared me, Phronsie!\x94

\x93Would they ever go out?\x94 asked the child gravely, still standing where
Polly left her.

\x93What?\x94 asked Polly, stopping with a dish of cold potatoes in her hand.
\x93What, Phronsie?\x94

\x93Why, the candles,\x94 said the child, \x93the ever-an\x92-ever so many pretty
lights!\x94

\x93Oh, my senses!\x94 cried Polly, with a little laugh, \x93haven\x92t you
forgotten that! Yes--no, that is, Phronsie, if we could have \x91em at all,
we wouldn\x92t ever let \x91em go out!\x94

\x93Not once?\x94 asked Phronsie, coming up to Polly with a little skip, and
nearly upsetting her, potatoes and all--\x93not once, Polly, truly?\x94

\x93No, not forever-an\x92-ever,\x94 said Polly; \x93take care, Phronsie! there goes
a potato; no, we\x92d keep \x91em always!\x94

\x93No, you don\x92t want to,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, coming out of the bedroom in
time to catch the last words; \x93they won\x92t be good to-morrow; better have
them to-night, Polly.\x94

\x93Ma\x92am!\x94 said Polly, setting down her potato-dish on the table, and
staring at her mother with all her might--\x93have what, mother?\x94

\x93Why, the potatoes, to be sure,\x94 replied Mrs. Pepper; \x93didn\x92t you say
you better keep them, child?\x94

\x93Twasn\x92t potatoes--at all,\x94 said Polly, with a little gasp; \x93twas--dear
me! here\x92s Ben!\x94 For the door opened, and Phronsie, with a scream of
delight, bounded into Ben\x92s arms.

\x93It\x92s just jolly,\x94 said Ben, coming in, his chubby face all aglow, and
his big blue eyes shining so honest and true; \x93it\x92s just jolly to get
home! supper ready, Polly?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Polly; \x93that is--all but--\x94 and she dashed off for
Phronsie\x92s eating apron.

\x93Sometime,\x94 said Phronsie, with her mouth half full, when the meal was
nearly over, \x93we\x92re going to be awful rich; we are, Ben, truly!\x94

\x93No?\x94 said Ben, affecting the most hearty astonishment; \x93you don\x92t say
so, Chick!\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 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.
\x93Yes, we are really, Bensie, very dreadful rich!\x94

\x93I wish we could be rich now, then,\x94 said Ben, taking another generous
slice of the brown bread; \x93in time for mamsie\x92s birthday,\x94 and he cast a
sorrowful glance at Polly.

\x93I know,\x94 said Polly; \x93oh dear! if we only could celebrate it!\x94

\x93I don\x92t want any other celebration,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, beaming on
them so that a little flash of sunshine seemed to hop right down on the
table, \x93than to look round on you all; I\x92m rich now, and that\x92s a fact!\x94

\x93Mamsie don\x92t mind her five bothers,\x94 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.

\x93Mother\x92s rich enough,\x94 ejaculated Mrs. Pepper; her bright, black eyes
glistening with delight, as the noisy troop filed back to their bread
and potatoes; \x93if we can only keep together, dears, and grow up good, so
that the little brown house won\x92t be ashamed of us, that\x92s all I ask.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 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;
\x93I don\x92t care; let\x92s try and get a celebration, somehow, for mamsie!\x94

\x93How are you going to do it?\x94 asked Ben, who was of a decidedly
practical turn of mind, and thus couldn\x92t always follow Polly in her
flights of imagination.

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 said Polly; \x93but we must some way.\x94

\x93Phoh! that\x92s no good,\x94 said Ben, disdainfully; then seeing Polly\x92s
face, he added kindly: \x93let\x92s think, though; and perhaps there\x92ll be
some way.\x94

\x93Oh, I know,\x94 cried Polly, in delight; \x93I know the very thing, Ben!
let\x92s make her a cake; a big one, you know, and--\x94

\x93She\x92ll see you bake it,\x94 said Ben; \x93or else she\x92ll smell it, and that\x92d
be just as bad.\x94

\x93No, she won\x92t either,\x94 replied Polly. \x93Don\x92t you know she\x92s going to
help Mrs. Henderson to-morrow; so there!\x94

\x93So she is,\x94 said Ben; \x93good for you, Polly, you always think of
everything!\x94

\x93And then,\x94 said Polly, with a comfortable little feeling at her heart
at Ben\x92s praise, \x93why, we can have it all out of the way splendidly, you
know, when she comes home--and besides, Grandma Bascom\x92ll tell me how.
You know we\x92ve only got brown flour, Ben; I mean to go right over and
ask her now.\x94

\x93Oh, no, you mustn\x92t,\x94 cried Ben, catching hold of her arm as she was
preparing to fly off. \x93Mammy\x92ll find it out; better wait till to-morrow;
and besides Polly--\x94 And Ben stopped, unwilling to dampen this
propitious beginning. \x93The stove\x92ll act like everything, to-morrow! I
know \x91twill; then what\x92ll you do!\x94

\x93It sha\x92n\x92t!\x94 said Polly, running up to look it in the face; \x93if it
does, I\x92ll shake it; the mean old thing!\x94

The idea of Polly\x92s 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, \x93I\x92m not going to bed! I want to sit up like Polly!\x94

\x93Don\x92t tease her,\x94 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.

\x93I want--to go--to bed!\x94 she said; \x93take me--Polly!\x94

\x93I thought so,\x94 laughed Polly, and bundled her off into the bedroom.



MAKING HAPPINESS FOR MAMSIE


And so, the minute her mother had departed for the minister\x92s house next
morning, and Ben had gone to his day\x92s 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\x92s back was turned they began to
implore Polly to hurry and begin.

\x93It\x92s most \x91leven o\x92clock,\x94 said Joel, who, having no work to do
outside, that day, was prancing around, wild to help along the
festivities; \x93it\x92s most \x91leven o\x92clock, Polly Pepper! you won\x92t have it
done.\x94

\x93Oh, no; \x91tisn\x92t either, Joe;\x94 said Polly, with a very flushed face, and
her arms full of kindlings, glancing up at the old clock as she spoke;
\x93tisn\x92t but quarter of nine; there, take care, Phronsie! you can\x92t lift
off the cover; do help her, Davie.\x94

\x93No; let me!\x94 cried Joel, springing forward; \x93it\x92s my turn; Dave got the
shingles; it\x92s my turn, Polly.\x94

\x93So \x91tis,\x94 said Polly; \x93I forgot; there,\x94 as she flung in the wood,
and poked it all up in a nice little heap coaxingly. \x93It can\x92t help but
burn; what a cake we\x92ll have for mamsie!\x94

\x93It\x92ll be so big,\x94 cried Phronsie, hopping around on one set of toes,
\x93that mamsie won\x92t know what to do, will she, Polly?\x94

\x93No, I don\x92t believe she will,\x94 said Polly, gayly, stuffing in more
wood; \x93Oh, dear! there goes Ben\x92s putty; it\x92s all come out!\x94

\x93So it has,\x94 said Joel, going around back of the stove to explore; and
then he added cheerfully, \x93it\x92s bigger\x92n ever; oh! it\x92s an awful big
hole, Polly!\x94

\x93Now, whatever shall we do!\x94 said Polly, in great distress; \x93that
hateful old crack! and Ben\x92s clear off to Deacon Blodgett\x92s!\x94

\x93I\x92ll run and get him,\x94 cried Joel, briskly; \x93I\x92ll bring him right home
in ten minutes.\x94

\x93Oh, no, you must not, Joe,\x94 cried Polly in alarm; \x93it wouldn\x92t ever be
right to take him off from his work; mamsie wouldn\x92t like it.\x94

\x93What will you do, then?\x94 asked Joel, pausing on his way to the door.

\x93I\x92m sure I don\x92t know,\x94 said Polly, getting down on her knees to
examine the crack; \x93I shall have to stuff it with paper, I s\x92pose.\x94

\x93\x91Twon\x92t stay in,\x94 said Joel, scornfully; \x93don\x92t you know you stuffed it
before, last week?\x94

\x93I know,\x94 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.

\x93Can\x92t you fix it?\x94 asked Davie, soberly, coming up; \x93then we can\x92t have
the cake.\x94

\x93Dear me!\x94 exclaimed Polly, springing up quickly; \x93don\x92t be afraid;
we\x92re going to have that cake! There, you ugly old thing, you!\x94 (this
to the stove) \x93see what you\x92ve done!\x94 as two big tears flew out of
Phronsie\x92s brown eyes at the direful prospect; and the sorrowful faces
of the two boys looked up into Polly\x92s own, for comfort. \x93I can fix it,
I most know; do get some paper, Joe, as quick as you can.\x94

\x93Don\x92t know where there is any,\x94 said Joel, rummaging around; \x93it\x92s all
tore up; \x91xcept the almanac; can\x92t I take that?\x94

\x93Oh dear, no!\x94 cried Polly; \x93put it right back, Joe; I guess there\x92s
some in the wood-shed.\x94

\x93There isn\x92t either,\x94 said little Davie, quickly; \x93Joel and I took it to
make kites with.\x94

\x93Oh dear,\x94 groaned Polly; \x93I don\x92t know what we shall do; unless,\x94 as a
bright thought struck her, \x93you let me have the kites, boys.\x94

\x93Can\x92t,\x94 said Joel; \x93they\x92re all flew away; and torn up.\x94

\x93Well, now, children,\x94 said Polly, turning round impressively upon them,
the effect of which was heightened by the extremely crocky appearance
she had gained in her explorations, \x93we must have some paper, or
something to stop up that old hole with--some way, there!\x94

\x93I know,\x94 said little Davie, \x93where we\x92ll get it; it\x92s upstairs;\x94 and
without another word he flew out of the room, and in another minute he
put into Polly\x92s hand an old leather boot-top, one of his most treasured
possessions. \x93You can chip it,\x94 he said, \x93real fine, and then \x91twill go
in.\x94

\x93So we can,\x94 said Polly; \x93and you\x92re a real good boy, Davie, to give it;
that\x92s a splendid present to help celebrate for mamsie!\x94

\x93I\x92d a-given a boot-top,\x94 said Joel, looking grimly at the precious bit
of leather which Polly was rapidly stripping into little bits, \x93if I\x92d
a-hed it; I don\x92t have anything!\x94

\x93I know you would, Joey,\x94 said Polly, kindly; \x93there now, you\x92ll stay,
I guess!\x94 as with the united efforts of the two boys, cheered on by
Phronsie\x92s enthusiastic little crow of delight, the leather was crowded
into place, and the fire began to burn.

\x93Now, boys,\x94 said Polly, getting up, and drawing a long breath, \x93I\x92m
going over to Grandma Bascom\x92s to get her to tell me how to make the
cake; and you must stay and keep house.\x94

\x93I\x92m going to nail,\x94 said Joel; \x93I\x92ve got lots to do.\x94

\x93All right,\x94 said Polly, tying on her hood; \x93Phronsie\x92ll love to watch
you; I won\x92t be gone long,\x94 and she was off.

\x93Grandma Bascom,\x94 wasn\x92t really the children\x92s 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\x92t stop to knock, as the old lady was so deaf
she knew she wouldn\x92t 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.

\x93How\x92s your ma?\x94 she asked, when Polly had said \x93good morning,\x94 and then
hesitated.

\x93Oh, mammy\x92s pretty well,\x94 shouted Polly into the old lady\x92s ear; \x93and
to-morrow\x92s her birthday!\x94

\x93To-morrow\x92ll be a bad day!\x94 said grandma. \x93Oh, don\x92t never say that.
You mustn\x92t borrow trouble, child.\x94

\x93I didn\x92t,\x94 said Polly; \x93I mean--it\x92s her birthday, grandma!\x94 this last
so loud that grandma\x92s cap-border vibrated perceptibly.

\x93The land\x92s sakes \x91tis!\x94 cried Mrs. Bascom, delightedly; \x93you don\x92t say
so!\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Polly, skipping around the old lady, and giving her a small
hug; \x93and we\x92re going to give her a surprise.\x94

\x93What is the matter with her eyes?\x94 asked grandma, sharply, turning
around and facing her; \x93she\x92s been a-sewin\x92 too stiddy, hain\x92t she?\x94

\x93A surprise!\x94 shouted Polly, standing upon tiptoe, to bring her mouth on
a level with the old lady\x92s ear; \x93a cake, grandma, a big one!\x94

\x93A cake!\x94 exclaimed grandma, dropping the broom to settle her cap, which
Polly in her extreme endeavors to carry on the conversation, had knocked
slightly awry; \x93well, that\x92ll be fine.\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Polly, picking up the broom, and flinging off her hood
at the same time; \x93and, oh! won\x92t you please tell me how to make it,
grandma!\x94

\x93To be sure; to be sure;\x94 cried the old lady, delighted beyond measure
to give advice; \x93I\x92ve got splendid receets; I\x92ll go get \x91em right off,\x94
 and she ambled to the door of the pantry.

\x93And I\x92ll finish sweeping up,\x94 said Polly, which grandma didn\x92t hear;
so she took up the broom, and sent it energetically, and merrily flying
away to the tune of her own happy thoughts.

\x93Yes, they\x92re right in here,\x94 said grandma, waddling back with an old
tin teapot in her hand;--\x93goodness, child! what a dust you\x92ve kicked
up! that ain\x92t the way to sweep.\x94 And she took the broom out of Polly\x92s
hand, who stood quite still in mortification.

\x93There,\x94 she said, drawing it mildly over the few bits she could scrape
together, and gently coaxing them into a little heap; \x93that\x92s the way;
and then they don\x92t go all over the room.

\x93I\x92m sorry,\x94 began poor Polly.

\x93\x91Tain\x92t any matter,\x94 said Mrs. Bascom kindly, catching sight of Polly\x92s
discomfited face; \x93tain\x92t a mite of matter; you\x92ll sweep better next
time; now let\x92s go to the cake;\x94 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
\x93receet.\x94

But the right one didn\x92t seem to appear; not even after the teapot was
turned upside down and shaken by both grandma\x92s and Polly\x92s anxious
hands. Every other \x93receet\x94 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.

\x93Won\x92t some other one do?\x94 asked Polly, in the interval of fruitless
searching, when grandma bewailed and lamented, and wondered, \x93where I
could a put it!\x94

\x93No, no, child,\x94 answered the old lady; \x93now, where do you s\x92pose \x91tis!\x94
 and she clapped both hands to her head, to see if she could possibly
remember; \x93no, no, child,\x94 she repeated. \x93Why, they had it down to my
niece Mirandy\x92s weddin\x92--\x91twas just elegant! light as a feather; and
\x91twan\x92t rich either,\x94 she added; \x93no eggs, nor--\x94

\x93Oh, I couldn\x92t have eggs;\x94 cried Polly, in amazement at the thought of
such luxury; \x93and we\x92ve only brown flour, grandma, you know.\x94

\x93Well, you can make it of brown,\x94 said Mrs. Bascom, kindly; \x93when the
raisins is in \x91twill look quite nice.\x94

\x93Oh, we haven\x92t any raisins,\x94 answered Polly.

\x93Haven\x92t any raisins!\x94 echoed grandma, looking at her over her
spectacles; \x93what are you goin\x92 to put in?\x94

\x93Oh--cinnamon,\x94 said Polly, briskly; \x93we\x92ve got plenty of that,
and--it\x92ll be good, I guess, grandma!\x94 she finished, anxiously; \x93anyway,
we must have a cake; there isn\x92t any other way to celebrate mamsie\x92s
birthday.\x94

\x93Well, now,\x94 said grandma, bustling around; \x93I shouldn\x92t be surprised
if you had real good luck, Polly. And your ma\x92ll set ever so much by it;
now, if we only could find that receet!\x94 and returning to the charge she
commenced to fumble among her bits of paper again; \x93I never shall forget
how they eat on it; why, there wasn\x92t a crumb left, Polly!\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Polly, to whom \x93Mirandy\x92s wedding cake\x94 now became the
height of her desires; \x93if you only can find it! can\x92t I climb up and
look on the pantry shelves?\x94

\x93Maybe \x91tis there,\x94 said Mrs. Bascom, slowly; \x93you might try; sometimes
I do put things away, so\x92s to have \x91em safe.\x94

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, \x93Mirandy\x92s
wedding cake\x94 was further off than ever.

\x93Tain\x92t a mite o\x92 use,\x94 at last said the old lady, sinking down in
despair, while Polly perched on the top of the chair and looked at her;
\x93I must a-give it away.\x94

\x93Can\x92t I have the next best one, then?\x94 asked Polly, despairingly,
feeling sure that \x93Mirandy\x92s wedding cake\x94 would have celebrated the day
just right; \x93and I must hurry right home, please,\x94 she added, getting
down from the chair, and tying on her hood; \x93or Phronsie won\x92t know what
to do.\x94

So another \x93receet\x94 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.

\x93Now, we\x92ve got to--\x94 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\x92t utter another word. Phronsie was
crouching, a miserable little heap of woe, in one corner of the mother\x92s
big calico-covered rocking-chair, and crying bitterly, while Joel hung
over her in the utmost concern.

\x93What\x92s the matter?\x94 gasped Polly. Flinging the \x93receet\x94 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\x92s protecting arms, who gathered her up, and sitting down in the
depths of the chair, comforted her as only she could.

\x93What is it?\x94 she asked of Joel, who was nervously begging Phronsie not
to cry; \x93now, tell me all that\x92s happened.\x94

\x93I was a-nailing,\x94 began Joel; \x93oh dear! don\x92t cry, Phronsie! do stop
her, Polly.\x94

\x93Go on,\x94 said Polly, hoarsely.

\x93I was a-nailing,\x94 began Joel, slowly; \x93and--and--Davie\x92s gone to get
the peppermint,\x94 he added, brightening up.

\x93Tell me, Joe,\x94 said Polly, \x93all that\x92s been going on,\x94 and she looked
sternly into his face; \x93or I\x92ll get Davie to,\x94 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.

\x93Oh, no!\x94 cried Joel, in intense alarm; \x93Davie isn\x92t going to! I\x92ll
tell, Polly; I will truly.\x94

\x93Go on, then,\x94 said Polly; \x93tell at once;\x94 (feeling as if somebody
didn\x92t tell pretty quick, she should tumble over.)

\x93Well,\x94 said Joel, gathering himself up with a fresh effort, \x93the old
hammer was a-shaking and Phronsie stuck her foot in the way--and--I
couldn\x92t help it, Polly--no, I just couldn\x92t, Polly.\x94

Quick as a flash, Polly tore off the little old shoe, and well-worn
stocking, and brought to light Phronsie\x92s 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.
\x93Nothing\x92s broken,\x94 she said at last, and drew a long breath.

\x93It\x92s there,\x94 said Phronsie, through a rain of tears; \x93and it hurts,
Polly;\x94 and she began to wiggle the big toe, where around the nail was
settling a small black spot.

\x93Poor little toe,\x94 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\x92s lap in a perfect torrent of tears. \x93I
didn\x92t--mean to--Polly,\x94 he cried; \x93\x91twas the--ugly, old hammer! oh
dear!\x94

\x93There, there, Joey, dear,\x94 said Polly, gathering him up in the other
corner of the old chair, close to her side; \x93don\x92t feel bad; I know you
didn\x92t mean to,\x94 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\x92s neck. \x93Don\x92t
cry,\x94 she said; \x93does your toe ache?\x94

At this, Joel screamed louder than ever; and Polly was at her wit\x92s
end to know what to do; for the boy\x92s 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.

\x93Settin\x92 down?\x94 said she; \x93I hope your cake ain\x92t in, Polly,\x94 looking
anxiously at the stove, \x93for I\x92ve found it;\x94 and she waved a small piece
of paper triumphantly towards the rocking-chair as she spoke.

\x93Do tell her,\x94 said Polly to little David, \x93what\x92s happened; for I can\x92t
get up.\x94

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.

\x93Hey?\x94 said grandma, in a perfect bewilderment; \x93what\x92s he a-sayin\x92,
Polly--I can\x92t make it out.\x94

\x93You\x92ll have to go all over it again, David,\x94 said Polly, despairingly;
\x93she didn\x92t hear one word, I don\x92t believe.\x94

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.

\x93Land alive!\x94 said the old lady, sitting down in the chair which he
brought her; \x93you got pounded, did you?\x94 looking at Phronsie, as she
took the little foot in her ample hand.

\x93Yes\x92m,\x94 said Polly, quickly; \x93twasn\x92t any one\x92s fault; what\x92ll we do
for it, grandma?\x94

\x93Wormwood,\x94 said the old lady, adjusting her spectacles in extreme
deliberation, and then examining the little black and blue spot, which
was spreading rapidly, \x93is the very best thing; and I\x92ve got some to
home--you run right over,\x94 she said, turning round on David, quickly,
\x93an\x92 get it; it\x92s a-hang-in\x92 by the chimbley.\x94

\x93Let me; let me!\x94 cried Joel, springing out of the old chair, so
suddenly that grandma\x92s spectacles nearly dropped off in fright; \x93oh! I
want to do it for Phronsie!\x94

\x93Yes, let Joel, please,\x94 put in Polly; \x93he\x92ll find it, grandma.\x94 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.

\x93Now I\x92ll fix it,\x94 said Mrs. Bascom, getting up and taking off her
shawl; \x93there\x92s a few raisins for you, Polly; I don\x92t want \x91em, and
they\x92ll make your cake go better,\x94 and she placed a little parcel on the
table as she spoke. \x93Yes, I\x92ll put it to steep; an\x92 after it\x92s put on
real strong, and tied up in an old cloth, Phronsie won\x92t know as she\x92s
got any toes!\x94 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.

\x93Oh!\x94 said Polly; \x93I can\x92t thank you! for the raisins and all--you\x92re so
good!\x94

\x93They\x92re awful hard,\x94 said Joel, investigating into the bundle with
Davie, which, however, luckily the old lady didn\x92t hear.

\x93There, don\x92t try,\x94 she said cheerily; \x93an\x92 I found cousin Mirandy\x92s
weddin\x92 cake receet, for--\x94

\x93Did you?\x94 cried Polly; \x93oh! I\x92m so glad!\x94 feeling as if that were
comfort enough for a good deal.

\x93Yes, \x91twas in my Bible,\x94 said Mrs. Bascom; \x93I remember now; I put it
there to be ready to give John\x92s folks when they come in; they wanted
it; so you\x92ll go all straight now; and I must get home, for I left some
meat a-boilin\x92.\x94 So grandma put on her shawl, and waddled off, leaving a
great deal of comfort behind her.

\x93Now, says I,\x94 said Polly to Phronsie, when the little foot was snugly
tied up in the wet wormwood, \x93you\x92ve got to have one of mamsie\x92s old
slippers.\x94

\x93Oh, ho,\x94 laughed Phronsie; \x93won\x92t that be funny, Polly!\x94

\x93I should think it would,\x94 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. \x93We shall have to tie it
on.\x94

\x93It looks like a pudding bag,\x94 said Joel, as Polly tied it securely
through the middle with a bit of twine; \x93an old black pudding bag!\x94 he
finished.

\x93Old black pudding bag!\x94 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.

\x93What is it, Phronsie?\x94 asked Polly, who was bustling around, making
preparations for the cake-making.

\x93Can I ever wear my new shoes again?\x94 asked the child, gravely, looking
dismally at the black bundle before her.

\x93Oh, yes; my goodness, yes!\x94 cried Polly; \x93as quick again as ever;
you\x92ll be around again as smart as a cricket in a week--see if you
aren\x92t!\x94

\x93Will it go on?\x94 asked Phronsie, still looking incredulously at the
bundle, \x93and button up?\x94

\x93Yes, indeed!\x94 cried Polly, again; \x93button into every one of the little
holes, Phronsie Pepper; just as elegant as ever!\x94

\x93Oh!\x94 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.



MAMSIE\x92S BIRTHDAY


\x93Run down and get the cinnamon, will you, Joey?\x94 said Polly; \x93it\x92s in
the \x91Provision Room.\x94

The \x93Provision Room\x94 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, \x93\x91twas a good place to keep provisions in, even
if we haven\x92t any; and besides,\x94 she always finished, \x93it sounds nice!\x94

\x93Come on, Dave! then we\x92ll get something to eat!\x94

So the cinnamon was handed up, and then Joel flew back to Davie.

And now, Polly\x92s 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 \x93Provision Room\x94 that
sounded ominous, and then a smothered sound of words, followed by a
scuffling over the old floor.

\x93Boys!\x94 called Polly. No answer; everything was just as still as a
mouse. \x93Joel and David!\x94 called Polly again, in her loudest tones.

\x93Yes,\x94 came up the crooked stairs, in Davie\x92s voice.

\x93Come up here, right away!\x94 went back again from Polly. So up the stairs
trudged the two boys, and presented themselves rather sheepishly before
the big chair.

\x93What was that noise?\x94 she asked; \x93what have you been doing?\x94

\x93Twasn\x92t anything but the pail,\x94 answered Joel, not looking at her.

\x93We had something to eat,\x94 said Davie, by way of explanation; \x93you
always let us.\x94

\x93I know,\x94 said Polly; \x93that\x92s right, you can have as much bread as you
want to; but what you been doing with the pail?\x94

\x93Nothing,\x94 said Joel; \x93\x91twouldn\x92t hangup, that\x92s all.\x94

\x93And you\x92ve been bumping it,\x94 said Polly; \x93oh! Joel, how could you! You
might have broken it; then what would mamsie say?\x94

\x93I didn\x92t,\x94 said Joel, stoutly, with his hands in his pockets, \x93bump it
worse\x92n Davie, so there!\x94

\x93Why, Davie,\x94 said Polly, turning to him sorrowfully, \x93I shouldn\x92t have
thought you would!\x94

\x93Well, I\x92m tired of hanging it up,\x94 said little Davie, vehemently; \x93and
I said I wasn\x92t a-goin\x92 to; Joel always makes me; I\x92ve done it for two
million times, I guess!\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Polly, sinking back into the chair, \x93I don\x92t know
what I ever shall do; here\x92s Phronsie hurt; and we want to celebrate
to-morrow; and you two boys are bumping and banging out the bread pail,
and--\x94

\x93Oh! we won\x92t!\x94 cried both of the children, perfectly overwhelmed with
remorse; \x93we\x92ll hang it right up.\x94

\x93I\x92ll hang it,\x94 said Davie, clattering off down the stairs with a will.

\x93No, I will!\x94 shouted Joel, going after him at double pace; and
presently both came up with shining faces, and reported it nicely done.

\x93And now,\x94 said Polly, after they had all sat around the stove another
half-hour, watching and sniffing expectantly, \x93the cake\x92s done!--dear
me! it\x92s turning black!\x94

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,
\x93My feelings wouldn\x92t allow me to rise to the occasion.\x94

\x93Now,\x94 said Polly, turning away with a little fling, and looking at
the stove, \x93I hope you\x92re satisfied, you old thing; you\x92ve spoiled our
mamsie\x92s birthday!\x94 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.

\x93Well, I never!\x94 said a cheery voice, that made the children skip.

\x93It\x92s Mrs. Beebe; oh, it\x92s Mrs. Beebe!\x94 cried Davie; \x93see, Polly.\x94

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.

\x93You poor creeters, you!\x94 she exclaimed at last, for about the fiftieth
time. \x93Here, Polly, here\x92s some posies for you, and--\x94

\x93Oh, thank you!\x94 cried Polly, with a radiant face, \x93why, Mrs. Beebe, we
can put them in here, can\x92t we? the very thing!\x94

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.

\x93The very thing!\x94 echoed Mrs. Beebe, tickled to death to see their
delight; \x93it looks beautiful, I declare! and now, I must run right
along, or pa\x92ll be worrying;\x94 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.

\x93And Phronsie\x92s got hurt,\x94 said Mrs. Beebe, telling him the news, as he
finished tucking her up, and started the old horse.

\x93Ho? you don\x92t say so!\x94 he cried; \x93whoa!\x94

\x93Dear me!\x94 said Mrs. Beebe; \x93how you scat me, pal what\x92s the matter?\x94

\x93What?--the little girl that bought the shoes?\x94 asked her husband.

\x93Yes,\x94 replied his wife, \x93she\x92s hurt her foot.\x94

\x93Sho, now,\x94 said the old gentleman; \x93that\x92s too bad,\x94 and he began to
feel in all his pockets industriously; \x93there, can you get out again,
and take her that?\x94 and he laid a small piece of peppermint candy, thick
and white, in his wife\x92s lap.

\x93Oh, yes,\x94 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.

\x93Now, children,\x94 said Polly, after Phronsie had made them take a bite of
her candy all around, \x93let\x92s get the cake put away safe, for mamsie may
come home early.

\x93Where\x92ll you put it?\x94 asked Joel, wishing the world was all peppermint
candy.

\x93Oh--in the cupboard,\x94 said Polly, taking it up; \x93there, 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;\x94 so the cake was finally
deposited in a place of safety, followed by the eyes of all the
children.

\x93Now,\x94 said Polly, as they shut the door tight, \x93don\x92t you go to looking
at the cupboard, Joey, or mammy\x92ll guess something.\x94

\x93Can\x92t I just open it a little crack, and take one smell when she isn\x92t
looking?\x94 asked Joel; \x93I should think you might, Polly; just one.\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Polly, firmly; \x93not one, Joe; she\x92ll guess if you do.\x94 But
Mrs. Pepper was so utterly engrossed with her baby when she came home
and heard the account of the accident, that she wouldn\x92t have guessed
if there\x92d 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\x92s
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. \x93And don\x92t
you think, Bensie,\x94 she said, clasping her little hand in a convincing
way over his two bigger, stronger ones, \x93that Polly\x92s stove was very
naughty to make poor Polly cry?\x94

\x93Yes, I do,\x94 said Ben, and he shut his lips tightly together.

To have Polly cry, hurt him more than he cared to have Phronsie see.

\x93What are you staring at, Joe?\x94 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.

\x93Why, you told me yourself not to look at the cupboard,\x94 said Joel, in
the loudest of stage whispers.

\x93Dear me; that\x92ll make mammy suspect worse\x92n anything else if you look
like that,\x94 said Polly.

\x93What did you say about the cupboard?\x94 asked Mrs. Pepper, who caught
Joe\x92s last word.

\x93We can\x92t tell,\x94 said Phronsie, shaking her head at her mother; \x93cause
there\x92s a ca----\x94 \x93Ugh!\x94 and Polly clapped her hand on the child\x92s
mouth; \x93don\x92t you want Ben to tell us a story?\x94

\x93Oh, yes!\x94 cried little Phronsie, in which all the others joined with
a whoop of delight; so a most wonderful story, drawn up in Ben\x92s 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.

\x93It looks better,\x94 whispered Polly to Ben, \x93than it did yesterday; and
aren\x92t the flowers pretty?\x94

\x93It looks good enough to eat, anyway,\x94 said Ben, smacking his lips.

\x93Well, we tried,\x94 said Polly, stilling a sigh; \x93now, boys, call mamsie;
everything\x92s ready.\x94

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\x92t 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\x92t 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.

\x93Why can\x92t I ever have a birthday?\x94 asked Joel, finishing the last crumb
of his piece; \x93I should think I might,\x94 he added, reflectively.

\x93Why, you have, Joe,\x94 said Ben; \x93eight of \x91em.\x94

\x93What a story!\x94 ejaculated Joel; \x93when did I have \x91em? I never had a
cake; did I, Polly?\x94

\x93Not a cake-birthday, Joel,\x94 said his mother; \x93you haven\x92t got to that
yet.\x94

\x93When\x92s it coming?\x94 asked Joel, who was decidedly of a matter-of-fact
turn of mind.

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, laughing; \x93but there\x92s plenty of time
ahead.\x94



TROUBLE FOR THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE


\x93Oh, I do wish,\x94 said Joel, a few mornings after, pushing back his chair
and looking discontentedly at his bowl of mush and molasses, \x93that we
could ever have something new besides this everlasting old breakfast!
Why can\x92t we, mammy?\x94

\x93Better be glad you\x92ve got that, Joe,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, taking another
cold potato, and sprinkling on a little salt; \x93folks shouldn\x92t complain
so long as they\x92ve anything to eat.\x94

\x93But I\x92m so tired of it--same old thing!\x94 growled Joel; \x93seems as if I
sh\x92d turn into a meal-bag or a molasses jug!\x94

\x93Well, hand it over, then,\x94 proposed Ben, who was unusually hungry, and
had a hard day\x92s work before him.

\x93No,\x94 said Joel, alarmed at the prospect, and putting in an enormous
mouthful; \x93it\x92s better than nothing.\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said little Phronsie, catching Joel\x92s tone, \x93it isn\x92t nice;
no, it isn\x92t.\x94 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.

\x93Oh, Phronsie,\x94 she said, reprovingly; \x93you ought not to. Never mind,
pet,\x94 as she caught sight of two big tears trying to make a path in the
little molasses-streaked face, \x93Polly\x92ll wipe it up.\x94

\x93Sha\x92n\x92t we ever have anything else to eat, Polly?\x94 asked the child,
gravely, getting down from her high chair to watch the operation of
cleaning the floor.

\x93Oh, yes,\x94 said Polly, cheerfully, \x93lots and lots--when our ship comes
in.\x94

\x93What\x92ll they be?\x94 asked Phronsie, in the greatest delight, prepared for
anything.

\x93Oh, I don\x92t know,\x94 said Polly; \x93ice cream for one thing, Phronsie, and
maybe, little cakes.\x94

\x93With pink on top?\x94 interrupted Phronsie, getting down by Polly\x92s side.

\x93Oh, yes,\x94 said Polly, warming with her subject; \x93ever and ever so much
pink, Phronsie Pepper; more than you could eat!\x94

Phronsie just clasped her hands and sighed. More than she could eat was
beyond her!

\x93Hoh!\x94 said Joel, who caught the imaginary bill of fare, \x93that\x92s
nothing, Polly. I\x92d speak for a plum-puddin\x92.\x94

\x93Like the one mother made us for Thanksgiving?\x94 asked Polly, getting up
and waiting a minute, cloth in hand, for the answer.

\x93Yes, sir,\x94 said Joel, shutting one eye and looking up at the ceiling,
musingly, while he smacked his lips in remembrance; \x93wasn\x92t that prime,
though!\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Polly, thoughtfully; \x93would you have \x91em all like that,
Joe?\x94

\x93Every one,\x94 replied Joe, promptly; \x93I\x92d have seventy-five of \x91em.\x94

\x93Seventy-five what?\x94 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. \x93Better clear up the dishes, Polly, and set
the table back--seventy-five what, Joel?\x94

\x93Plum-puddings,\x94 said Joel, kissing Phronsie.

\x93Dear me!\x94 ejaculated Mrs. Pepper; \x93you don\x92t know what you\x92re saying,
Joel Pepper; the house couldn\x92t hold \x91em!\x94

\x93Wouldn\x92t long,\x94 responded Joel; \x93we\x92d eat \x91em.\x94

\x93That would be foolish,\x94 interposed Ben; \x93I\x92d have roast beef and
fixings--and oysters--and huckleberry pie.\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 cried Polly; \x93how nice, Ben! you always do think of the very
best things.\x94

But Joel phoohed and declared he wouldn\x92t waste his time \x93over old beef;
he\x92d have something like!\x94 And then he cried:

\x93Come on, Dave, what\x92d you choose?\x94

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
\x93everlasting breakfast\x94 as Joel called it. But now he looked up eagerly,
his answer all ready. \x93Oh, I know,\x94 he cried, \x93what would be most
beautiful! toasted bread--white bread--and candy.\x94

\x93What\x92s candy?\x94 asked Phronsie.

\x93Oh, don\x92t you know, Phronsie,\x94 cried Polly, \x93what Mrs. Beebe gave you
the day you got your shoes--the pink sticks; and--\x94

\x93And the peppermint stick Mr. Beebe gave you, Phronsie,\x94 finished Joel,
his mouth watering at the remembrance.

\x93That day, when you got your toe pounded,\x94 added Davie, looking at Joel.

\x93Oh!\x94 cried Phronsie; \x93I want some now, I do!\x94

\x93Well, Davie,\x94 said Polly, \x93you shall have that for breakfast when our
ship comes in then.\x94

\x93Your ships aren\x92t ever coming,\x94 broke in Mrs. Pepper, wisely, \x93if you
sit there talking--folks don\x92t ever make any fortunes by wishing.\x94

\x93True enough,\x94 laughed Ben, jumping up and setting back his chair. \x93Come
on, Joe; you\x92ve got to pile to-day.\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Joel, dismally; \x93I wish Mr. Blodgett\x92s wood was all
a-fire.\x94

\x93Never say that, Joel,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, looking up sternly; \x93it\x92s
biting your own nose off to wish that wood was a-fire--and besides it\x92s
dreadfully wicked.\x94

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.

\x93I\x92m sorry I can\x92t help you do the dishes, Polly,\x94 said David, running
after Joel.

\x93I\x92m going to help her,\x94 said Phronsie; \x93I am.\x94

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.

\x93Don\x92t you wish, Polly,\x94 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, \x93that you didn\x92t
ever-an\x92-ever have so many dishes to do?\x94

\x93Um--maybe,\x94 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\x92s woodpile.

\x93Well, I tell you,\x94 said Phronsie, confidentially, setting down a
cup that she had polished with great care, \x93I\x92m going to do \x91em all
to-morrow, for you, Polly--I can truly; let me now, Polly, do.\x94

\x93Nonsense!\x94 said Polly, giving a great splash with her mop in the tub,
ashamed of her inward repinings. \x93Phronsie, you\x92re no bigger than a
mouse!\x94

\x93Yes, I am,\x94 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.

\x93There now,\x94 cried Polly, \x93see what you\x92ve done!\x94

\x93Ow!\x94 whimpered Phronsie, breaking into a subdued roar; \x93oh, Polly! it\x92s
all running down my back.\x94

\x93Is it?\x94 said Polly, bursting out into a laugh; \x93never mind, Phronsie,
I\x92ll dry you.\x94

\x93Dear me, Polly!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, who had looked up in time to see the
tub racing along by itself towards the \x93Provision Room\x94 door, a stream
of dish-water following in its wake, \x93she will be wet clear through; do
get off her things, quick.\x94

\x93Yes\x92m,\x94 cried Polly, picking up the tub, and giving two or three quick
sops to the floor. \x93Here you are, Pussy,\x94 grasping Phronsie, crying as
she was, and carrying her into the bedroom.

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 wailed the child, still holding the wet dish towel; \x93I won\x92t
ever do it again, if you\x92ll only let me do \x91em all to-morrow.\x94

\x93When you\x92re big and strong,\x94 said Polly, giving her a hug, \x93you shall
do \x91em every day.\x94

\x93May I really?\x94 said little Phronsie, blinking through the tears, and
looking radiant.

\x93Yes, truly--every day.\x94

\x93Then I\x92ll grow right away, I will,\x94 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.

\x93So you shall,\x94 said Polly, coming back, a big piece of gingerbread in
her hand; \x93and this\x92ll make you grow, Phronsie.\x94

\x93O-o-h!\x94 and Phronsie\x92s little white teeth shut down quickly on the
comforting morsel. Gingerbread didn\x92t come often enough into the Pepper
household to be lightly esteemed.

\x93Now,\x94 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--\x93now,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93you
needn\x92t help me this morning, Polly: I\x92m getting on pretty smart; but
you may just run down to the parson\x92s, and see how he is.\x94

\x93Is he sick?\x94 asked Polly, in awe.

To have the parson sick, was something quite different from an ordinary
person\x92s illness.

\x93He\x92s taken with a chill,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, biting off a thread, \x93so
Miss Huldy Folsom told me last night, and I\x92m afraid he\x92s going to have
a fever.\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Polly, in dire distress; \x93whatever\x92d we do, mammy!\x94

\x93Don\x92t know, I\x92m sure,\x94 replied Mrs. Pepper, setting her stitches
firmly; \x93the Lord\x92ll provide. So you run along, child, and see how he
is.\x94

\x93Can\x92t Phronsie go?\x94 asked Polly, pausing half-way to the bedroom door.

\x93Well, yes, I suppose she might,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, assentingly.

\x93No, she can\x92t either,\x94 said Polly, coming back with her sun-bonnet in
her hand, and shutting the door carefully after her, \x93cause she\x92s fast
asleep on the floor.\x94

\x93Is she?\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; \x93well, she\x92s been running so this morning,
she\x92s tired out, I s\x92pose.\x94

\x93And her face is dreadfully red,\x94 continued Polly, tying on her bonnet;
\x93now, what\x92ll I say, mammy?\x94

\x93Well, I should think \x91twould be,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, replying to the
first half of Polly\x92s speech; \x93she cried so. Well, you just tell Mrs.
Henderson your ma wants to know how Mr. Henderson is this morning, and
if \x91twas a chill he had yesterday, and how he slept last night, and--\x94

\x93Oh, ma,\x94 said Polly, \x93I can\x92t ever remember all that.\x94

\x93Oh, yes, you can,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, encouragingly; \x93just put your mind
on it, Polly; \x91tisn\x92t anything to what I used to have to remember--when
I was a little girl, no bigger than you are.\x94

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\x92t for her life think whether \x93if \x91twas a chill he had
yesterday?\x94 ought to come before \x93how he slept?\x94 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\x92s 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\x92s soul sank
down in dire dismay. It was the minister\x92s 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--\x93as if I don\x92t know what
my name is.\x94 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.

\x93Well, and what do you want?\x94 she asked.

\x93I came to see--I mean my ma sent me,\x94 stammered poor Polly.

\x93And who is your ma?\x94 demanded Miss Jerusha, as much like a policeman as
anything; \x93and where do you live?\x94

\x93I live in Primrose Lane,\x94 replied Polly, wishing very much that she was
back there.

\x93I don\x92t want to know where you live, before I know who you are,\x94 said
Miss Jerusha; \x93you should answer the question I asked first; always
remember that.\x94

\x93My ma\x92s Mrs. Pepper,\x94 said Polly.

\x93Mrs. who?\x94 repeated Miss Jerusha.

By this time Polly was so worn that she came very near turning and
fleeing, but she thought of her mother\x92s disappointment in her, and the
loss of the news, and stood quite still.

\x93What is it, Jerusha?\x94 a gentle voice here broke upon Polly\x92s ear.

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 responded Miss Jerusha, tartly, still holding the door
much as if Polly were a robber; \x93it\x92s a little girl, and I can\x92t make
out what she wants.\x94

\x93Why, it\x92s Polly Pepper!\x94 exclaimed Mrs. Henderson, pleasantly. \x93Come
in, child.\x94 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.

\x93Oh!\x94 said Polly, and then she stopped, and the color flushed up into
her face.

\x93What is it, my dear?\x94 and the minister took her hand kindly, and looked
down into her flushed face.

\x93You are not going to have a fever, and be sick and die!\x94 she cried.

\x93I hope not, my little girl,\x94 he smiled back, encouragingly; and then
Polly gave her messages, which now she managed easily enough.

\x93There,\x94 broke in Miss Jerusha, \x93a cat can\x92t sneeze in this town but
everybody\x92ll know it in quarter of an hour.\x94

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.

\x93Now I must go, ma\x92am,\x94 she said at last, looking up into the lady\x92s
face, regretfully, \x93for mammy didn\x92t say I was to stay.\x94

\x93Very 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.\x94

\x93Oh, thank you, ma\x92am!\x94 cried Polly, thinking, \x93how glad Davie\x92ll be,
for he does so love butter! only--\x94

\x93Wait a bit, then,\x94 said Mrs. Henderson, who didn\x92t 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.

\x93I wonder if Phronsie\x92s awake,\x94 she thought to herself, turning in at
the little brown gate; \x93if she is, she shall have a piece of bread with
lots of butter.\x94

\x93Hush!\x94 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.

\x93It\x92s Phronsie,\x94 said the mother, \x93and I don\x92t know what the matter is
with her; you\x92ll have to go for the doctor, Polly, and just as fast as
you can.\x94

Polly still stood, holding the bowl, and staring with all her might.
Phronsie sick!

\x93Don\x92t wake her,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper.

Poor Polly couldn\x92t have stirred to save her life, for a minute; then
she said--\x93Where shall I go?\x94

\x93Oh, run to Dr. Fisher\x92s; and don\x92t be gone long.\x94

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\x92s arms, in a burning fever.

\x93It\x92s measles,\x94 he pronounced, \x93that\x92s all; no cause for alarm; you ever
had it?\x94 he asked, turning suddenly around on Polly, who was watching
with wide-open eyes for the verdict.

\x93No, sir,\x94 answered Polly, not knowing in the least what \x93measles\x94 was.

\x93What shall we do!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; \x93there haven\x92t any of them had
it.\x94

The doctor was over by the little old table under the window, mixing up
some black-looking stuff in a tumbler, and he didn\x92t hear her.

\x93There,\x94 he said, putting a spoonful into Phronsie\x92s mouth, \x93she\x92ll get
along well enough; only keep her out of the cold.\x94 Then he pulled out a
big silver watch. He was a little thin man, and the watch was immense.
Polly for her life couldn\x92t keep her eyes off from it; if Ben could only
have one so fine!

\x93Polly,\x94 whispered Mrs. Pepper, \x93run and get my purse; it\x92s in the top
bureau drawer.\x94

\x93Yes\x92m,\x94 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\x92s lap, and
watched while Mrs. Pepper counted out slowly one dollar in small pieces.

\x93Here sir,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, holding them out towards the doctor; \x93and
thank you for coming.\x94

\x93Hey!\x94 said the little man, spinning round; \x93that dollar\x92s the Lord\x92s!\x94

Mrs. Pepper looked bewildered, and still sat holding it out. \x93And the
Lord has given it to you to take care of these children with; see that
you do it.\x94 And without another word he was gone.

\x93Wasn\x92t he good, mammy?\x94 asked Polly, after the first surprise was over.

\x93I\x92m sure he was,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper. \x93Well, tie it up again, Polly, tie
it up tight; we shall want it, I\x92m sure,\x94 sighing at her little sick
girl.

\x93Mayn\x92t I take Phronsie, ma?\x94 asked Polly.

\x93No, no,\x94 said Phronsie. She had got mammy, and she meant to improve the
privilege.

\x93What is \x91measles\x92 anyway, mammy?\x94 asked Polly, sitting down on the
floor at their feet.

\x93Oh, \x91tis something children always have,\x94 replied Mrs. Pepper; \x93but I\x92m
sure I hoped it wouldn\x92t come just yet.\x94

\x93I sha\x92n\x92t have it,\x94 said Polly, decisively; \x93I know I sha\x92n\x92t! nor
Ben--nor Joe--nor--nor Davie--I guess,\x94 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.

\x93What\x92ll the boys say, I wonder!\x94 she thought to herself, feeling
quite important that they really had sickness in the house. As long
as Phronsie wasn\x92t 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.

\x93I\x92ll put her in bed, Polly,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, in a whisper, as
Phronsie closed her eyes and breathed regularly.

\x93And then will you have your dinner, ma?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93I don\x92t care--if the boys come.\x94

\x93The boys\x92ll never come,\x94 said Polly, impatiently; \x93I don\x92t
believe--why! here they are now!\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Joel, coming in crossly, \x93I\x92m so hungry--oh--butter!
where\x92d you get it? I thought we never should get here!\x94

\x93I thought so too,\x94 said Polly. \x93Hush! why, where\x92s Ben?\x94

\x93He\x92s just back,\x94 began Joel, commencing to eat, \x93and Davie; something
is the matter with Ben--he says he feels funny.\x94

\x93Something the matter with Ben!\x94 repeated Polly. She dropped the cup she
held, which broke in a dozen pieces.

\x93Oh, whocky!\x94 cried Joel; \x93see what you\x92ve done, Polly Pepper!\x94

But Polly didn\x92t 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\x92s! And with a cold, heavy feeling at her heart, Polly realized
that this was no play.

\x93Oh, Ben!\x94 she cried, flinging her arms around his neck, and bursting
into tears; \x93don\x92t! please--I wish you wouldn\x92t; Phronsie\x92s got \x91em, and
that\x92s enough!\x94

\x93Got what?\x94 asked Ben, while Davie\x92s eyes grew to their widest
proportions.

\x93Oh, measles!\x94 cried Polly, bursting out afresh; \x93the hate-fullest,
horridest measles! and now you\x92re taken!\x94

\x93Oh no, I\x92m not,\x94 responded Ben, cheerfully, who knew what measles were;
\x93wipe up, Polly; I\x92m all right; only my head aches, and my eyes feel
funny.\x94

But Polly, only half-reassured, controlled her sobs; and the sorrowful
trio repaired to mother.

\x93Oh, dear!\x94 ejaculated Mrs. Pepper, sinking in a chair in dismay, at
sight of Ben\x92s red face; \x93whatever\x92ll we do now!\x94

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\x92t 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\x92s medicine, and
crawled up into the loft, to bed; and quiet settled down on the little
household.

\x93Polly,\x94 whispered Ben, as she tucked him in, \x93it\x92ll be hard buckling-to
now, for you, but I guess you\x92ll do it.\x94



MORE TROUBLE


\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Polly to herself, the next morning, trying to get a
breakfast for the sick ones out of the inevitable mush; \x93everything\x92s
just as bad as it can be! they can\x92t ever eat this; I wish I had an
ocean of toast!\x94

\x93Toast some of the bread in the pail, Polly,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper.

She looked worn and worried; she had been up nearly all night, back and
forth from Ben\x92s bed in the loft to restless, fretful little Phronsie in
the big four-poster in the bedroom; for Phronsie wouldn\x92t 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.

\x93That isn\x92t nice, ma,\x94 she said, glancing at the poor old pail, which
she had brought out of the \x93Provision Room.\x94 \x93Old brown bread! I want to
fix \x91em something nice.\x94

\x93Well, you can\x92t, you know,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, with a sigh; \x93but you\x92ve
got butter now; that\x92ll be splendid!\x94

\x93I know it,\x94 said Polly, running to the corner cupboard where the
precious morsel in the blue bowl remained; \x93whatever should we do
without it, mammy?\x94

\x93Do without it!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; \x93same\x92s we have done.\x94

\x93Well, \x91twas splendid in Mrs. Henderson to give it to us, anyway,\x94 said
Polly, longing for just one taste; \x93seems as if \x91twas a year since I
was there--oh, ma!\x94 and here Polly took up the thread that had been so
rudely snapped; \x93don\x92t you think, she\x92s got ten of the prettiest--yes,
the sweetest little chickens you ever saw! Why can\x92t we have some,
mammy?\x94

\x93Costs money,\x94 replied Mrs. Pepper. \x93We\x92ve got too many in the house to
have any outside.\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 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; \x93we never have
had anything. There,\x94 she added at last; \x93that\x92s the best I can do; now
I\x92ll put the butter on this little blue plate; ain\x92t that cunning, ma?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, approvingly; \x93it takes you, Polly.\x94 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.

\x93Now,\x94 she said, starting to go back to Phronsie; \x93Ben Pepper, just as
soon as you get well, we\x92ll have some chickens--so there!\x94

\x93Guess we sha\x92n\x92t get \x91em very soon,\x94 said Ben, despondently, \x93if I\x92ve
got to lie here; and, besides, Polly, you know every bit we can save has
got to go for the new stove.\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Polly, \x93I forgot that; so it has; seems to me
everything\x92s giving out!\x94

\x93You can\x92t bake any longer in the old thing,\x94 said Ben, turning over and
looking at her; \x93poor girl, I don\x92t see how you\x92ve stood it so long.\x94

\x93And we\x92ve been stuffing it,\x94 cried Polly merrily, \x93till \x91twon\x92t stuff
any more.\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Ben, turning back again, \x93that\x92s all worn out.\x94

\x93Well, you must go to sleep,\x94 said Polly, \x93or mammy\x92ll be up here; and
Phronsie hasn\x92t had her breakfast either.\x94

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.

\x93Oh me! oh my!\x94 cried Polly; \x93how you look, Phronsie!\x94

\x93I want my mammy!\x94 cried poor Phronsie.

\x93Mammy can\x92t come now, Phronsie dear; she\x92s sewing. See what Polly\x92s got
for you--butter: isn\x92t that splendid!\x94

Phronsie stopped for just one moment, and took a mouthful; but the toast
was hard and dry, and she cried harder than before.

\x93Now,\x94 said Polly, curling up on the bed beside her, \x93if you\x92ll stop
crying, Phronsie Pepper, I\x92ll tell you about the cunningest, yes, the
very cunningest little chickens you ever saw. One was white, and he
looked just like this,\x94 said Polly, tumbling over on the bed in a heap;
\x93he couldn\x92t stand up straight, he was so fat.\x94

\x93Did he bite?\x94 asked Phronsie, full of interest.

\x93No, he didn\x92t bite me,\x94 said Polly; \x93but his mother put a bug in his
mouth--just as I\x92m doing you know,\x94 and she broke off a small piece of
the toast, put on a generous bit of butter, and held it over Phronsie\x92s
mouth.

\x93Did he swallow it?\x94 asked the child, obediently opening her little red
lips.

\x93Oh, snapped it,\x94 answered Polly, \x93quick as ever he could, I tell you;
but \x91twasn\x92t good like this, Phronsie.\x94

\x93Did he have two bugs?\x94 asked Phronsie, eying suspiciously the second
morsel of dry toast that Polly was conveying to her mouth.

\x93Well, he would have had,\x94 replied Polly, \x93if there\x92d been bugs enough;
but there were nine other chicks, Phronsie.\x94

\x93Poor chickies,\x94 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.

\x93Mother,\x94 said Polly, towards evening, \x93I\x92m going to sit up with Ben
to-night; say I may, do, mother.\x94

\x93Oh no, you can\x92t,\x94 replied Mrs. Pepper; \x93you\x92ll get worn out; and then
what shall I do? Joel can hand him his medicine.\x94

\x93Oh, Joe would tumble to sleep, mammy,\x94 said Polly, \x93the first
thing--let me.\x94

\x93Perhaps Phronsie\x92ll let me go to-night,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper,
reflectively.

\x93Oh, no she won\x92t, I know,\x94 replied Polly, decisively; \x93she wants you
all the time.\x94

\x93I will, Polly,\x94 said Davie, coming in with an armful of wood, in time
to hear the conversation. \x93I\x92ll give him his medicine, mayn\x92t I, mammy?\x94
 and David let down his load, and came over where his mother and Polly
sat sewing, to urge his rights.

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 said his mother, smiling on him. \x93Can you, do you
think?\x94

\x93Yes, ma\x92am!\x94 said Davie, straightening himself up.

When they told Ben, he said he knew a better way than for Davie to
watch; he\x92d have a string tied to Davie\x92s arm, and the end he\x92d hold in
bed, and when \x91twas time for medicine, he\x92d pull the string, and that
would wake Davie up!

Polly didn\x92t 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: \x93Well, I don\x92t care, if
nobody else gets sick; if Ben\x92ll only get well. To-morrow I\x92m goin\x92 to
do mammy\x92s sack she\x92s begun for Mr. Jackson; it\x92s all plain sew-in\x92,
just like a bag; and I can do it, I know--\x94 and so she fell into a
troubled sleep, only to be awakened by Phronsie\x92s fretful little voice:
\x93I want a drink of water, Polly, I do.\x94

\x93Don\x92t she drink awfully, mammy?\x94 asked Polly, after one of these
excursions out to the kitchen after the necessary draught.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; \x93and she mustn\x92t have any more; \x91twill hurt
her.\x94 But Phronsie fell into a delicious sleep after that, and didn\x92t
want any more, luckily.

\x93Here, Joe,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, the next morning, \x93take this coat up to
Mr. Peterses; and be sure you get the money for it.\x94

\x93How\x92ll I get it?\x94 asked Joe, who didn\x92t relish the long, hot walk.

\x93Why, tell \x91em we\x92re sick--Ben\x92s sick,\x94 added Mrs. Pepper, as the most
decisive thing; \x93and we must have it; and then wait for it.\x94

\x93Tisn\x92t pleasant up at the Peterses,\x94 grumbled Joel, taking the parcel
and moving slowly off.

\x93No, no, Polly,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93you needn\x92t do that,\x94 seeing
Polly take up some sewing after doing up the room and finishing the
semi-weekly bake; \x93you\x92re all beat out with that tussle over the stove;
that sack\x92ll have to go till next week.\x94

\x93It can\x92t, mammy,\x94 said Polly, snipping off a basting thread; \x93we\x92ve got
to have the money; how much\x92ll he give you for it?\x94

\x93Thirty cents,\x94 replied Mrs. Pepper.

\x93Well,\x94 said Polly, \x93we\x92ve got to get all the thirty centses we can,
mammy dear; and I know I can do it, truly--try me once,\x94 she implored.

\x93Well.\x94 Mrs. Pepper relented, slowly.

\x93Don\x92t feel bad, mammy dear,\x94 comforted Polly, sewing away briskly;
\x93Ben\x92ll get well pretty soon, and then we\x92ll be all right.\x94

\x93Maybe,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; and went back to Phronsie, who could scarcely
let her out of her sight.

Polly stitched away bravely. \x93Now if I do this good, mammy\x92ll let me do
it other times,\x94 she said to herself.

Davie, too, worked patiently out of doors, trying to do Ben\x92s 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.

\x93Polly,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93hadn\x92t you better stop a little? Dear me!
how fast you sew, child!\x94

Polly gave a delighted little hum at her mother\x92s evident approval.

\x93I\x92m going to do \x91em all next week, mammy,\x94 she said; \x93then Mr. Atkins
won\x92t take \x91em away from us, I guess.\x94

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\x92s heart sink.

\x93I don\x92t believe anybody\x92s got such children as I have,\x94 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.

\x93Why, where have you been all this time?\x94 asked his mother.

\x93Oh, Joe, you didn\x92t stop to play?\x94 asked Polly, from her perch where
she sat sewing, giving him a reproachful glance.

\x93Stop to play!\x94 retorted Joe, indignantly; \x93no, I guess I didn\x92t! I\x92ve
been to Old Peterses.\x94

\x93Not all this time!\x94 exclaimed Mrs. Pepper.

\x93Yes, I have too,\x94 replied Joel, sturdily marching up to her. \x93And
there\x92s your money, mother;\x94 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.

\x93Oh, Joe,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, sinking back in her chair and looking at
him; \x93what do you mean?\x94

Polly put her work in her lap, and waited to hear.

\x93Where\x92s my dinner, Polly?\x94 asked Joel; \x93I hope it\x92s a big one.

\x93Yes, \x91tis,\x94 said Polly; \x93you\x92ve got lots to-day, it\x92s in the corner of
the cupboard, covered up with the plate--so tell on, Joe.\x94

\x93That\x92s elegant!\x94 said Joel, coming back with the well-filled plate,
Ben\x92s and his own share.

\x93Do tell us, Joey,\x94 implored Polly; \x93mother\x92s waiting.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Joel, his mouth half full, \x93I waited--and he said the coat
was all right;--and--and--Mrs. Peters said \x91twas all right;--and Mirandy
Peters said \x91twas all right; but they didn\x92t any of \x91em say anythin\x92
about payin\x92, so I didn\x92t think \x91twas all right--and--and--can\x92t I have
some more butter, Polly?\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Polly, sorry to refuse him, he\x92d been so good about the
money; \x93the butter\x92s got to be saved for Ben and Phronsie.\x94

\x93Oh,\x94 said Joe, \x93I wish Miss Henderson would send us some more, I do! I
think she might!\x94

\x93For shame, Joe,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; \x93she was very good to send this, I
think; now what else did you say?\x94 she asked.

\x93Well,\x94 said Joel, taking another mouthful of bread, \x93so I waited; you
told me to, mother, you know--and they all went to work; and they didn\x92t
mind me at all, and--there wasn\x92t anything to look at, so I sat--and
sat--Polly, can\x92t I have some gingerbread?\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Polly, \x93it\x92s all gone; I gave the last piece to Phronsie the
day she was taken sick.\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Joel, \x93everything\x92s gone.\x94

\x93Well, do go on, Joe, do.\x94

\x93And--then they had dinner; and Mr. Peters said, \x91Hasn\x92t that boy gone
home yet?\x92 and Mrs. Peters said, \x91no\x92--and he called me in, and asked me
why I didn\x92t run along home; and I said, Phronsie was sick, and Ben had
the squeezles--\x94

\x93The what?\x94 said Polly.

\x93The squeezles,\x94 repeated Joel, irritably; \x93that\x92s what you said.\x94

\x93It\x92s measles, Joey,\x94 corrected Mrs. Pepper; \x93never mind, I wouldn\x92t
feel bad.\x94

\x93Well, they all laughed, and laughed, and then I said you told me to
wait till I did get the money.\x94

\x93Oh, Joe,\x94 began Mrs. Pepper, \x93you shouldn\x92t have told \x91em so--what did
he say?\x94

\x93Well, he laughed, and said I was a smart boy, and he\x92d see; and Mirandy
said, \x91do pay him, pa, he must be tired to death\x92--and don\x92t you think,
he went to a big desk in the corner, and took out a box, and \x91twas full
most of money--lots! oh! and he gave me mine--and--that\x92s all; and I\x92m
tired to death.\x94 And Joel flung himself down on the floor, expanded his
legs as only Joel could, and took a comfortable roll.

\x93So you must be,\x94 said Polly, pityingly, \x93waiting at those Peterses.\x94

\x93Don\x92t ever want to see any more Peterses,\x94 said Joel; never, never,
never!

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 thought Polly, as she sewed on into the afternoon, \x93I wonder
what does all my eyes! feels just like sand in \x91em;\x94 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. \x93There now, who says I can\x92t do
it! that\x92s most done,\x94 she cried, jumping up, and spinning across the
room, to stretch herself a bit, \x93and to-morrow I\x92ll finish it.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93if you can do that, Polly, you\x92ll be the
greatest help I\x92ve had yet.\x94

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!

\x93I won\x92t be sick,\x94 she said; \x93at any rate, I\x92ll keep around.\x94 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\x92t see very well. She tried to set the table, but \x91twas no
use. \x93Oh, dear,\x94 she thought, \x93whatever\x92ll mammy do?\x94

\x93Hulloa!\x94 said Joel, coming in, \x93what\x92s the matter, Polly?\x94 Polly
started at his sudden entrance, and, wavering a minute, fell over in a
heap.

\x93Oh ma! ma!\x94 screamed Joel, running to the foot of the stairs leading to
the loft, where Mrs. Pepper was with Ben; \x93something\x92s taken Polly! and
she fell; and I guess she\x92s in the wood-box!\x94



HARD DAYS FOR POLLY


\x93Ma,\x94 said David, coming softly into the bedroom, where poor Polly
lay on the bed with Phronsie, her eyes bandaged with a soft old
handkerchief, \x93I\x92ll set the table.\x94

\x93There isn\x92t any table to set,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, sadly; \x93there isn\x92t
anybody to eat anything, Davie; you and Joel can get something out of
the cupboard.\x94

\x93Can we get whatever we\x92ve a mind to, ma?\x94 cried Joel, who followed
Davie, rubbing his face with a towel after his morning ablutions.

\x93Yes,\x94 replied his mother, absently.

\x93Come on, Dave!\x94 cried Joel; \x93we\x92ll have a breakfast!\x94

\x93We mustn\x92t,\x94 said little Davie, doubtfully, \x93eat the whole, Joey.\x94

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\x92s eyes. The little man looked at her keenly over his
spectacles; then he said, \x93When were you taken?\x94

\x93This morning,\x94 answered Polly, her eyes smarting.

\x93Didn\x92t you feel badly before?\x94 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\x92t stop;
only her eyes had bothered her so; she didn\x92t mind her back so much.

\x93I thought so,\x94 said the doctor, when Polly answered. \x93And those eyes
of yours have been used too much; what has she been doing, ma\x92am?\x94 He
turned around sharply on Mrs. Pepper as he asked this.

\x93Sewing,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93and everything; Polly does everything,
sir.\x94

\x93Humph!\x94 said the doctor; \x93well, she won\x92t again in one spell; her eyes
are very bad.\x94

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, \x93Don\x92t make my Polly sick! oh! please don\x92t!\x94

\x93Hey!\x94 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, \x93We\x92re
going to make Polly well, little girl; so that she can see splendidly.\x94

\x93Will you, really?\x94 asked the child, doubtfully.

\x93Yes,\x94 said the doctor; \x93we\x92ll try hard; and you mustn\x92t cry; \x91cause
then Polly\x92ll cry, and that will make her eyes very bad; very bad
indeed,\x94 he repeated, impressively.

\x93I won\x92t cry,\x94 said Phronsie; \x93no, not one bit.\x94 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\x92t cool them one bit.

\x93If \x91twas anythin\x92 but my eyes, mammy, I could stand it,\x94 she bewailed,
flouncing over and over in her impatience; \x93and who\x92ll do all the work
now?\x94

\x93Don\x92t think of the work, Polly,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper.

\x93I can\x92t do anything but think,\x94 said poor Polly.

Just at that moment a queer noise out in the kitchen was heard.

\x93Do go out, mother, and see what \x91tis,\x94 said Polly.

\x93I\x92ve come,\x94 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, \x93to set by you a spell; what\x92s the matter?\x94 she asked, and
stopped, amazed to see Polly in bed.

\x93Oh, Polly\x92s taken,\x94 screamed Mrs. Pepper in her ear.

\x93Taken!\x94 repeated the old lady, \x93what is it--a fit?\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; \x93the same as Ben\x92s got; and Phronsie; the
measles.\x94

\x93The measles, has she?\x94 said grandma; \x93well, that\x92s bad; and Ben\x92s away,
you say.\x94

\x93No, he isn\x92t either,\x94 screamed Mrs. Pepper, \x93he\x92s got them, too!\x94

\x93Got two what?\x94 asked grandma.

\x93Measles! he\x92s got the measles too,\x94 repeated Mrs. Pepper, loud as she
could; so loud that the old lady\x92s cap trembled at the noise.

\x93Oh! the dreadful!\x94 said grandma; \x93and this girl too?\x94 laying her hand
on Phronsie\x92s head.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, feeling it a little relief to tell over her
miseries; \x93all three of them!\x94

\x93I haven\x92t,\x94 said Joel, coming in in hopes that grandma had a stray
peppermint or two in her pocket, as she sometimes did; \x93and I\x92m not
going to, either.\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 groaned his mother; \x93that\x92s what Polly said; and she\x92s
got \x91em bad. It\x92s her eyes,\x94 she screamed to grandma, who looked
inquiringly.

\x93Her eyes, is it?\x94 asked Mrs. Bascom; \x93well, I\x92ve got a receet that
cousin Samanthy\x92s folks had when John\x92s children had \x91em; and I\x92ll run
right along home and get it,\x94 and she started to go.

\x93No, you needn\x92t,\x94 screamed Mrs. Pepper; \x93thank you, Mrs. Bascom; but
Dr. Fisher\x92s been here; and he put something on Polly\x92s eyes; and he
said it mustn\x92t be touched.\x94

\x93Hey?\x94 said the old lady; so Mrs. Pepper had to go all over it again,
till at last she made her understand that Polly\x92s eyes were taken care
of, and they must wait for time to do the rest.

\x93You come along of me,\x94 whispered grandma, when at last her call was
done, to Joel who stood by the door. \x93I\x92ve got some peppermints to home;
I forgot to bring \x91em.\x94

\x93Yes\x92m,\x94 said Joel, brightening up.

\x93Where you going, Joe?\x94 asked Mrs. Pepper, seeing him move off with Mrs.
Bascom; \x93I may want you.\x94

\x93Oh, I\x92ve got to go over to grandma\x92s,\x94 said Joel briskly; \x93she wants
me.\x94

\x93Well, don\x92t be gone long then,\x94 replied his mother.

\x93There,\x94 said grandma, going into her \x93keeping-room\x94 to an old-fashioned
chest of drawers; opening one, she took therefrom a paper, from which
she shook out before Joe\x92s delighted eyes some red and white peppermint
drops. \x93There 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.\x94

\x93She won\x92t take \x91em,\x94 said Joel, wishing he had the measles. \x93Well, you
try her,\x94 said grandma; \x93run along now.\x94 But it was useless to tell Joel
that, for he was half-way home already. He carried out grandma\x92s wishes,
and distributed conscientiously the precious drops. But when he came to
Polly, she didn\x92t answer; and looking at her in surprise he saw two big
tears rolling out under the bandage and wetting the pillow.

\x93I don\x92t want \x91em, Joe,\x94 said Polly, when he made her understand that
\x93twas peppermints, real peppermints;\x94 \x93you may have \x91em.\x94

\x93Try one, Polly; they\x92re real good,\x94 said Joel, who had an undefined
wish to comfort; \x93there, open your mouth.\x94

So Polly opened her mouth, and Joel put one in with satisfaction.

\x93Isn\x92t it good?\x94 he asked, watching her crunch it.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Polly, \x93real good; where\x92d you get \x91em?\x94

\x93Over to Grandma Bascom\x92s,\x94 said Joel; \x93she gave me lots for all of us;
have another, Polly?\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Polly, \x93not yet; you put two on my pillow where I can reach
\x91em; and then you keep the rest, Joel.\x94

\x93I\x92ll put three,\x94 said Joel, counting out one red and two white ones,
and laying them on the pillow; \x93there!\x94

\x93And I want another, Joey, I do,\x94 said Phronsie from the other side of
the bed.

\x93Well, you may have one,\x94 said Joel; \x93a red one, Phronsie; yes, you may
have two. Now come on, Dave; we\x92ll have the rest out by the wood-pile.\x94

How they ever got through that day, I don\x92t know. But late in the
afternoon carriage wheels were heard; and then they stopped right at the
Peppers\x92 little brown gate.

\x93Polly,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, running to the bedroom door, \x93it\x92s Mrs.
Henderson!\x94

\x93Is it?\x94 said Polly, from the darkened room, \x93oh! I\x92m so glad! is Miss
Jerushy with her?\x94 she asked, fearfully.

\x93No,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, going back to ascertain; \x93why, it\x92s the parson
himself! Deary! how we look!\x94

\x93Never mind, mammy,\x94 called back Polly, longing to spring out of bed and
fix up a bit.

\x93I\x92m sorry to hear the children are sick,\x94 said Mrs. Henderson, coming
in, in her sweet, gentle way.

\x93We didn\x92t know it,\x94 said the minister, \x93until this morning--can we see
them?\x94

\x93Oh yes, sir,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; \x93Ben\x92s upstairs; and Polly and Phronsie
are in here.\x94

\x93Poor little things!\x94 said Mrs. Henderson, compassionately; \x93hadn\x92t you
better,\x94 turning to the minister, \x93go up and see Ben first, while I will
visit the little girls?\x94

So the minister mounted the crooked stairs; and Mrs. Henderson went
straight up to Polly\x92s side; and the first thing Polly knew, a cool,
gentle hand was laid on her hot head, and a voice said, \x93I\x92ve come to
see my little chicken now!\x94

\x93Oh, ma\x92am,\x94 said Polly, bursting into a sob, \x93I don\x92t care about my
eyes--only mammy--\x94 and she broke right down.

\x93I know,\x94 said the minister\x92s wife, soothingly; \x93but it\x92s for you to
bear patiently, Polly--what do you suppose the chicks were doing when I
came away?\x94 And Mrs. Henderson, while she held Polly\x92s hand, smiled and
nodded encouragingly to Phronsie, who was staring at her from the other
side of the bed.

\x93I don\x92t know, ma\x92am,\x94 said Polly; \x93please tell us.\x94

\x93Well, they were all fighting over a grasshopper--yes, ten of them.\x94

\x93Which one got it?\x94 asked Polly in intense interest; \x93oh! I hope the
white one did!\x94

\x93Well, he looked as much like winning as any of them,\x94 said the lady,
laughing.

\x93Bless her!\x94 thought Mrs. Pepper to herself out in the kitchen,
finishing the sack Polly had left; \x93she\x92s a parson\x92s wife, I say!\x94

And then the minister came down from Ben\x92s room, and went into the
bedroom; and Mrs. Henderson went up-stairs into the loft.

\x93So,\x94 he said kindly, as after patting Phronsie\x92s head he came over and
sat down by Polly, \x93this is the little girl who came to see me when I
was sick.\x94

\x93Oh, sir,\x94 said Polly, \x93I\x92m so glad you wasn\x92t!\x94

\x93Well, when I come again,\x94 said Mr. Henderson, rising after a merry
chat, \x93I see I shall have to slip a book into my pocket, and read for
those poor eyes.\x94

\x93Oh, thank you!\x94 cried Polly; and then she stopped and blushed.

\x93Well, what is it?\x94 asked the minister, encouragingly.

\x93Ben loves to hear reading,\x94 said Polly.

\x93Does he? well, by that time, my little girl, I guess Ben will be
down-stairs; he\x92s all right, Polly; don\x92t you worry about him--and I\x92ll
sit in the kitchen, by the bedroom door, and you can hear nicely.\x94

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\x92
little kitchen.

But Polly\x92s eyes didn\x92t get any better, with all the care; and the lines
of worry on Mrs. Pepper\x92s 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. \x93I know she\x92s--and
there isn\x92t any use keeping it from me,\x94 said the poor woman--\x93she\x92s
going to be stone-blind!\x94

\x93My good woman,\x94 Dr. Fisher\x92s voice was very gentle; and he took the
hard, brown hand in his own--\x93your 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.\x94

\x93Praise the Lord!\x94 cried Mrs. Pepper, throwing her apron over her
head; and then she sobbed on, \x93and thank you, sir--I can\x92t ever thank
you--for--for--if Polly was blind, we might as well give up!\x94

The next day, Phronsie, who had the doctor\x92s 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\x92t seen since she was first taken
sick.

\x93Oh, I want on my very best shoes,\x94 she cried; \x93can\x92t I, mammy?\x94

\x93Oh, no, Phronsie; you must keep them nice,\x94 remonstrated her mother;
\x93you can\x92t wear \x91em every-day, you know.\x94

\x93\x91Tisn\x92t every-day,\x94 said Phronsie, slowly; \x93it\x92s only one day.\x94

\x93Well, and then you\x92ll want \x91em on again tomorrow,\x94 said her mother.

\x93Oh, no, I won\x92t!\x94 cried Phronsie; \x93never, no more to-morrow, if I can
have \x91em to-day; please, mammy dear!\x94

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.

\x93My own, very own shoes! whole mine!\x94 she cried, and trudged out into
the kitchen to put them on herself.

\x93Hulloa!\x94 cried Dr. Fisher, coming in about a quarter of an hour later
to find her tugging laboriously at the buttons--\x93new shoes! I declare!\x94

\x93My own!\x94 cried Phronsie, sticking out one foot for inspection, where
every button was in the wrong button-hole, \x93and they\x92ve got red tops,
too!\x94

\x93So they have,\x94 said the doctor, getting down on the floor beside her;
\x93beautiful red tops, aren\x92t they?\x94

\x93Be-yew-ti-ful,\x94 sang the child delightedly.

\x93Does Polly have new shoes every day?\x94 asked the doctor in a low voice,
pretending to examine the other foot.

Phronsie opened her eyes very wide at this.

\x93Oh, no, she don\x92t have anything, Polly don\x92t.\x94

\x93And what does Polly want most of all--do you know? see if you can tell
me.\x94 And the doctor put on the most alluring expression that he could
muster.

\x93Oh, I know!\x94 cried Phronsie, with a very wise look. \x93There now,\x94 cried
the doctor, \x93you\x92re the girl for me! to think you know! so, what is it?\x94

Phronsie got up very gravely, and with one shoe half on, she leaned over
and whispered in the doctor\x92s ear:

\x93A stove!\x94

\x93A what?\x94 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; \x93why,
she\x92s got one.\x94

\x93Oh,\x94 said the child, \x93it won\x92t burn; and sometimes Polly cries, she
does, when she\x92s all alone--and I see her.\x94

\x93Now,\x94 said the doctor, very sympathetically, \x93that\x92s too bad; that is!
and then what does she do?\x94

\x93Oh, Ben stuffs it up,\x94 said the child, laughing; \x93and so does Polly
too, with paper; and then it all tumbles out quick; oh! just as quick!\x94
 And Phronsie shook her yellow head at the dismal remembrance.

\x93Do you suppose,\x94 said the doctor, getting up, \x93that 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?

\x93Oh, I do!\x94 cried Phronsie, hopping on one toe; \x93it\x92s me!\x94

\x93Very well, then,\x94 said Dr. Fisher, going to the bedroom door, \x93we\x92ll
lookout for to-morrow, then.\x94

To poor Polly, lying in the darkened room, or sitting up in the big
rocking-chair--for Polly wasn\x92t 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!

\x93Oh, dear, I can\x92t bear it!\x94 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\x92t tell anyone!

\x93I know it\x92s a week,\x94 she said, \x93since dinnertime! If Ben were only
well, to talk to me.\x94

\x93Oh, I say, Polly,\x94 screamed Joel at that moment running in, \x93Ben\x92s
a-comin\x92 down the stairs!\x94

\x93Stop, Joe,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; \x93you shouldn\x92t have told; he wanted to
surprise Polly.\x94

\x93Oh, is he!\x94 cried Polly, clasping her hands in rapture; \x93mammy, can\x92t I
take off this horrid bandage, and see him?\x94

\x93Dear me, no!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, springing forward; \x93not for the world,
Polly! Dr. Fisher\x92d have our ears off!\x94

\x93Well, I can hear, any way,\x94 said Polly, resigning herself to the
remaining comfort; \x93here he is! oh, Ben!\x94

\x93There,\x94 said Ben, grasping Polly, bandage and all; \x93now we\x92re all
right; and say, Polly, you\x92re a brick!\x94

\x93Mammy told me not to say that the other day,\x94 said Joel, with a very
virtuous air.

\x93Can\x92t help it,\x94 said Ben, who was a little wild over Polly, and
besides, he had been sick himself, and had borne a good deal too.

\x93Now,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, after the first excitement was over, \x93you\x92re
so comfortable together, and Phronsie don\x92t want me now, I\x92ll go to the
store; I must get some more work if Mr. Atkins\x92ll give it to me.\x94

\x93I\x92ll be all right now, mammy, that Ben\x92s here,\x94 cried Polly, settling
back into her chair, with Phronsie on the stool at her feet.

\x93I\x92m goin\x92 to tell her stories, ma,\x94 cried Ben, \x93so you needn\x92t worry
about us.\x94

\x93Isn\x92t it funny, Ben,\x94 said Polly, as the gate clicked after the mother,
\x93to be sitting still, and telling stories in the daytime?\x94

\x93Rather funny!\x94 replied Ben.

\x93Well, do go on,\x94 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\x92s other side, his hands clasped tight together, just as
eager, though he said nothing.

\x93Well; once upon a time,\x94 began Ben delightfully, and launched into one
of the stories that the children thought perfectly lovely.

\x93Oh, Bensie,\x94 cried Polly, entranced, as they listened with bated
breath, \x93however do you think of such nice things!\x94

\x93I\x92ve had time enough to think, the last week,\x94 said Ben, laughing, \x93to
last a life-time!\x94

\x93Do go on,\x94 put in Joel, impatient at the delay.

\x93Don\x92t hurry him so,\x94 said Polly, reprovingly; \x93he isn\x92t strong.\x94

\x93Ben,\x94 said David, drawing a long breath, his eyes very big--, \x93did he
really see a bear?\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Ben; \x93oh! where was I?\x94

\x93Why, you said Tommy heard a noise,\x94 said Polly, \x93and he thought it was
a bear.\x94

\x93Oh, yes,\x94 said Ben; \x93I remember; \x91twasn\x92t a--\x94

\x93Oh, make it a bear, Ben!\x94 cried Joel, terribly disappointed; \x93don\x92t let
it be not a bear.\x94

\x93Why, I can\x92t,\x94 said Ben; \x93twouldn\x92t sound true.\x94

\x93Never mind, make it sound true,\x94 insisted Joel; \x93you can make anything
true.\x94

\x93Very well,\x94 said Ben, laughing; \x93I suppose I must.\x94

\x93Make it two bears, Ben,\x94 begged little Phronsie.

\x93Oh, no, Phronsie, that\x92s too much,\x94 cried Joel; \x93that\x92ll spoil it; but
make it a big bear, do Ben, and have him bite him somewhere, and most
kill him.\x94

\x93Oh, Joel!\x94 cried Polly, while David\x92s 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, \x93Well, I declare,\x94 sounded Mrs.
Pepper\x92s cheery voice coming in upon them, \x93if this isn\x92t comfortable!\x94

\x93Oh, mammy!\x94 cried Phronsie, jumping out of Polly\x92s arms, whither she
had taken refuge during the thrilling tale, and running to her mother
who gathered her baby up, \x93we\x92ve had a bear! a real, live bear, we have!
Ben made him!\x94

\x93Have you!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, taking off her shawl, and laying her
parcel of work down on the table, \x93now, that\x92s nice!\x94

\x93Oh, mammy!\x94 cried Polly, \x93it does seem so good to be all together
again!\x94

\x93And I thank the Lord!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, looking down on her happy
little group; and the tears were in her eyes--\x93and children, we ought to
be very good and please Him, for He\x92s been so good to us.\x94



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 \x93tailoring\x94 to be done for her boys.

\x93Now, Joel,\x94 she said, putting on her bonnet before the cracked
looking-glass, \x93you stay along of Polly; Ben must go up to bed, the
doctor said; and Davie\x92s going to the store for some molasses; so you
and Polly must keep house.\x94

\x93Yes\x92m,\x94 said Joel; \x93may I have somethin\x92 to eat, ma?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; \x93but don\x92t you eat the new bread; you may have
as much as you want of the old.\x94

\x93Isn\x92t there any molasses, mammy?\x94 asked Joel, as she bade Polly
good-bye! and gave her numberless charges \x93to be careful of your eyes,\x94
 and \x93not to let a crack of light in through the curtain,\x94 as the old
green paper shade was called.

\x93No; if you\x92re very hungry, you can eat bread,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper,
sensibly.

\x93Joel,\x94 said Polly, after the mother had gone, \x93I do wish you could read
to me.\x94

\x93Well, I can\x92t,\x94 said Joel, glad he didn\x92t know how; \x93I thought the
minister was comin\x92.\x94

\x93Well, he was,\x94 said Polly, \x93but mammy said he had to go out of town to
a consequence.\x94

\x93A what!\x94 asked Joel, very much impressed.

\x93A con--\x94 repeated Polly. \x93Well, it began with a con--and I am
sure--yes, very sure it was consequence.\x94

\x93That must be splendid,\x94 said Joel, coming up to her chair, and
slowly drawing a string he held in his hand back and forth, \x93to go to
consequences, and everything! When I\x92m a man, Polly Pepper, I\x92m going to
be a minister, and have a nice time, and go--just everywhere!\x94

\x93Oh, Joel!\x94 exclaimed Polly, quite shocked; \x93you couldn\x92t be one; you
aren\x92t good enough.\x94

\x93I don\x92t care,\x94 said Joel, not at all dashed by her plainness, \x93I\x92ll be
good then--when I\x92m a big man; don\x92t you suppose, Polly,\x94 as a new idea
struck him, \x93that Mr. Henderson ever is naughty?\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Polly, very decidedly; \x93never, never, never!\x94

\x93Then, I don\x92t want to be one,\x94 said Joel, veering round with a sigh of
relief, \x93and besides I\x92d rather have a pair of horses like Mr. Slocum\x92s,
and then I could go everywheres, I guess!\x94

\x93And sell tin?\x94 asked Polly, \x93just like Mr. Slocum?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Joel; \x93this is the way I\x92d go--Gee-whop! gee-whoa!\x94 and Joel
pranced with his imaginary steeds all around the room, making about as
much noise as any other four boys, as he brought up occasionally against
the four-poster or the high old bureau.

\x93Well!\x94 said a voice close up by Polly\x92s chair, that made her skip with
apprehension, it was so like Miss Jerusha Henderson\x92s--Joel was whooping
away behind the bedstead to his horses that had become seriously
entangled, so he didn\x92t hear anything. But when Polly said, bashfully,
\x93I can\x92t see anything, ma\x92am,\x94 he came up red and shining to the
surface, and stared with all his might.

\x93I came to see you, little girl,\x94 said Miss Jerusha severely, seating
herself stiffly by Polly\x92s side.

\x93Thank you, ma\x92am,\x94 said Polly, faintly.

\x93Who\x92s this boy?\x94 asked the lady, turning around squarely on Joel, and
eying him from head to foot.

\x93He\x92s my brother Joel,\x94 said Polly.

Joel still stared.

\x93Which brother?\x94 pursued Miss Jerusha, like a census-taker.

\x93He is next to me,\x94 said Polly, wishing her mother was home; \x93he\x92s nine,
Joel is.\x94

\x93He\x92s big enough to do something to help his mother,\x94 said Miss
Jerusha, looking him through and through. \x93Don\x92t you think you might do
something, when the others are sick, and your poor mother is working so
hard?\x94 she continued, in a cold voice.

\x93I do something,\x94 blurted out Joel, sturdily, \x93lots and lots!\x94

\x93You shouldn\x92t say \x91lots,\x94 reproved Miss Jerusha, with a sharp look over
her spectacles, \x93tisn\x92t proper for boys to talk so; what do you do all
day long?\x94 she asked, turning back to Polly, after a withering glance at
Joel, who still stared.

\x93I can\x92t do anything, ma\x92am,\x94 replied Polly, sadly, \x93I can\x92t see to do
anything.\x94

\x93Well, you might knit, I should think,\x94 said her visitor, \x93it\x92s dreadful
for a girl as big as you are to sit all day idle; I had sore eyes once
when I was a little girl--how old are you?\x94 she asked, abruptly.

\x93Eleven last month,\x94 said Polly.

\x93Well, I wasn\x92t only nine when I knit a stocking; and I had sore eyes,
too; you see I was a very little girl, and--\x94

\x93Was you ever little?\x94 interrupted Joel, in extreme incredulity, drawing
near, and looking over the big square figure.

\x93Hey?\x94 said Miss Jerusha; so Joel repeated his question before Polly
could stop him.

\x93Of course,\x94 answered Miss Jerusha; and then she added, tartly, \x93little
boys shouldn\x92t speak unless they\x92re spoken to. Now,\x94 and she turned back
to Polly again, \x93didn\x92t you ever knit a stocking?\x94

\x93No, ma\x92am,\x94 said Polly, \x93not a whole one.\x94

\x93Dear me!\x94 exclaimed Miss Jerusha; \x93did I ever!\x94 And she raised her
black mitts in intense disdain. \x93A big girl like you never to knit a
stocking! to think your mother should bring you up so! and--\x94

\x93She didn\x92t bring us up,\x94 screamed Joel, in indignation, facing her with
blazing eyes.

\x93Joel,\x94 said Polly, \x93be still.\x94

\x93And you\x92re very impertinent, too,\x94 said Miss Jerusha; \x93a good child
never is impertinent.\x94

Polly sat quite still; and Miss Jerusha continued:

\x93Now, I hope you will learn to be industrious; and when I come again, I
will see what you have done.\x94

\x93You aren\x92t ever coming again,\x94 said Joel, defiantly; \x93no, never!\x94

\x93Joel!\x94 implored Polly, and in her distress she pulled up her bandage
as she looked at him; \x93you know mammy\x92ll be so sorry at you! Oh, ma\x92am,
and\x94 she turned to Miss Jerusha, who was now thoroughly aroused to the
duty she saw before her of doing these children good, \x93I don\x92t know what
is the reason, ma\x92am; Joel never talks so; he\x92s real good; and--\x94

\x93It only shows,\x94 said the lady, seeing her way quite clear for a little
exhortation, \x93that you\x92ve all had your own way from infancy; and that
you don\x92t do what you might to make your mother\x92s life a happy one.\x94

\x93Oh, ma\x92am,\x94 cried Polly, and she burst into a flood of tears, \x93please,
please don\x92t say that!\x94

\x93And I say,\x94 screamed Joel, stamping his small foot, \x93if you make Polly
cry you\x92ll kill her! Don\x92t Polly, don\x92t!\x94 and the boy put both arms
around her neck, and soothed and comforted her in every way he could
think of. And Miss Jerusha, seeing no way to make herself heard,
disappeared feeling pity for children who would turn away from good
advice.

But still Polly cried on; all the pent-up feelings that had been so long
controlled had free vent now. She really couldn\x92t stop! Joel, frightened
to death, at last said, \x93I\x92m going to wake up Ben.\x94

That brought Polly to; and she sobbed out, \x93Oh, no, Jo--ey--I\x92ll stop.\x94

\x93I will,\x94 said Joel, seeing his advantage; \x93I\x92m going, Polly,\x94 and he
started to the foot of the stairs.

\x93No, I\x92m done now, Joe,\x94 said Polly, wiping her eyes, and choking back
her thoughts--\x93oh, Joe! I must scream! my eyes aches so!\x94 and poor Polly
fairly writhed all over the chair.

\x93What\x92ll I do?\x94 said Joel, at his wits\x92 end, running back, \x93do you want
some water?\x94

\x93Oh, no,\x94 gasped Polly; \x93doctor wouldn\x92t let me; oh! I wish mammy\x92d
come!\x94

\x93I\x92ll go and look for her,\x94 suggested Joel, feeling as if he must do
something; and he\x92d rather be out at the gate, than to see Polly suffer.

\x93That won\x92t bring her,\x94 said Polly; trying to keep still; \x93I\x92ll try to
wait.\x94

\x93Here she is now!\x94 cried Joel, peeping out of the window; \x93oh! goody!\x94



JOEL\x92S TURN


\x93Well,\x94 Mrs. Pepper\x92s tone was unusually blithe as she stepped into the
kitchen--\x93you\x92ve had a nice time, I suppose--what in the world!\x94 and she
stopped at the bedroom door.

\x93Oh, mammy, if you\x92d been here!\x94 said Joel, while Polly sat still, only
holding on to her eyes as if they were going to fly out; \x93there\x92s been
a big woman here; she came right in--and she talked awfully! and Polly\x92s
been a-cryin\x92, and her eyes ache dreadfully--and--\x94

\x93Been crying!\x94 repeated Mrs. Pepper, coming up to poor Polly. \x93Polly
been crying!\x94 she still repeated.

\x93Oh, mammy, I couldn\x92t help it,\x94 said Polly; \x93she said--\x94 and in spite
of all she could do, the rain of tears began again, which bade fair to
be as uncontrolled as before. But Mrs. Pepper took her up firmly in her
arms, as if she were Phronsie, and sat down in the old rocking-chair and
just patted her back.

\x93There, there,\x94 she whispered, soothingly, \x93don\x92t think of it, Polly;
mother\x92s got home.\x94

\x93Oh, mammy,\x94 said Polly, crawling up to the comfortable neck for
protection, \x93I ought not to mind; but \x91twas Miss Jerusha Henderson; and
she said--\x94

\x93What did she say?\x94 asked Mrs. Pepper, thinking perhaps it to be the
wiser thing to let Polly free her mind.

\x93Oh, she said that we ought to be doing something; and I ought to knit,
and--\x94

\x93Go on,\x94 said her mother.

\x93And then Joel got naughty; oh, mammy, he never did so before; and I
couldn\x92t stop him,\x94 cried Polly, in great distress; \x93I really couldn\x92t,
mammy--and he talked to her; and he told her she wasn\x92t ever coming here
again.\x94

\x93Joel shouldn\x92t have said that,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, and under her breath
something was added that Polly even failed to hear--\x93but no more she
isn\x92t!\x94

\x93And, mammy,\x94 cried Polly--and she flung her arms around her mother\x92s
neck and gave her a grasp that nearly choked Mrs. Pepper, \x93ain\x92t I
helpin\x92 you some, mammy? Oh! I wish I could do something big for you?
Ain\x92t you happy, mammy?\x94

\x93For the land\x92s sakes!\x94 cried Mrs. Pepper, straining Polly to her heart,
\x93whatever has that woman--whatever could she have said to you? Such a
girl as you are, too!\x94 cried Mrs. Pepper, hugging Polly, and covering
her with kisses so tender, that Polly, warmed and cuddled up to her
heart\x92s content, was comforted to the full.

\x93Well,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, when at last she thought she had formed
between Polly and Joel about the right idea of the visit, \x93well, now we
won\x92t think of it, ever any more; \x91tisn\x92t worth it, Polly, you know.\x94

But poor Polly! and poor mother! They both were obliged to think of it.
Nothing could avert the suffering of the next few days, caused by that
long flow of burning tears.

\x93Nothing feels good on \x91em, mammy,\x94 said Polly, at last, twisting her
hands in the vain attempt to keep from rubbing the aching, inflamed eyes
that drove her nearly wild with their itching, \x93there isn\x92t any use in
trying anything.\x94

\x93There will be use,\x94 energetically protested Mrs. Pepper, bringing
another cool bandage, \x93as long as you\x92ve got an eye in your head, Polly
Pepper!\x94

Dr. Fisher\x92s face, when he first saw the change that the fateful visit
had wrought, and heard the accounts, was very grave indeed. Everything
had been so encouraging on his last visit, that he had come very near
promising Polly speedy freedom from the hateful bandage.

But the little Pepper household soon had something else to think of more
important even than Polly\x92s eyes, for now the heartiest, the jolliest
of all the little group was down--Joel. How he fell sick, they scarcely
knew, it all came so suddenly. The poor, bewildered family had hardly
time to think, before delirium and, perhaps, death stared them in the
face.

When Polly first heard it, by Phronsie\x92s pattering downstairs and
screaming: \x93Oh, Polly, Joey\x92s dre-ad-ful sick, he is!\x94 she jumped right
up, and tore off the bandage.

\x93Now, I will help mother! I will, so there!\x94 and in another minute she
would have been up in the sick room. But the first thing she knew, a
gentle but firm hand was laid upon hers; and she found herself back
again in the old rocking-chair, and listening to the Doctor\x92s words
which were quite stern and decisive.

\x93Now, I tell you,\x94 he said, \x93you must not take off that bandage again;
do you know the consequences? You will be blind! and then you will be a
care to your mother all your life!\x94

\x93I shall be blind, anyway,\x94 said Polly, despairingly; \x93so \x91twon\x92t make
any difference.\x94

\x93No; your eyes will come out of it all right, only I did hope,\x94 and the
good doctor\x92s face fell--\x93that the other two boys would escape; but,\x94
 and he brightened up at sight of Polly\x92s forlorn visage--\x93see you do
your part by keeping still.\x94

But there came a day soon when everything was still around the once
happy little brown house--when only whispers were heard from white lips;
and thoughts were fearfully left unuttered.

On the morning of one of these days, when Mrs. Pepper felt she could not
exist an hour longer without sleep, kind Mrs. Beebe came to stay until
things were either better or worse.

Still the cloud hovered, dark and forbidding. At last, one afternoon,
when Polly was all alone, she could endure it no longer. She flung
herself down by the side of the old bed, and buried her face in the gay
patched bed-quilt.

\x93Dear God,\x94 she said, \x93make me willing to have anything,\x94 she
hesitated--\x93yes, anything happen; to be blind forever, and to have Joey
sick, only make me good.\x94

How long she staid there she never knew; for she fell asleep--the first
sleep she had had since Joey was taken sick. And little Mrs. Beebe
coming in found her thus.

\x93Polly,\x94 the good woman said, leaning over her, \x93you poor, pretty
creeter, you; I\x92m goin\x92 to tell you somethin\x92--there, there, just to
think! Joel\x92s goin\x92 to get well!\x94

\x93Oh, Mrs. Beebe!\x94 cried Polly, tumbling over in a heap on the floor, her
face, as much as could be seen under the bandage, in a perfect glow, \x93Is
he, really?\x94

\x93Yes, to be sure; the danger\x92s all over now,\x94 said the little old lady,
inwardly thinking--\x93If I hadn\x92t a-come!\x94

\x93Well, then, the Lord wants him to,\x94 cried Polly, in rapture; \x93don\x92t he,
Mrs. Beebe?\x94

\x93To be sure--to be sure,\x94 repeated the kind friend, only half
understanding.

\x93Well, I don\x92t care about my eyes, then,\x94 cried Polly; and to Mrs.
Beebe\x92s intense astonishment and dismay, she spun round and round in the
middle of the floor.

\x93Oh, Polly, Polly!\x94 the little old lady cried, running up to her, \x93do
stop! the doctor wouldn\x92t let you! he wouldn\x92t really, you know! it\x92ll
all go to your eyes.\x94

\x93I don\x92t care,\x94 repeated Polly, in the middle of a spin; but she
stopped obediently; \x93seems as if I just as soon be blind as not; it\x92s so
beautiful Joey\x92s going to get well!\x94



SUNSHINE AGAIN


But as Joel was smitten down suddenly, so he came up quickly, and his
hearty nature asserted itself by rapid strides toward returning health;
and one morning he astonished them all by turning over suddenly and
exclaiming:

\x93I want something to eat!\x94

\x93Bless the Lord!\x94 cried Mrs. Pepper, \x93now he\x92s going to live!\x94

\x93But he mustn\x92t eat,\x94 protested Mrs. Beebe, in great alarm, trotting for
the cup of gruel. \x93Here, you pretty creeter you, here\x92s something nice.\x94
 And she temptingly held the spoon over Joel\x92s mouth; but with a grimace
he turned away.

\x93Oh, I want something to eat! some gingerbread or some bread and
butter.\x94

\x93Dear me!\x94 ejaculated Mrs. Beebe. \x93Gingerbread!\x94 Poor Mrs. Pepper saw
the hardest part of her trouble now before her, as she realized that the
returning appetite must be fed only on strengthening food; for where it
was to come from she couldn\x92t tell.

\x93The Lord only knows where we\x92ll get it,\x94 she groaned within herself.

Yes, He knew. A rap at the door, and little David ran down to find the
cause.

\x93Oh, mammy,\x94 he said, \x93Mrs. Henderson sent it--see! see!\x94 And in the
greatest excitement he placed in her lap a basket that smelt savory and
nice even before it was opened. When it was opened, there lay a little
bird delicately roasted, and folded in a clean napkin; also a glass of
jelly, crimson and clear.

\x93Oh, Joey,\x94 cried Mrs. Pepper, almost overwhelmed with joy, \x93see what
Mrs. Henderson sent you! now you can eat fit for a king!\x94

That little bird certainly performed its mission in life; for as Mrs.
Beebe said, \x93It just touched the spot!\x94 and from that very moment Joel
improved so rapidly they could hardly believe their eyes.

\x93Hoh! I haven\x92t been sick!\x94 he cried on the third day, true to his
nature. \x93Mammy, I want to get up.\x94

\x93Oh, dear, no! you mustn\x92t, Joel,\x94 cried Mrs. Pepper in a fright,
running up to him as he was preparing to give the bedclothes a lusty
kick; \x93you\x92ll send \x91em in.\x94

\x93Send what in?\x94 asked Joel, looking up at his mother in terror, as the
dreadful thought made him pause.

\x93Why, the measles, Joey; they\x92ll all go in if you get out.\x94

\x93How they goin\x92 to get in again, I\x92d like to know?\x94 asked Joel, looking
at the little red spots on his hands in incredulity; say, ma!

\x93Well, they will,\x94 said his mother, \x93as you\x92ll find to your sorrow if
you get out of bed.\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Joel, beginning to whimper, as he drew into bed again,
\x93when can I get up, mammy!\x94

\x93Oh, in a day or two,\x94 responded Mrs. Pepper, cheerfully; \x93you\x92re
getting on so finely you\x92ll be as smart as a cricket! Shouldn\x92t you
say he might get up in a day or two, Mrs. Beebe?\x94 she appealed to that
individual who was knitting away cheerily in the corner.

\x93Well, if he keeps on as he\x92s begun, I shouldn\x92t know what to think,\x94
 replied Mrs. Beebe. \x93It beats all how quick he\x92s picked up. I never see
anything like it, I\x92m sure!\x94

And as Mrs. Beebe was a great authority in sickness, the old, sunny
cheeriness began to creep into the brown house once more, and to bubble
over as of yore.

\x93Seems as if \x91twas just good to live,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, thankfully
once, when her thoughts were too much for her. \x93I don\x92t believe I shall
ever care how poor we are,\x94 she continued, \x93as long as we\x92re together.\x94

\x93And that\x92s just what the Lord meant, maybe,\x94 replied good Mrs. Beebe,
who was preparing to go home.

Joel kept the house in a perfect uproar all through his getting well.
Mrs. Pepper observed one day, when he had been more turbulent than
usual, that she was \x93almost worn to a thread.\x94

\x93Twasn\x92t anything to take care of you, Joe,\x94 she added, \x93when you were
real sick, because then I knew where you were; but--well, you won\x92t ever
have the measles again, I s\x92pose, and that\x92s some comfort!\x94

Little David, who had been nearly stunned by the sickness that had laid
aside his almost constant companion, could express his satisfaction and
joy in no other way than by running every third minute and begging to do
something for him. And Joel, who loved dearly to be waited on, improved
every opportunity that offered; which Mrs. Pepper observing, soon put a
stop to.

\x93You\x92ll run his legs off, Joel,\x94 at last she said, when he sent David
the third time down to the wood-pile for a stick of just the exact
thickness, and which the little messenger declared wasn\x92t to be found.
\x93Haven\x92t you any mercy? You\x92ve kept him going all day, too,\x94 she added,
glancing at David\x92s pale face.

\x93Oh, mammy,\x94 panted David, \x93don\x92t; I love to go. Here Joe, is the best I
could find,\x94 handing him a nice smooth stick.

\x93I know you do,\x94 said his mother; \x93but Joe\x92s getting better now, and he
must learn to spare you.\x94

\x93I don\x92t want to spare folks,\x94 grumbled Joel, whittling away with
energy; \x93I\x92ve been sick--real sick,\x94 he added, lifting his chubby face
to his mother to impress the fact.

\x93I know you have,\x94 she cried, running to kiss her boy; \x93but now, Joe,
you\x92re most well. To-morrow I\x92m going to let you go down-stairs; what do
you think of that!\x94

\x93Hooray!\x94 screamed Joel, throwing away the stick and clapping his hands,
forgetting all about his serious illness, \x93that\x92ll be prime!\x94

\x93Aren\x92t you too sick to go, Joey?\x94 asked Mrs. Pepper, mischievously.

\x93No, I\x92m not sick,\x94 cried Joel, in the greatest alarm, fearful his
mother meant to take back the promise; \x93I\x92ve never been sick. Oh, mammy!
you know you\x92ll let me go, won\x92t your?\x94

\x93I guess so,\x94 laughed his mother.

\x93Come on, Phron,\x94 cried Joel, giving her a whirl.

David, who was too tired for active sport, sat on the floor and watched
them frolic in great delight.

\x93Mammy,\x94 said he, edging up to her side as the sport went on, \x93do you
know, I think it\x92s just good--it\x92s--oh, it\x92s so frisky since Joe got
well, isn\x92t it, mammy?\x94

\x93Yes, indeed,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, giving him a radiant look in return for
his; \x93and when Polly\x92s around again with her two eyes all right--well, I
don\x92t know what we shall do, I declare!\x94

\x93Boo!\x94 cried a voice, next morning, close to Polly\x92s elbow, unmistakably
Joel\x92s.

\x93Oh, Joel Pepper!\x94 she cried, whirling around, \x93is that really you!\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 cried that individual, confidently, \x93it\x92s I; oh, I say, Polly,
I\x92ve had fun up-stairs, I tell you what!\x94

\x93Poor boy!\x94 said Polly, compassionately.

\x93I wasn\x92t a poor boy,\x94 cried Joel, indignantly; \x93I had splendid things
to eat; oh, my!\x94 and he closed one eye and smacked his lips in the
delightful memory.

\x93I know it,\x94 said Polly, \x93and I\x92m so glad, Joel.\x94

\x93I don\x92t suppose I\x92ll ever get so many again,\x94 observed Joel,
reflectively, after a minute\x92s pause, as one and another of the wondrous
delicacies rose before his mind\x92s eye; \x93not unless I have the measles
again--say, Polly, can\x92t I have \x91em again?\x94

\x93Mercy, no!\x94 cried Polly, in intense alarm, \x93I hope not.\x94

\x93Well, I don\x92t,\x94 said Joel, \x93I wish I could have \x91em sixty--no--two
hundred times, so there!\x94

\x93Well, mammy couldn\x92t take care of you,\x94 said Ben; \x93you don\x92t know what
you\x92re sayin\x92, Joe.\x94

\x93Well, then, I wish I could have the things without the measles,\x94 said
Joel, willing to accommodate; \x93only folks won\x92t send \x91em,\x94 he added, in
an injured tone.

\x93Polly\x92s had the hardest time of all,\x94 said her mother, affectionately
patting the bandage.

\x93I think so too,\x94 put in Ben; \x93if my eyes were hurt I\x92d give up.\x94

\x93So would I,\x94 said David; and Joel, to be in the fashion, cried also, \x93I
know I would;\x94 while little Phronsie squeezed up to Polly\x92s side, \x93And
I, too.\x94

\x93Would what, Puss?\x94 asked Ben, tossing her up high. \x93Have good things,\x94
 cried the child, in delight at understanding the others, \x93I would
really, Ben,\x94 she cried, gravely, when they all screamed.

\x93Well, I hope so,\x94 said Ben, tossing her higher yet. \x93Don\x92t laugh at
her, boys,\x94 put in Polly; \x93we\x92re all going to have good times now,
Phronsie, now we\x92ve got well.\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 laughed the child from her high perch; \x93we aren\x92t ever goin\x92 to
be sick again, ever--any more,\x94 she added impressively.

The good times were coming for Polly--coming pretty near, and she
didn\x92t know it! All the children were in the secret; for as Mrs. Pepper
declared, \x93They\x92d have to know it; and if they were let into the secret
they\x92d keep it better.\x94

So they had individually and collectively been intrusted with the
precious secret, and charged with the extreme importance of \x93never
letting any one know,\x94 and they had been nearly bursting ever since with
the wild desire to impart their knowledge.

\x93I\x92m afraid I shall tell,\x94 said David, running to his mother at last;
\x93oh, mammy, I don\x92t dare stay near Polly, I do want to tell so bad.\x94

\x93Oh, no, you won\x92t, David,\x94 said his mother encouragingly, \x93when you
know mother don\x92t want you to; and besides, think how Polly\x92ll look when
she sees it.\x94

\x93I know,\x94 cried David in the greatest rapture, \x93I wouldn\x92t tell for all
the world! I guess she\x92ll look nice, don\x92t you mother?\x94 and he laughed
in glee at the thought.

\x93Poor child! I guess she will!\x94 and then Mrs. Pepper laughed too, till
the little old kitchen rang with delight at the accustomed sound.

The children all had to play \x93clap in and clap out\x94 in the bedroom while
it came; and \x93stage coach,\x94 too--\x93anything to make a noise,\x94 Ben said.
And then after they got nicely started in the game, he would be missing
to help about the mysterious thing in the kitchen, which was safe since
Polly couldn\x92t see him go on account of her bandage. So she didn\x92t
suspect in the least. And although the rest were almost dying to be
out in the kitchen, they conscientiously stuck to their bargain to keep
Polly occupied. Only Joel would open the door and peep once; and then
Phronsie behind him began. \x93Oh, I see the sto----\x94 but David swooped
down on her in a twinkling, and smothered the rest by tickling her.

Once they came very near having the whole thing pop out. \x93Whatever is
that noise in the kitchen?\x94 asked Polly, as they all stopped to
take breath after the scuffle of \x93stage coach.\x94 \x93It sounds just like
grating.\x94

\x93I\x92ll go and see,\x94 cried Joel, promptly; and then he flew out where his
mother and Ben and two men were at work on a big, black thing in the
corner. The old stove, strange to say, was nowhere to be seen! Something
else stood in its place, a shiny, black affair, with a generous supply
of oven doors, and altogether such a comfortable, home-like look about
it, as if it would say--\x93I\x92m going to make sunshine in this house!\x94

\x93Oh, Joel,\x94 cried his mother, turning around on him with very black
hands, \x93you haven\x92t told!\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Joel, \x93but she\x92s hearin\x92 the noise, Polly is.\x94

\x93Hush!\x94 said Ben, to one of the men.

\x93We can\x92t put it up without some noise,\x94 the man replied, \x93but we\x92ll be
as still as we can.\x94

\x93Isn\x92t it a big one, ma?\x94 asked Joel, in the loudest of stage whispers,
that Polly on the other side of the door couldn\x92t have failed to hear if
Phronsie hadn\x92t laughed just then.

\x93Go back, Joe, do,\x94 said Ben, \x93play tag--anything,\x94 he implored, \x93we\x92ll
be through in a few minutes.\x94

\x93It takes forever!\x94 said Joel, disappearing within the bedroom door.
Luckily for the secret, Phronsie just then ran a pin sticking up on the
arm of the old chair, into her finger; and Polly, while comforting her,
forgot to question Joel. And then the mother came in, and though she had
ill-concealed hilarity in her voice, she kept chattering and bustling
around with Polly\x92s supper to such an extent that there was no chance
for a word to be got in.

Next morning it seemed as if the \x93little brown house,\x94 would turn inside
out with joy.

\x93Oh, mammy!\x94 cried Polly, jumping into her arms the first thing, as Dr.
Fisher untied the bandage, \x93my eyes are new! just the same as if I\x92d
just got \x91em! Don\x92t they look different?\x94 she asked, earnestly, running
to the cracked glass to see for herself.

\x93No,\x94 said Ben, \x93I hope not; the same brown ones, Polly.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Polly, hugging first one and then another, \x93everybody looks
different through them, anyway.\x94

\x93Oh,\x94 cried Joel, \x93come out into the kitchen, Polly; it\x92s a great deal
better out there.\x94

\x93May I?\x94 asked Polly, who was in such a twitter looking at everything
that she didn\x92t know which way to turn.

\x93Yes,\x94 said the doctor, smiling at her.

\x93Well, then,\x94 sang Polly, \x93come mammy, we\x92ll go first; isn\x92t it just
lovely--oh, MAMMY!\x94 and Polly turned so very pale, and looked as if she
were going to tumble right over, that Mrs. Pepper grasped her arm in
dismay.

\x93What is it?\x94 she asked, pointing to the corner, while all the children
stood round in the greatest excitement.

\x93Why,\x94 cried Phronsie, \x93it\x92s a stove--don\x92t you know, Polly?\x94 But Polly
gave one plunge across the room, and before anybody could think, she was
down on her knees with her arms flung right around the big, black thing,
and laughing and crying over it, all in the same breath!

And then they all took hold of hands and danced around it like wild
little things; while Dr. Fisher stole out silently--and Mrs. Pepper
laughed till she wiped her eyes to see them go.

\x93We aren\x92t ever goin\x92 to have any more burnt bread,\x94 sang Polly, all out
of breath.

\x93Nor your back isn\x92t goin\x92 to break any more,\x94 panted Ben, with a very
red face.

\x93Hooray!\x94 screamed Joel and David, to fill any pause that might occur,
while Phronsie gurgled and laughed at everything just as it came along.
And then they all danced and capered again; all but Polly, who was
down before the precious stove examining and exploring into ovens and
everything that belonged to it.

\x93Oh, ma,\x94 she announced, coming up to Mrs. Pepper, who had been obliged
to fly to her sewing again, and exhibiting a very crocky face and a
pair of extremely smutty hands, \x93it\x92s most all ovens, and it\x92s just
splendid!\x94

\x93I know it,\x94 answered her mother, delighted in the joy of her child.
\x93My! how black you are, Polly!\x94

\x93Oh, I wish,\x94 cried Polly, as the thought struck her, \x93that Dr. Fisher
could see it! Where did he go to, ma?\x94

\x93I guess Dr. Fisher has seen it before,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, and then
she began to laugh. \x93You haven\x92t ever asked where the stove came from,
Polly.\x94

And to be sure, Polly had been so overwhelmed that if the stove had
really dropped from the clouds it would have been small matter of
astonishment to her, as long as it had come; that was the main thing!

\x93Mammy,\x94 said Polly, turning around slowly, with the stove-lifter in her
hand, \x93did Dr. Fisher bring that stove?\x94

\x93He didn\x92t exactly bring it,\x94 answered her mother, \x93but I guess he knew
something about it.\x94

\x93Oh, he\x92s the splendidest, goodest man!\x94 cried Polly, \x93that ever
breathed! Did he really get us that stove?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93he would; I couldn\x92t stop him. I don\x92t know
how he found out you wanted one so bad; but he said it must be kept as a
surprise when your eyes got well.\x94

\x93And he saved my eyes!\x94 cried Polly, full of gratitude. \x93I\x92ve got a
stove and two new eyes, mammy, just to think!\x94

\x93We ought to be good after all our mercies,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper
thankfully, looking around on her little group. Joel was engaged in the
pleasing occupation of seeing how far he could run his head into the
biggest oven, and then pulling it out to exhibit its blackness, thus
engrossing the others in a perfect hubbub.

\x93I\x92m going to bake my doctor some little cakes,\x94 declared Polly, when
there was comparative quiet.

\x93Do, Polly,\x94 cried Joel, \x93and then leave one or two over.\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Polly; \x93we can\x92t have any, because these must be very nice.
Mammy, can\x92t I have some white on top, just once?\x94 she pleaded.

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 dubiously replied Mrs. Pepper; \x93eggs are dreadful dear,
and--\x94

\x93I don\x92t care,\x94 said Polly, recklessly; \x93I must just once for Dr.
Fisher.\x94

\x93I tell you, Polly,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93what you might do; you might
make him some little apple tarts--most every one likes them, you know.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Polly, with a sigh, \x93I s\x92pose they\x92ll have to do; but some
time, mammy, I\x92m going to bake him a big cake, so there!\x94



A THREATENED BLOW


One day, a few weeks after, Mrs. Pepper and Polly were busy in
the kitchen. Phronsie was out in the \x93orchard,\x94 as the one scraggy
apple-tree was called by courtesy, singing her rag doll to sleep under
its sheltering branches. But \x93Baby\x94 was cross and wouldn\x92t go to sleep,
and Phronsie was on the point of giving up, and returning to the house,
when a strain of music made her pause with dolly in her apron. There
she stood with her finger in her mouth, in utter astonishment, wondering
where the sweet sounds came from.

\x93Oh, Phronsie!\x94 screamed Polly, from the back door, \x93where are--oh,
here, come quick! it\x92s the beau-ti-fullest!\x94

\x93What is it?\x94 eagerly asked the little one, hopping over the stubby
grass, leaving poor, discarded \x93Baby\x94 on its snubby nose where it
dropped in her hurry.

\x93Oh, a monkey!\x94 cried Polly; \x93do hurry! the sweetest little monkey you
ever saw!\x94

\x93What is a monkey?\x94 asked Phronsie, skurrying after Polly to the gate
where her mother was waiting for them.

\x93Why, a monkey\x92s--a--monkey,\x94 explained Polly, \x93I don\x92t know any
better\x92n that. Here he is! Isn\x92t he splendid!\x94 and she lifted Phronsie
up to the big post where she could see finely.

\x93O-oh! ow!\x94 screamed little Phronsie, \x93see him, Polly! just see him!\x94

A man with an organ was standing in the middle of the road playing away
with all his might, and at the end of a long rope was a lively little
monkey in a bright red coat and a smart cocked hat. The little creature
pulled off his hat, and with one long jump coming on the fence, he made
Phronsie a most magnificent bow. Strange to say, the child wasn\x92t in the
least frightened, but put out her little fat hand, speaking in gentle
tones, \x93Poor little monkey! come here, poor little monkey!\x94

Turning up his little wrinkled face, and glancing fearfully at his
master, Jocko began to grimace and beg for something to eat. The man
pulled the string and struck up a merry tune, and in a minute the monkey
spun around and around at such a lively pace, and put in so many queer
antics that the little audience were fairly convulsed with laughter.

\x93I can\x92t pay you,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, wiping her eyes, when at last the
man pulled up the strap whistling to Jocko to jump up, \x93but I\x92ll give
you something to eat; and the monkey, too, he shall have something for
his pains in amusing my children.\x94

The man looked very cross when she brought him out only brown bread and
two cold potatoes.

\x93Haven\x92t you got nothin\x92 better\x92n that?\x94

\x93It\x92s as good as we have,\x94 answered Mrs. Pepper.

The man threw down the bread in the road. But Jocko thankfully ate his
share, Polly and Phronsie busily feeding him; and then he turned and
snapped up the portion his master had left in the dusty road.

Then they moved on, Mrs. Pepper and Polly going back to their work in
the kitchen. A little down the road the man struck up another tune.
Phronsie who had started merrily to tell \x93Baby\x94 all about it, stopped a
minute to hear, and--she didn\x92t go back to the orchard!

About two hours after, Polly said merrily:

\x93I\x92m going to call Phronsie in, mammy; she must be awfully tired and
hungry by this time.\x94

She sang gayly on the way, \x93I\x92m coming, Phronsie, coming--why, where!--\x94
 peeping under the tree.

\x93Baby\x94 lay on its face disconsolately on the ground--and the orchard was
empty! Phronsie was gone!

\x93It\x92s no use,\x94 said Ben, to the distracted household and such of the
neighbors as the news had brought hurriedly to the scene, \x93to look any
more around here--but somebody must go toward Hingham; he\x92d be likely to
go that way.\x94

\x93No one could tell where he would go,\x94 cried Polly, wringing her hands.

\x93But he\x92d change, Ben, if he thought folks would think he\x92d gone there,\x94
 said Mrs. Pepper.

\x93We must go all roads,\x94 said Ben, firmly; \x93one must take the stage to
Boxville, and I\x92ll take Deacon Brown\x92s wagon on the Hingham road, and
somebody else must go to Toad Hollow.\x94

\x93I\x92ll go in the stage,\x94 screamed Joel, who could scarcely see out of his
eyes, he had cried so; \x93I\x92ll find--find her--I know.

\x93Be spry, then, Joe, and catch it at the corner!\x94

Everybody soon knew that little Phronsie Pepper had gone off with \x93a
cross organ man and an awful monkey!\x94 and in the course of an hour
dozens of people were out on the hot, dusty roads in search.

\x93What\x92s the matter?\x94 asked a testy old gentleman in the stage, of Joel
who, in his anxiety to see both sides of the road at once, bobbed the
old gentleman in the face so often as the stage lurched, that at last he
knocked his hat over his eyes.

\x93My sister\x92s gone off with a monkey,\x94 explained Joel, bobbing over to
the other side, as he thought he caught sight of something pink that
he felt sure must be Phronsie\x92s apron. \x93Stop! stop! there she is!\x94
 he roared, and the driver, who had his instructions and was fully in
sympathy, pulled up so suddenly that the old gentleman flew over into
the opposite seat.

\x93Where?\x94

But when they got up to it Joel saw that it was only a bit of pink
calico flapping on a clothes-line; so he climbed back and away they
rumbled again.

The others were having the same luck. No trace could be found of the
child. To Ben, who took the Hingham road, the minutes seemed like hours.

\x93I won\x92t go back,\x94 he muttered, \x93until I take her. I can\x92t see mother\x92s
face!\x94

But the ten miles were nearly traversed; almost the last hope was gone.
Into every thicket and lurking place by the road-side had he peered--but
no Phronsie! Deacon Brown\x92s horse began to lag.

\x93Go on!\x94 said Ben hoarsely; \x93oh, dear Lord, make me find her!\x94

The hot sun poured down on the boy\x92s face, and he had no cap. What cared
he for that? On and on he went. Suddenly the horse stopped. Ben doubled
up the reins to give him a cut, when \x93WHOA!\x94 he roared so loud that the
horse in very astonishment gave a lurch that nearly flung him headlong.
But he was over the wheel in a twinkling, and up with a bound to a small
thicket of scrubby bushes on a high hill by the road-side. Here lay a
little bundle on the ground, and close by it a big, black dog; and over
the whole, standing guard, was a boy a little bigger than Ben, with
honest gray eyes. And the bundle was Phronsie!

\x93Don\x92t wake her up,\x94 said the boy, warningly, as Ben, with a hungry look
in his eyes, leaped up the hill, \x93she\x92s tired to death!\x94

\x93She\x92s my sister!\x94 cried Ben, \x93our Phronsie!\x94

\x93I know it,\x94 said the boy kindly; \x93but I wouldn\x92t wake her up yet if I
were you. I\x92ll tell you all about it,\x94 and he took Ben\x92s hand which was
as cold as ice.



SAFE


\x93It\x92s all right, Prince,\x94 the boy added, encouragingly to the big dog
who, lifting his noble head, had turned two big eyes steadily on Ben.
\x93He\x92s all right! lie down again!\x94

Then, flinging himself down on the grass, he told Ben how he came to
rescue Phronsie.

\x93Prince and I were out for a stroll,\x94 said he. \x93I live over in Hingham,\x94
 pointing to the pretty little town just a short distance before them in
the hollow; \x93that is,\x94 laughing, \x93I do this summer. Well, we were out
strolling along about a mile below here on the cross-road; and all of a
sudden, just as if they sprung right up out of the ground, I saw a man
with an organ, and a monkey, and a little girl, coming along the road.
She was crying, and as soon as Prince saw that, he gave a growl, and
then the man saw us, and he looked so mean and cringing I knew there
must be something wrong, and I inquired of him what he was doing with
that little girl, and then she looked up and begged so with her eyes,
and all of a sudden broke away from him and ran towards me screaming--\x91I
want Polly!\x92 Well, the man sprang after her; then I tell you--\x94 here the
boy forgot his caution about waking Phronsie--\x93we went for him, Prince
and I! Prince is a noble fellow,\x94 (here the dog\x92s ears twitched very
perceptibly) \x93and he kept at that man; oh! how he bit him! till he had
to run for fear the monkey would get killed.\x94

\x93Was Phronsie frightened?\x94 asked Ben; \x93she\x92s never seen strangers.\x94

\x93Not a bit,\x94 said the boy, cheerily; \x93she just clung to me like
everything--I only wish she was my sister,\x94 he added impulsively.

\x93What were you going to do with her if I hadn\x92t come along?\x94 asked Ben.

\x93Well, I got out on the main road,\x94 said the boy, \x93because I thought
anybody who had lost her, would probably come through this way; but if
somebody hadn\x92t come, I was going to carry her in to Hingham; and the
father and I\x92d had to contrive some way to do.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Ben, as the boy finished and fastened his bright eyes on
him, \x93somebody did come along; and now I must get her home about as fast
as I can for poor mammy--and Polly!\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said the boy, \x93I\x92ll help you lift her; perhaps she won\x92t wake
up.\x94

The big dog moved away a step or two, but still kept his eye on
Phronsie.

\x93There,\x94 said the boy, brightly, as they laid the child on the wagon
seat; \x93now when you get in you can hold her head; that\x92s it,\x94 he added,
seeing them both fixed to his satisfaction. But still Ben lingered.

\x93Thank you,\x94 he tried to say.

\x93I know,\x94 laughed the boy; \x93only it\x92s Prince instead of me,\x94 and he
pulled forward the big black creature, who had followed faithfully down
the hill to see the last of it. \x93To the front, sir, there! We\x92re coming
to see you,\x94 he continued, \x93if you will let us--where do you live?\x94

\x93Do come,\x94 said Ben, lighting up, for he was just feeling he couldn\x92t
bear to look his last on the merry, honest face; \x93anybody\x92ll tell you
where Mrs. Pepper lives.\x94

\x93Is she a Pepper?\x94 asked the boy, laughing, and pointing to the
unconscious little heap in the wagon; \x93and are you a Pepper?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Ben, laughing too. \x93There are five of us besides mother.

\x93Jolly! that\x92s something like! Good-bye! Come on, Prince!\x94 Then away
home to mother! Phronsie never woke up or turned over once till she was
put, a little pink sleepy heap, into her mother\x92s arms. Joel was there,
crying bitterly at his forlorn search. The testy old gentleman in the
seat opposite had relented and ordered the coach about and brought
him home in an outburst of grief when all hope was gone. And one after
another they all had come back, disheartened, to the distracted mother.
Polly alone, clung to hope!

\x93Ben will bring her, mammy; I know God will let him,\x94 she whispered.

But when Ben did bring her, Polly, for the second time in her life,
tumbled over with a gasp, into old Mrs. Bascom\x92s lap.

Home and mother! Little Phronsie slept all that night straight through.
The neighbors came in softly, and with awestruck visages stole into the
bedroom to look at the child; and as they crept out again, thoughts
of their own little ones tugging at their hearts, the tears would drop
unheeded.



NEW FRIENDS


Up the stairs of the hotel, two steps at a time, ran a boy with a big,
black dog at his heels. \x93Come on, Prince; soft, now,\x94 as they neared a
door at the end of the corridors.

It opened into a corner room overlooking \x93the Park,\x94 as the small
open space in front of the hotel was called. Within the room there was
sunshine and comfort, it being the most luxurious one in the house,
which the proprietor had placed at the disposal of this most exacting
guest. He didn\x92t look very happy, however--the gentleman who sat in an
easy chair by the window; a large, handsome old gentleman, whose whole
bearing showed plainly that personal comfort had always been his, and
was, therefore, neither a matter of surprise nor thankfulness.

\x93Where have you been?\x94 he asked, turning around to greet the boy who
came in, followed by Prince.

\x93Oh, such a long story, father!\x94 he cried, flushed; his eyes sparkling
as he flung back the dark hair from his forehead. \x93You can\x92t even
guess!\x94

\x93Never mind now,\x94 said the old gentleman, testily; \x93your stories are
always long; the paper hasn\x92t come--strange, indeed, that one must needs
be so annoyed! do ring that bell again.\x94

So the bell was pulled; and a porter popped in his head.

\x93What is it, sir?\x94

\x93The paper,\x94 said the old gentleman, irritably; \x93hasn\x92t it come yet?\x94

\x93No, sir,\x94 said the man; and then he repeated, \x93taint in yet, please,
sir.\x94

\x93Very well--you said so once; that\x92s all,\x94 waving his hand; then as the
door closed, he said to his son, \x93That pays one for coming to such an
out-of-the-way country place as this, away from papers--I never will do
it again.\x94

As the old gentleman, against the advice of many friends who knew his
dependence on externals, had determined to come to this very place, the
boy was not much startled at the decisive words. He stood very quietly,
however, until his father finished. Then he said:

\x93It\x92s too bad, father! supposing I tell you my story? Perhaps you\x92ll
enjoy hearing it while you wait--it\x92s really quite newspaperish.\x94

\x93Well, you might as well tell it now, I suppose,\x94 said the old
gentleman; \x93but it is a great shame about that paper! to advertise that
morning papers are to be obtained--it\x92s a swindle, Jasper! a complete
swindle!\x94 and the old gentleman looked so very irate that the boy
exerted himself to soothe him.

\x93I know,\x94 he said; \x93but they can\x92t help the trains being late.\x94

\x93They shouldn\x92t have the trains late,\x94 said his father, unreasonably.
\x93There\x92s no necessity for all this prating about \x91trains late.\x92 I\x92m
convinced it\x92s because they forgot to send down for the papers till they
were all sold.\x94

\x93I don\x92t believe that\x92s it, father,\x94 said the boy, trying to change the
subject; \x93but you don\x92t know how splendid Prince has been, nor--\x94 \x93And
then such a breakfast!\x94 continued the old gentleman.

\x93My liver certainly will be in a dreadful state if these things
continue!\x94 And he got up, and going to the corner of the room, opened
his medicine chest, and taking a box of pills therefrom, he swallowed
two, which done, he came back with a somewhat easier expression to his
favorite chair.

\x93He was just splendid, father,\x94 began the boy; \x93he went for him, I tell
you!\x94

\x93I hope, Jasper, your dog has not been doing anything violent,\x94 said the
old gentleman. \x93I must caution you; he\x92ll get you into trouble some day;
and then there\x92ll be a heavy bill to pay; he grows more irritable every
day.\x94

\x93Irritable!\x94 cried the boy, flinging his arms around the dog\x92s neck, who
was looking up at the old gentleman in high disdain. \x93He\x92s done the most
splendid thing you ever saw! Why, he saved a little girl, father, from
a cross old organ-man, and he drove that man--oh! you ought to have seen
him run!\x94

And now that it was over, Jasper put back his head and laughed long and
loud as he remembered the rapid transit of the musical pair.

\x93Well, how do you know she wasn\x92t the man\x92s daughter?\x94 asked his father,
determined to find fault someway. \x93You haven\x92t any business to go around
the country setting your dog on people. I shall have an awful bill
to pay some day, Jasper--an awful bill!\x94 he continued, getting up and
commencing to pace up and down the floor in extreme irritation.

\x93Father,\x94 cried the boy, half laughing, half vexed, springing to his
side, and keeping step with him, \x93we found her brother; he came along
when we were by the side of the road. We couldn\x92t go any further, for
the poor little thing was all tired out. And don\x92t you think they live
over in Badgertown, and--\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said the old gentleman, pausing in his walk, and taking out
his watch to wonder if that paper would ever come, \x93she had probably
followed the organ-man; so it served her right after all.\x94

\x93Well, but father,\x94 and the boy\x92s dark eyes glowed, \x93she was such a
cunning little thing! she wasn\x92t more than four years old; and she had
such a pretty little yellow head; and she said so funny--\x91I want Polly.\x94

\x93Did she?\x94 said the old gentleman, getting interested in spite of
himself; \x93what then?\x94

\x93Why, then, sir,\x94 said Jasper, delighted at his success in diverting
his thoughts, \x93Prince and I waited--and waited; and I was just going to
bring her here to ask you what we should do, when--\x94 \x93Dear me!\x94 said
the old gentleman, instinctively starting back as if he actually saw the
forlorn little damsel, \x93you needn\x92t ever bring such people here, Jasper!
I don\x92t know what to do with them, I\x92m sure!\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said the boy, laughing, \x93we didn\x92t have to, did we, Prince?\x94
 stroking the big head of the dog who was slowly following the two as
they paced up and down, but keeping carefully on the side of his master;
\x93for just as we really didn\x92t know what to do, don\x92t you think there was
a big wagon came along, drawn by the ricketiest old horse, and a boy in
the wagon looking both sides of the road, and into every bush, just as
wild as he could be, and before I could think, hardly, he spied us, and
if he didn\x92t jump! I thought he\x92d broken his leg--\x94

\x93And I suppose he just abused you for what you had done,\x94 observed the
old gentleman, petulantly; \x93that\x92s about all the gratitude there is in
this world.\x94

\x93He didn\x92t seem to see me at all,\x94 said the boy. \x93I thought he\x92d eat the
little girl up.\x94

\x93Ought to have looked out for her better then,\x94 grumbled the old
gentleman, determined to find fault with somebody.

\x93And he\x92s a splendid fellow, I just know,\x94 cried Jasper, waxing
enthusiastic; \x93and his name is Pepper.\x94

\x93Pepper!\x94 repeated his father; \x93no nice family ever had the name of
Pepper!\x94

\x93Well, I don\x92t care,\x94 and Jasper\x92s laugh was loud and merry; \x93he\x92s
nice anyway,--I know; and the little thing\x92s nice; and I\x92m going to see
them--can\x92t I, father?\x94

\x93Dear me!\x94 said his father; \x93how can you, Jasper? You do have the
strangest tastes I ever saw!\x94

\x93It\x92s dreadful dull here,\x94 pleaded the boy, touching the right string;
\x93you know that yourself, father, and I don\x92t know any boys around here;
and Prince and I are so lonely on our walks--do permit me, father!\x94

The old gentleman, who really cared very little about it, turned away,
muttering, \x93Well, I\x92m sure I don\x92t care; go where you like,\x94 when a
knock was heard at the door, and the paper was handed in, which broke up
the conversation, and restored good humor.

The next day but one, Ben was out by the wood-pile, trying to break up
some kindlings for Polly who was washing up the dishes, and otherwise
preparing for the delights of baking day.

\x93Hulloa!\x94 said a voice bethought he knew.

He turned around to see the merry-faced boy, and the big, black dog who
immediately began to wag his tail as if willing to recognize him.

\x93You see I thought you\x92d never look round,\x94 said the boy with a laugh.
\x93How\x92s the little girl?\x94

\x93Oh! you have come, really,\x94 cried Ben, springing over the wood-pile
with a beaming face. \x93Polly!\x94

But Polly was already by the door, with dish-cloth in hand. \x93This is my
sister, Polly,\x94 began Ben--and then stopped, not knowing the boy\x92s name.

\x93I\x92m Jasper King,\x94 said the boy, stepping upon the flat stone by Polly\x92s
side; and taking off his cap, he put out his hand. \x93And this is Prince,\x94
 he added.

Polly put her hand in his, and received a hearty shake; and then she
sprang over the big stove, dish-cloth and all, and just flung her arms
around the dog\x92s neck.

\x93Oh, you splendid fellow, you!\x94 said she. \x93Don\x92t you know we all think
you\x92re as good as gold?\x94

The dog submitted to the astonishing proceeding as if he liked it, while
Jasper, delighted with Polly\x92s appreciation, beamed down on them, and
struck up friendship with her on the instant.

\x93Now, I must call Phronsie,\x94 said Polly, getting up, her face as red as
a rose.

\x93Is her name Phronsie?\x94 asked the boy with interest.

\x93No, it\x92s Sophronia,\x94 said Polly, \x93but we call her Phronsie.\x94

\x93What a very funny name,\x94 said Jasper, \x93Sophronia is, for such a little
thing--and yours is Polly, is it not?\x94 he asked, turning around suddenly
on her.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Polly; \x93no, not truly Polly; it\x92s Mary, my real name is--but
I\x92ve always been Polly.\x94

\x93I like Polly best, too,\x94 declared Jasper, \x93it sounds so nice.\x94

\x93And his name is Ben,\x94 said Polly.

\x93Ebenezer, you mean,\x94 said Ben, correcting her.

\x93Well, we call him Ben,\x94 said Polly; \x93it don\x92t ever seem as if there was
any Ebenezer about it.\x94

\x93I should think not,\x94 laughed Jasper.

\x93Well, I must get Phronsie,\x94 again said Polly, running back into the
bedroom, where that small damsel was busily engaged in washing \x93Baby\x94
 in the basin of water that she had with extreme difficulty succeeded in
getting down on the floor. She had then, by means of a handful of soft
soap, taken from Polly\x92s soap-bowl during the dish-washing, and a bit of
old cotton, plastered both herself and \x93Baby\x94 to a comfortable degree of
stickiness.

\x93Phronsie,\x94 said Polly--\x93dear me! what you doing? the big dog\x92s out
there, you know, that scared the naughty organ-man; and the boy--\x94 but
before the words were half out, Phronsie had slipped from under her
hands, and to Polly\x92s extreme dismay, clattered out into the kitchen.

\x93Here she is!\x94 cried Jasper, meeting her at the door. The little soapy
hands were grasped, and kissing her--\x93Ugh!\x94 he said, as the soft soap
plentifully spread on her face met his mouth.

\x93Oh, Phronsie! you shouldn\x92t,\x94 cried Polly, and then they all burst out
into a peal of laughter at Jasper\x92s funny grimaces.

\x93She\x92s been washing \x91Baby,\x94 explained Polly, wiping her eyes, and
looking at Phronsie who was hanging over Prince in extreme affection.
Evidently Prince still regarded her as his especial property.

\x93Have you got a baby?\x94 asked Jasper. \x93I thought she was the baby,\x94
 pointing to Phronsie.

\x93Oh, I mean her littlest dolly; she always calls her \x91Baby,\x94 said Polly.
\x93Come, Phronsie, and have your face washed, and a clean apron on.\x94

When Phronsie could be fairly persuaded that Prince would not run
away during her absence, she allowed herself to be taken off; and soon
re-appeared, her own, dainty little self. Ben, in the meantime, had
been initiating Jasper into the mysteries of cutting the wood, the
tool-house, and all the surroundings of the \x93little brown house.\x94 They
had received a re-inforcement in the advent of Joel and David, who
stared delightedly at Phronsie\x92s protector, made friends with the dog,
and altogether had had such a thoroughly good time, that Phronsie,
coming back, clapped her hands in glee to hear them.

\x93I wish mammy was home,\x94 said Polly, polishing up the last cup
carefully.

\x93Let me put it up,\x94 said Jasper, taking it from her, \x93it goes up here,
don\x92t it, with the rest?\x94 reaching up to the upper-shelf of the old
cupboard.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Polly.

\x93Oh, I should think you\x92d have real good times!\x94 said the boy,
enviously. \x93I haven\x92t a single sister or brother.\x94

\x93Haven\x92t you?\x94 said Polly, looking at him in extreme pity. \x93Yes, we do
have real fun,\x94 she added, answering his questioning look; \x93the house is
just brimful sometimes, even if we are poor.\x94

\x93We aren\x92t poor,\x94 said Joel, who never could bear to be pitied. Then,
with a very proud air, he said in a grand way, \x93At any rate, we aren\x92t
going to be, long, for something\x92s coming!\x94

\x93What do you mean, Joey?\x94 asked Ben, while the rest looked equally
amazed.

\x93Our ships,\x94 said Joel confidently, as if they were right before their
eyes; at which they all screamed!

\x93See Polly\x92s stove!\x94 cried Phronsie, wishing to entertain in her turn.
\x93Here \x91tis,\x94 running up to it, and pointing with her fat little finger.

\x93Yes, I see,\x94 cried Jasper, pretending to be greatly surprised; \x93it\x92s
new, isn\x92t it?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said the child; \x93it\x92s very all new; four yesterdays ago!\x94

And then Polly stopped in sweeping up and related, with many additions
and explanations from the others, the history of the stove, and good Dr.
Fisher (upon whom they all dilated at great length), and the dreadful
measles, and everything. And Jasper sympathized, and rejoiced with them
to their hearts content, and altogether got so very home-like, that they
all felt as if they had known him for a year. Ben neglected his work a
little, but then visitors didn\x92t come every day to the Peppers; so
while Polly worked away at her bread, which she was \x93going to make like
biscuits,\x94 she said, the audience gathered in the little old kitchen was
in the merriest mood, and enjoyed everything to the fullest extent.

\x93Do put in another stick, Bensie dear,\x94 said Polly; \x93this bread won\x92t be
fit for anything!\x94

\x93Isn\x92t this fun, though!\x94 cried Jasper, running up to try the oven; \x93I
wish I could ever bake,\x94 and he looked longingly at the little brown
biscuits waiting their turn out on the table.

\x93You come out some day,\x94 said Polly, sociably, \x93and we\x92ll all try
baking--mammy\x92d like to have you, I know,\x94 feeling sure that nothing
would be too much for Mrs. Pepper to do for the protector of little
Phronsie.

\x93I will!\x94 cried Jasper, perfectly delighted. \x93You can\x92t think how
awfully dull it is out in Hingham!\x94

\x93Don\x92t you live there?\x94 asked Polly, with a gasp, almost dropping a tin
full of little brown lumps of dough she was carrying to the oven.

\x93Live there!\x94 cried Jasper; and then he burst out into a merry laugh.
\x93No, indeed! I hope not! Why, we\x92re only spending the summer there,
father and I, in the hotel.\x94

\x93Where\x92s your mother?\x94 asked Joel, squeezing in between Jasper and
his audience. And then they all felt instinctively that a very wrong
question had been asked.

\x93I haven\x92t any mother,\x94 said the boy, in a low voice.

They all stood quite still for a moment; then Polly said, \x93I wish you\x92d
come out sometime; and you may bake--or anything else,\x94 she added; and
there was a kinder ring to her voice than ever.

No mother! Polly for her life, couldn\x92t imagine how anybody could feel
without a mother, but the very words alone smote her heart; and there
was nothing she wouldn\x92t have done to give pleasure to one who had done
so much for them.

\x93I wish you could see our mother,\x94 she said, gently. \x93Why, here she
comes now! oh, mamsie, dear,\x94 she cried. \x93Do, Joe, run and take her
bundle.\x94

Mrs. Pepper stopped a minute to kiss Phronsie--her baby was dearer than
ever to her now. Then her eye fell on Jasper, who stood respectfully
waiting and watching her with great interest.

\x93Is this,\x94 she asked, taking it all in at the first glance--the boy with
the honest eyes as Ben had described him--and the big, black dog--\x93is
this the boy who saved my little girl?\x94

\x93Oh, ma\x92am,\x94 cried Jasper, \x93I didn\x92t do much; \x91twas Prince.\x94

\x93I guess you never\x92ll know how much you did do,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper. Then
looking with a long, keen gaze into the boy\x92s eyes that met her own so
frankly and kindly: \x93I\x92ll trust him,\x94 she said to herself; \x93a boy with
those eyes can\x92t help but be good.\x94

\x93Her eyes are just the same as Polly\x92s,\x94 thought Jasper, \x93just such
laughing ones, only Polly\x92s are brown,\x94 and he liked her on the spot.

And then, somehow, the hubbub ceased. Polly went on with her work, and
the others separated, and Mrs. Pepper and Jasper had a long talk. When
the mother\x92s eyes fell on Phronsie playing around on the floor, she gave
the boy a grateful smile that he thought was beautiful.

\x93Well, I declare,\x94 said Jasper, at last, looking up at the old clock in
the corner by the side of the cupboard, \x93I\x92m afraid I\x92ll miss the stage,
and then father never\x92ll let me come again. Come, Prince.\x94

\x93Oh, don\x92t go,\x94 cried Phronsie, wailing. \x93Let doggie stay! Oh, make him
stay, mammy!\x94

\x93I can\x92t, Phronsie,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, smiling, \x93if he thinks he ought
to go.\x94

\x93I\x92ll come again,\x94 said Jasper, eagerly, \x93if I may, ma\x92am.\x94

He looked up at Mrs. Pepper as he stood cap in hand, waiting for the
answer.

\x93I\x92m sure we should be glad if your father\x92ll be willing,\x94 she added;
thinking, proudly, \x93My children are an honor to anybody, I\x92m sure,\x94 as
she glanced around on the bright little group she could call her own.
\x93But be sure, Jasper,\x94 and she laid her hand on his arm as she looked
down into his eyes, \x93that you father is willing, that\x92s all.\x94

\x93Oh, yes, ma\x92am,\x94 said the boy; \x93but he will be, I guess, if he feels
well.\x94

\x93Then come on Thursday,\x94 said Polly; \x93and can\x92t we bake something then,
mammy?\x94

\x93I\x92m sure I don\x92t care,\x94 laughed Mrs. Pepper; \x93but you won\x92t find much
but brown flour and meal to bake with.\x94

\x93Well, we can pretend,\x94 said Polly; \x93and we can cut the cakes with the
heart-shape, and they\x92ll do for anything.

\x93Oh, I\x92ll come,\x94 laughed Jasper, ready for such lovely fun in the old
kitchen; \x93look out for me on Thursday, Ben!\x94

So Jasper and Prince took their leave, all the children accompanying
them to the gate; and then after seeing him fairly started on a smart
run to catch the stage, Prince scampering at his heels, they all began
to sing his praises and to wish for Thursday to come.

But Jasper didn\x92t come! Thursday came and went; a beautiful, bright,
sunny day, but with no signs of the merry boy whom all had begun to
love, nor of the big black dog. The children had made all the needful
preparations with much ostentation and bustle, and were in a state of
excited happiness, ready for any gale. But the last hope had to be given
up, as the old clock ticked away hour after hour. And at last Polly
had to put Phronsie to bed, who wouldn\x92t stop crying enough to eat her
supper at the dreadful disappointment.

\x93He couldn\x92t come, I know,\x94 said both Ben and Polly, standing staunchly
up for their new friend; but Joel and David felt that he had broken his
word.

\x93He promised,\x94 said Joel, vindictively.

\x93I don\x92t believe his father\x92d let him,\x94 said Polly, wiping away a sly
tear; \x93I know Jasper\x92d come, if he could.\x94

Mrs. Pepper wisely kept her own counsel, simply giving them a kindly
caution:

\x93Don\x92t you go to judging him, children, till you know.\x94

\x93Well, he promised,\x94 said Joel, as a settler.

\x93Aren\x92t you ashamed, Joel,\x94 said his mother, \x93to talk about any one
whose back is turned? Wait till he tells you the reason himself.\x94

Joel hung his head, and then began to tease David in the corner, to make
up for his disappointment.

The next morning Ben had to go to the store after some more meal. As he
was going out rather dismally, the storekeeper, who was also postmaster,
called out, \x93Oh, halloa, there!\x94

\x93What is it?\x94 asked Ben, turning back, thinking perhaps Mr. Atkins
hadn\x92t given him the right change.

\x93Here,\x94 said Mr. Atkins, stepping up to the Post-office department,
quite smart with its array of boxes and official notices, where Ben had
always lingered, wishing there might be sometime a letter for him--or
some of them. \x93You\x92ve got a sister Polly, haven\x92t you?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Ben, wondering what was coming next.

\x93Well, she\x92s got a letter,\x94 said the postmaster, holding up a nice big
envelope, looking just like those that Ben had so many times wished
for. That magic piece of white paper danced before the boy\x92s eyes for a
minute; then he said, \x93It can\x92t be for her, Mr. Atkins; why, she\x92s never
had one.\x94

\x93Well, she\x92s got one now, sure enough,\x94 said Mr. Atkins; \x93here \x91tis,
plain enough,\x94 and he read what he had no need to study much as it had
already passed examination by his own and his wife\x92s faithful eyes:
\x93Miss Polly Pepper, near the Turnpike, Badgertown\x92--that\x92s her, isn\x92t
it?\x94 he added, laying it down before Ben\x92s eyes. \x93Must be a first time
for everything, you know, my boy!\x94 and he laughed long over his own
joke; \x93so take it and run along home.\x94 For Ben still stood looking at
it, and not offering to stir.

\x93If you say so,\x94 said the boy, as if Mr. Atkins had given him something
out of his own pocket; \x93but I\x92m afraid \x91tisn\x92t for Polly.\x94 Then
buttoning up the precious letter in his jacket, he spun along home as
never before.

\x93Polly! Polly!\x94 he screamed. \x93Where is she, mother?\x94

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, coming out of the bedroom. \x93Dear me!
is anybody hurt, Ben?\x94

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 said Ben, in a state to believe anything, \x93but Polly\x92s
got a letter.\x94

\x93Polly got a letter!\x94 cried Mrs. Pepper; \x93what do you mean, Ben?\x94

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 repeated the boy, still holding out the precious letter;
\x93but Mr. Atkins gave it to me; where is Polly?\x94

\x93I know where she is,\x94 said Joel; \x93she\x92s up-stairs.\x94 And he flew out in
a twinkling, and just as soon reappeared with Polly scampering after him
in the wildest excitement.

And then the kitchen was in an uproar as the precious missive was put
into Polly\x92s hand; and they all gathered around her, wondering and
examining, till Ben thought he would go wild with the delay.

\x93I wonder where it did come from,\x94 said Polly, in the greatest anxiety,
examining again the address.

\x93Where does the postmark say?\x94 asked Mrs. Pepper, looking over her
shoulder.

\x93It\x92s all rubbed out,\x94 said Polly, peering at it \x93you can\x92t see
anything.\x94

\x93Do open it,\x94 said Ben, \x93and then you\x92ll find out.\x94

\x93But p\x92raps \x91tisn\x92t for me,\x94 said Polly, timidly.

\x93Well, Mr. Atkins says \x91tis,\x94 said Ben, impatiently; \x93here, I\x92ll open it
for you, Polly.\x94

\x93No, let her open it for herself, Ben,\x94 protested his mother.

\x93But she won\x92t,\x94 said Ben; \x93do tear it open, Polly.\x94

\x93No, I\x92m goin\x92 to get a knife,\x94 she said.

\x93I\x92ll get one,\x94 cried Joel, running up to the table drawer; \x93here\x92s one,
Polly.\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 groaned Ben; \x93you never\x92ll get it open at this rate!\x94

But at last it was cut; and they all holding their breath, gazed
awe-struck, while Polly drew out the mysterious missive.

\x93What does it say?\x94 gasped Mrs. Pepper.

\x93Dear Miss Polly,\x94 began both Ben and Polly in a breath. \x93Let Polly
read,\x94 said Joel, who couldn\x92t hear in the confusion.

\x93Well, go on Polly,\x94 said Ben; \x93hurry!\x94

\x93Dear Miss Polly, I was so sorry I couldn\x92t come on Thursday--\x94

\x93Oh, it\x92s Jasper! it\x92s Jasper!\x94 cried all the children in a breath.

\x93I told you so!\x94 cried Ben and Polly, perfectly delighted to find their
friend vindicated fully--\x93there! Joey Pepper!\x94

\x93Well, I don\x92t care,\x94 cried Joe, nothing daunted, \x93he didn\x92t come,
anyway--do go on, Polly.\x94

\x93I was so sorry I couldn\x92t come--\x94 began Polly.

\x93You read that,\x94 said Joel.

\x93I know it,\x94 said Polly, \x93but it\x92s just lovely; \x91on Thursday; but my
father was sick, and I couldn\x92t leave him. If you don\x92t mind I\x92ll come
again--I mean I\x92ll come some other day, if it\x92s just as convenient for
you, for I do so want the baking, and the nice time. I forgot to say
that I had a cold, to,\x92 (here Jasper had evidently had a struggle in his
mind whether there should be two o\x92s or one, and he had at last decided
it, by crossing out one) but my father is willing I should come when I
get well. Give my love to all, and especially remember me respectfully
to your mother. Your friend,

\x93JASPER ELYOT KING.\x94

\x93Oh, lovely! lovely!\x94 cried Polly, flying around with the letter in her
hand; \x93so he is coming!\x94

Ben was just as wild as she was, for no one knew but Polly just how the
new friend had stepped into his heart. Phronsie went to sleep happy,
hugging \x93Baby.\x94

\x93And don\x92t you think, Baby, dear,\x94 she whispered sleepily, and Polly
heard her say as she was tucking her in, \x93that Jasper is really comin\x92;
really--and the big, be-you-ti-ful doggie, too!\x94



PHRONSIE PAYS A DEBT OF GRATITUDE


\x93And now I tell you,\x94 said Polly, the next day, \x93let\x92s make Jasper
something; can\x92t we, ma?\x94

\x93Oh, do! do!\x94 cried all the other children, \x93let\x92s; but what\x92ll it be,
Polly?\x94

\x93I don\x92t know about this,\x94 interrupted Mrs. Pepper; \x93I don\x92t see how you
could get anything to him if you could make it.\x94

\x93Oh, we could, mamsie,\x94 said Polly, eagerly, running up to her; \x93for Ben
knows; and he says we can do it.\x94

\x93Oh, well, if Ben and you have had your heads together, I suppose it\x92s
all right,\x94 laughed Mrs. Pepper, \x93but I don\x92t see how you can do it.\x94

\x93Well, we can, mother, truly,\x94 put in Ben. \x93I\x92ll tell you how, and
you\x92ll say it\x92ll be splendid. You see Deacon Blodgett\x92s goin\x92 over to
Hingham, to-morrow; I heard him tell Miss Blodgett so; and he goes right
past the hotel; and we can do it up real nice--and it\x92ll please Jasper
so--do, mammy!\x94

\x93And it\x92s real dull there, Jasper says,\x94 put in Polly, persuasively;
\x93and just think, mammy, no brothers and sisters!\x94 And Polly looked
around on the others.

After that there was no need to say anything more; her mother would have
consented to almost any plan then.

\x93Well, go on, children,\x94 she said; \x93you may do it; I don\x92t see but what
you can get \x91em there well enough; but I\x92m sure I don\x92t know what you
can make.\x94

\x93Can\x92t we,\x94 said Polly--and she knelt down by her mother\x92s side and put
her face in between the sewing in Mrs. Pepper\x92s lap, and the eyes bent
kindly down on her--\x93make some little cakes, real cakes I mean? now
don\x92t say no, mammy!\x94 she said, alarmed, for she saw a \x93no\x94 slowly
coming in the eyes above her, as Mrs. Pepper began to shake her head.

\x93But we haven\x92t any white flour, Polly,\x94 began her mother. \x93I know,\x94
 said Polly; \x93but we\x92ll make \x91em of brown, it\x92ll do, if you\x92ll give us
some raisins--you know there\x92s some in the bowl, mammy.\x94

\x93I was saving them for a nest egg,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; meaning at some
future time to indulge in another plum-pudding that the children so
loved.

\x93Well, do give \x91em to us,\x94 cried Polly; \x93do, ma!\x94

\x93I want \x91em for a plum-pudding sometime,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper.

\x93Ow!--\x94 and Joel with a howl sprung up from the floor where he had been
trying to make a cart for \x93Baby\x94 out of an old box, and joined Mrs.
Pepper and Polly. \x93No, don\x92t give \x91em away, ma!\x94 he screamed; \x93let\x92s
have our plum-pudding--now, Polly Pepper, you\x92re a-goin\x92 to bake up all
our raisins in nasty little cakes--and--\x94

\x93Joey!\x94 commanded Mrs. Pepper, \x93hush! what word did you say!\x94

\x93Well,\x94 blubbered Joel, wiping his tears away with his grimy little
hand, \x93Polly\x92s--a-goin\x92--to give--\x94

\x93I should rather you\x92d never have a plum-pudding than to say such
words,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, sternly, taking up her work again. \x93And
besides, do you think what Jasper has done for you?\x94 and her face grew
very white around the lips.

\x93Well, he can have plum-puddings,\x94 said Joel, whimpering, \x93forever an\x92
ever, if he wants them--and--and--\x94

\x93Well, Joey,\x94 said Polly, \x93there, don\x92t feel bad,\x94 and she put her arms
around him, and tried to wipe away the tears that still rolled down his
cheeks. \x93We won\x92t give \x91em if you don\x92t want us to; but Jasper\x92s sick,
and there isn\x92t anything for him to do, and--\x94 here she whispered slyly
up into his ear, \x93don\x92t you remember how you liked folks to send you
things when you had the measles?\x94

\x93Yes, I know,\x94 said Joel, beginning to smile through his tears; \x93wasn\x92t
it fun, Polly?\x94

\x93I guess \x91twas,\x94 laughed Polly back again, pleased at the return of
sunshine. \x93Well, Jasper\x92ll be just as pleased as you were, \x91cause we
love him and want to do somethin\x92 for him, he was so good to Phronsie.\x94

\x93I will, Polly, I will,\x94 cried Joel, completely won over; \x93do let\x92s make
\x91em for him; and put \x91em in thick; oh! thick as you can;\x94 and determined
to do nothing by halves, Joel ran generously for the precious howl of
raisins, and after setting it on the table, began to help Polly in all
needful preparations.

Mrs. Pepper smiled away to herself to see happiness restored to the
little group. And soon a pleasant hum and bustle went on around the
baking table, the centre of attraction.

\x93Now,\x94 said Phronsie, coming up to the table and standing on tip-toe to
see Polly measure out the flour, \x93I\x92m a-goin\x92 to bake something for my
sick man, I am.\x94

\x93Oh, no, Phronsie, you can\x92t,\x94 began Polly.

\x93Hey?\x94 asked Joel, with a daub of flour on the tip of his chubby nose,
gained by too much peering into Polly\x92s flour-bag. \x93What did she say,
Polly?\x94 watching her shake the clouds of flour in the sieve.

\x93She said she was goin\x92 to bake something for Jasper,\x94 said Polly.
\x93There,\x94 as she whisked in the flour, \x93now that\x92s done.\x94

\x93No, I didn\x92t say Jasper,\x94 said Phronsie; \x93I didn\x92t say Jasper,\x94 she
repeated, emphatically.

\x93Why, what did you say, Pet?\x94 asked Polly, astonished, while little
Davie repeated, \x93What did you say, Phronsie?\x94

\x93I said my sick man,\x94 said Phronsie, shaking her yellow head; \x93poor sick
man.\x94

\x93Who does she mean?\x94 said Polly in despair, stopping a moment her
violent stirring that threatened to overturn the whole cake-bowl.

\x93I guess she means Prince,\x94 said Joel. \x93Can\x92t I stir, Polly?\x94

\x93Oh, no,\x94 said Polly; \x93only one person must stir cake.\x94

\x93Why?\x94 asked Joel; \x93why, Polly?\x94

\x93Oh, I don\x92t know,\x94 said Polly, \x93cause \x91tis so; never mind now, Joel. Do
you mean Prince, Phronsie?\x94

\x93No, I don\x92t mean Princey,\x94 said the child decisively; \x93I mean my sick
man.\x94

\x93It\x92s Jasper\x92s father, I guess she means,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper over in the
corner; \x93but what in the world!\x94

\x93Yes, yes,\x94 cried Phronsie, perfectly delighted at being at last
understood, and hopping on one toe; \x93my sick man.\x94

\x93I shall give up!\x94 said Polly, tumbling over in a chair, with the cake
spoon in her hand, from which a small sticky lump fell on her apron,
which Joel immediately pounced upon and devoured. \x93What do you want to
bake, Phronsie?\x94 she gasped, holding the spoon sticking up straight, and
staring at the child.

\x93A gingerbread boy,\x94 said the child, promptly; \x93he\x92d like that best;
poor, sick man!\x94 and she commenced to climb up to active preparations.



A LETTER TO JASPER


\x93Mamsie, what shall we do?\x94 implored Polly of her mother.

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 said her mother; \x93however did that get into her head, do
you suppose?\x94

\x93I am sure I can\x92t tell,\x94 said Polly, jumping up and beginning to stir
briskly to make up for lost time. \x93P\x92r\x92aps she heard us talking about
Jasper\x92s having to take care of his sick father, and how hard it must be
to be sick away from home.\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Phronsie, \x93but he\x92ll be glad to see my gingerbread boy, I
guess; poor, sick man.\x94

\x93Oh, Phronsie,\x94 cried Polly, in great distress, \x93you aren\x92t ever going
to make a \x91gingerbread boy\x92 to-day! see, we\x92ll put in a cunning little
cake for Mr. King--full of raisins, Phronsie; won\x92t that be lovely!\x94
 and Polly began to fill a little scalloped tin with some of the cake
mixture.

\x93N-no,\x94 said the child, eying it suspiciously; \x93that isn\x92t like a
\x91gingerbread boy,\x92 Polly; he\x92ll like that best.\x94

\x93Mamsie,\x94 said Polly, \x93we can\x92t let her make a dreadful, horrid
\x91gingerbread boy\x92 to send Mr. King! he never\x92ll let Jasper come here
again.\x94

\x93Oh, let her,\x94 cried Joel; \x93she can bake it, and Dave an\x92 I\x92ll eat it,\x94
 and he picked up a raisin that had fallen under the table and began
crunching it with great gusto.

\x93That wouldn\x92t be fair,\x94 said Polly, gloomily. \x93Do get her off from it,
mammy.\x94

\x93Phronsie,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, going up back of the child, who sat
patiently in her high chair waiting for Polly to let her begin, \x93hadn\x92t
you rather wait and give your \x91gingerbread boy\x92 to Jasper for his
father, when he comes?\x94

\x93Oh, no, no,\x94 cried Phronsie, twisting in her chair in great
apprehension, \x93I want to send it now, I do.\x94

\x93Well, Polly,\x94 said her mother, laughing, \x93after all it\x92s best, I think,
to let her; it can\x92t do any harm anyway--and instead of Mr. King\x92s
not letting Jasper come, if he\x92s a sensible man that won\x92t make any
difference; and if he isn\x92t, why, then there\x92d be sure to something come
up sometime to make trouble.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Polly, \x93I suppose she\x92s got to; and perhaps,\x94 as a
consoling idea struck her, \x93perhaps she\x92ll want to eat it up herself
when it\x92s done. Here, Phronsie,\x94 giving her a handful of the cake
mixture, which she stiffened with flour to the right thickness, \x93there,
you can call that a \x91gingerbread boy;\x92 see, won\x92t it make a beautiful
one!\x94

\x93You needn\x92t think,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, seeing Phronsie\x92s delighted face,
and laughing as she went back to her work, \x93but what that gingerbread
boy\x92ll go?\x94

When the little cakes were done, eight of them, and set upon the table
for exhibition, they one and all protested that they never saw so fine a
lot. Polly was delighted with the praise they received, and her mother\x92s
commendation that she was \x93growing a better cook every day.\x94 \x93How glad
Jasper\x92ll be, won\x92t he, mamsie?\x94 said she.

The children walked around and around the table, admiring and pointing
out the chief points of attraction, as they appeared before their
discriminating eyes.

\x93I should choose that one,\x94 said Joel, pointing at one which was
particularly plummy, with a raisin standing up on one end with a festive
air, as if to say, \x93there\x92s lots of us inside, you better believe!\x94

\x93I wouldn\x92t,\x94 said Davie, \x93I\x92d have that--that\x92s cracked so pretty.\x94

\x93So \x91tis,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; \x93they\x92re all as light as a feather, Polly.\x94

\x93But my \x91gingerbread boy,\x94 cried Phronsie, running eagerly along with a
particularly ugly looking specimen of a cake figure in her hand, \x93is the
be-yew-tifullest, isn\x92t it, Polly?\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 groaned Polly, \x93it looks just awfully, don\x92t it, Ben!\x94

\x93Hoh, hoh!\x94 laughed Joel in derision; \x93his leg is crooked, see
Phronsie--you better let Davie an\x92 me have it.\x94

\x93No, no,\x94 screamed the child in terror; \x93that\x92s my sick man\x92s
\x91gingerbread boy,\x92 it is!\x94

\x93Joe, put it down,\x94 said Ben. \x93Yes, Phronsie, you shall have it; there,
it\x92s all safe;\x94 and he put it carefully into Phronsie\x92s apron, when she
breathed easier.

\x93And he hasn\x92t but one eye,\x94 still laughed Joel, while little Davie
giggled too.

\x93He did have two,\x94 said Polly, \x93but she punched the other in with her
thumb; don\x92t, boys,\x94 she said, aside, \x93you\x92ll make her feel bad; do stop
laughing. Now, how\x92ll we send the things?\x94

\x93Put \x91em in a basket,\x94 said Ben; \x93that\x92s nicest.\x94

\x93But we haven\x92t got any basket,\x94 said Polly, \x93except the potato basket,
and they\x92d be lost in that.\x94

\x93Can\x92t we take your work-basket, mamsie?\x94 asked Ben; \x93they\x92d look so
nice in that.\x94

\x93Oh,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93that wouldn\x92t do; I couldn\x92t spare it, and
besides, it\x92s all broken at the side, Ben; that don\x92t look nice.\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Polly, sitting down on one of the hard wooden chairs
to think, \x93I do wish we had things nice to send to sick people.\x94 And her
forehead puckered up in a little hard knot.

\x93We\x92ll have to do \x91em up in a paper, Polly,\x94 said Ben; \x93there isn\x92t
any other way; they\x92ll look nice in anything, \x91cause they are nice,\x94 he
added, comfortingly.

\x93If we only had some flowers,\x94 said Polly, \x93that would set \x91em off.\x94

\x93You\x92re always a-thinkin\x92 of flowers, Polly,\x94 said Ben. \x93I guess the
cakes\x92ll have to go without \x91em.\x94

\x93I suppose they will,\x94 said Polly, stifling a little sigh. \x93Where\x92s the
paper?\x94

\x93I\x92ve got a nice piece up-stairs,\x94 said Ben, \x93just right; I\x92ll get it.\x94

\x93Put my \x91gingerbread boy\x92 on top,\x94 cried Phronsie, handing him up.

So Polly packed the little cakes neatly in two rows, and laid the
\x91gingerbread boy\x92 in a fascinating attitude across the top.

\x93He looks as if he\x92d been struck by lightning!\x94 said Ben, viewing him
critically as he came in the door with the paper.

\x93Be still,\x94 said Polly, trying not to laugh; \x93that\x92s because he baked so
funny; it made his feet stick out.\x94

\x93Children,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93how\x92ll Jasper know where the cakes come
from?\x94

\x93Why, he\x92ll know it\x92s us,\x94 said Polly, \x93of course; \x91cause it\x92ll make him
think of the baking we\x92re going to have when he gets well.\x94

\x93Well, but you don\x92t say so,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, smiling; \x93tisn\x92t polite
to send it this way.\x94

\x93Whatever\x92ll we do, mammy!\x94 said all four children in dismay, while
Phronsie simply stared. \x93Can\x92t we send \x91em at all?\x94

\x93Why yes,\x94 said their mother; \x93I hope so, I\x92m sure, after you\x92ve got \x91em
baked; but you might answer Jasper\x92s letter I should think, and tell him
about \x91em, and the \x91gingerbread boy\x92.\x94

\x93Oh dear,\x94 said Polly, ready to fly, \x93I couldn\x92t mamsie; I never wrote a
letter.\x94

\x93Well, you never had one before, did you?\x94 said her mother, composedly
biting her thread. \x93Never say you can\x92t, Polly, \x91cause you don\x92t know
what you can do till you\x92ve tried.\x94

\x93You write, Ben,\x94 said Polly, imploringly.

\x93No,\x94 said Ben, \x93I think the nicest way is for all to say somethin\x92,
then \x91twon\x92t be hard for any of us.\x94

\x93Where\x92s the paper,\x94 queried Polly, \x93coming from, I wonder!\x94

\x93Joel,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93run to the bureau in the bedroom, and open
the top drawer, and get a green box there.\x94

So Joel, quite important at the errand, departed, and presently put the
designated box into his mother\x92s hand.

\x93There, now I\x92m going to give you this,\x94 and she took out a small sheet
of paper slightly yellowed by age; but being gilt-edged, it looked very
magnificent to the five pairs of eyes directed to it.

\x93Now Ben, you get the ink bottle and the pen, and then go to work.\x94

So Ben reached down from the upper shelf in the cupboard the ink bottle,
and a pen in a black wooden penholder.

\x93Oh, mamsie,\x94 cried Polly, \x93that\x92s where Phronsie bit it off when she
was a baby, isn\x92t it?\x94 holding up the stubby end where the little ball
had disappeared.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93and now you\x92re going to write about her
\x91gingerbread boy\x92 with it--well, time goes, to be sure.\x94 And she bent
over her work again, harder than ever. Poor woman! if she could only
scrape together enough money to get her children into school--that was
the earnest wish of her heart. She must do it soon, for Ben was twelve
years old; but with all her strivings and scrimpings she could only
manage to put bread into their mouths, and live from day to day. \x93I know
I ought to be thankful for that,\x94 she said to herself, not taking time
even to cry over her troubles. \x93But oh, the learning! they must have
that!\x94

\x93Now,\x94 said Polly, \x93how\x92ll we do it Ben?\x94 as they ranged themselves
around the table, on which reposed the cakes; \x93you begin.\x94

\x93How do folks begin a letter?\x94 asked Ben in despair, of his mother.

\x93How did Jasper begin his?\x94 asked Mrs. Pepper back again. \x93Oh,\x94 cried
Polly, running into the bedroom to get the precious missive. \x93Dear Miss
Polly\x92--that\x92s what it says.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93then you\x92d better say, \x91Dear Mister
Jasper\x92--or you might say, \x91Dear Mr. King.\x92\x94

\x93Oh, dear!\x94 cried Polly, \x93that would be the father then--s\x92pose he
should think we wrote to him!\x94 and Polly looked horror-stricken to the
last degree.

\x93There, there \x91tis,\x94 said Ben: \x93\x91Dear Mister Jasper\x92--now what\x92ll we
say?\x94

\x93Why, say about the cakes,\x94 replied Polly.

\x93And the \x91gingerbread boy,\x94 cried Phronsie. \x93Oh, tell about him, Polly,
do.\x94

\x93Yes, yes, Phronsie,\x94 said Polly, \x93we will--why, tell him how we wish
he could have come, and that we baked him some cakes, and that we do so
want him to come just as soon as he can.\x94

\x93All right!\x94 said Ben; so he went to work laboriously; only his
hard breathing showing what a hard task it was, as the stiff old pen
scratched up and down the paper.

\x93There, that\x92s done,\x94 he cried at length in great satisfaction, holding
it up for inspection.

\x93Oh, I do wish,\x94 cried Polly in intense admiration, \x93I could write so
nice and so fast as you can, Ben.\x94

\x93Read it, Polly,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, in pride.

So Polly began: \x93Dear Mister Jasper we were all dreadfully sorry
that you didn\x92t come and so we baked you some cakes.\x92--You didn\x92t say
anything about his being sick, Ben.\x94

\x93I forgot it,\x94 said Ben, \x93but I put it in farther down--you\x92ll see if
you read on.\x94

\x93Baked you some cakes--that is, Polly did, for this is Ben that\x92s
writing.\x94

\x93You needn\x92t said that, Ben,\x94 said Polly, dissatisfied; \x93we all baked
\x91em, I\x92m sure. \x91And just as soon as you get well we do want you to come
over and have the baking. We\x92re real sorry you\x92re sick--boneset\x92s good
for colds.\x94

\x93Oh, Ben!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93I guess his father knows what to give
him.\x94

\x93And oh! the bitter stuff!\x94 cried Polly, with a wry face. \x93Well, it\x92s
hard work to write,\x94 said Ben, yawning. \x93I\x92d rather chop wood.\x94

\x93I wish! knew how,\x94 exclaimed Joel, longingly.

\x93Just you try every day; Ben\x92ll teach you, Joe,\x94 said his mother,
eagerly, \x93and then I\x92ll let you write.\x94

\x93I will!\x94 cried Joe; \x93then, Dave, you\x92ll see how I\x92ll write--I tell
you!\x94

\x93And I\x92m goin\x92 to--ma, can\x92t I?\x94 said Davie, unwilling to be outdone.

\x93Yes, you may, be sure,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, delighted; \x93that\x92ll make a
man of you fast.\x94

\x93Oh, boys,\x94 said Polly, lifting a very red face, \x93you joggle the table
so I can\x92t do anything.\x94

\x93I wasn\x92t jogglin\x92,\x94 said Joel; \x93the old thing tipped. Look!\x94 he
whispered to Davie, \x93see Polly, she\x92s writing crooked.\x94

So while the others hung around her and looked over her shoulder while
they made their various comments, Polly finished her part, and also held
it up for inspection.

\x93Let us see,\x94 said Ben, taking it up.

\x93It\x92s after, \x91boneset\x92s good for colds,\x92\x94 said Polly, puckering up her
face again at the thought.

\x93We most of us knew you were sick--I\x92m Polly now--because you didn\x92t
come; and we liked your letter telling us so. Oh, Polly! we weren\x92t glad
to hear he was sick!\x94 cried Ben, in horror.

\x93I didn\x92t say so!\x94 cried Polly, starting up. \x93Why, Ben Pepper, I never
said so!\x94 and she looked ready to cry.

\x93It sounds something like it, don\x92t it, mammy?\x94 said Ben, unwilling to
give her pain, but appealing to Mrs. Pepper.

\x93Polly didn\x92t mean it,\x94 said her mother consolingly; \x93but if I were you,
I\x92d say something to explain it.\x94

\x93I can\x92t put anything in now,\x94 said poor Polly; \x93there isn\x92t any room
nor any more paper either--what shall I do! I told you, Ben, I couldn\x92t
write.\x94 And Polly looked helplessly from one to the other for comfort.

\x93Yes, you can,\x94 said Ben; \x93there, now I\x92ll show you: write it fine,
Polly--you write so big--little bits of letters, like these.\x94

So Polly took the pen again with a sigh. \x93Now he won\x92t think so, I
guess,\x94 she said, much relieved, as Ben began to read again.

\x93I\x92ll begin yours again,\x94 Ben said: \x93We most of us knew you were sick
because you didn\x92t come, and we liked your letter telling us so because
we\x92d all felt so badly, and Phronsie cried herself to sleep--\x94 (that\x92s
good, I\x92m sure.) \x93The \x91gingerbread boy\x92 is for your father--please
excuse it, but Phronsie would make it for him because he is sick. There
isn\x92t any more to write, and besides I can\x92t write good, and Ben\x92s
tired. From all of us.\x94

\x93Why, how\x92s he to know?\x94 cried Ben. \x93That won\x92t do to sign it.\x94

\x93Well, let\x92s say from Ben and Polly then,\x94 said Polly; \x93only all the
others want to be in the letter.\x94

\x93Well, they can\x92t write,\x94 said Ben.

\x93We might sign their names for \x91em,\x94 suggested Polly.

\x93Here\x92s mine,\x94 said Ben, putting under the \x93From all of us\x94 a big, bold
\x93Ben.\x94

\x93And here\x92s mine,\x94 echoed Polly, setting a slightly crooked \x93Polly\x94 by
its side.

\x93Now Joe, you better let Ben hold your hand,\x94 said Polly, warningly. But
Joel declaring he could write had already begun, so there was no hope
for it; and a big drop of ink falling from the pen, he spattered the \x93J\x94
 so that no one could tell what it was. The children looked at each other
in despair.

\x93Can we ever get it out, mammy?\x94 said Polly, running to Mrs. Pepper with
it.

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 said her mother. \x93How could you try it, Joe?\x94

\x93I didn\x92t mean to,\x94 said Joel, looking very downcast and ashamed. \x93The
ugly old pen did it!\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Polly, \x93it\x92s got to go; we can\x92t help it.\x94 But she looked
so sorrowful over it that half the pleasure was gone for Ben; for Polly
wanted everything just right, and was very particular about things.

\x93Now, Dave.\x94 Ben held his hand, and \x93David\x94 went down next to Joel.

But when it was Phronsie\x92s turn, she protested that Polly, and no one
else, must hold her hand.

\x93It\x92s a dreadful hard name to write--Phronsie is,\x94 said Polly, as she
guided Phronsie\x92s fat little hand that clung faithfully to the stubby
old pen. \x93There, it\x92s over now,\x94 she cried; \x93and I\x92m thankful! I
wouldn\x92t write another for anything!\x94

\x93Read it all over now, Ben,\x94 cried Mrs. Pepper, \x93and don\x92t speak,
children, till he gets through.\x94

\x93Don\x92t it sound elegant!\x94 said Polly, clasping her hands, when he had
finished. \x93I didn\x92t think we ever could do it so nice, did you, Ben?\x94

\x93No, indeed, I didn\x92t,\x94 replied Ben, in a highly ecstatic frame of mind.
\x93Now--oh! what\x92ll we do for an envelope?\x94 he asked in dismay.

\x93You\x92ll have to do without that,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93for there isn\x92t any
in the house--but see here, children,\x94 she added, as she saw the sorry
faces before her--\x93you just fold up the letter, and put it inside the
parcel; that\x92ll be just as good.\x94

\x93Oh dear,\x94 said Polly; \x93but it would have been splendid the other way,
mammy--just like other folks!\x94

\x93You must make believe this is like other folks,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper,
cheerily, \x93when you can\x92t do any other way.\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Ben, \x93that\x92s so, Polly; tie \x91em up quick\x92s you can, and I\x92ll
take \x91em over to Deacon Blodgett\x92s, for he\x92s goin\x92 to start early in the
morning.\x94

So after another last look all around, Polly put the cakes in the paper,
and tied it with four or five strong knots, to avoid all danger of its
undoing.

\x93He never\x92ll untie it, Polly,\x94 said Ben; \x93that\x92s just like a girl\x92s
knots!\x94

\x93Why didn\x92t you tie it then?\x94 said Polly; \x93I\x92m sure it\x92s as good as
a boy\x92s knots, and they always muss up a parcel so.\x94 And she gave a
loving, approving little pat to the top of the package, which, despite
its multitude of knots, was certainly very neat indeed.

Ben, grasping the pen again, \x93here goes for the direction.

\x93Deary, yes!\x94 said Polly. \x93I forgot all about that; I thought \x91twas
done.\x94

\x93How\x92d you s\x92pose he\x92d get it?\x94 asked Ben, coolly beginning the \x93M.\x94

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 replied Polly, looking over his shoulder; \x93s\x92pose
anybody else had eaten \x91em up, Ben!\x94 And she turned pale at the very
thought.

\x93There,\x94 said Ben, at last, after a good many flourishes, \x93now \x91tis
done! you can\x92t think of another thing to do to it, Polly!\x94

\x93Mamsie, see!\x94 cried Polly, running with it to Mrs. Pepper, \x93isn\x92t that
fine! \x91Mr. Jasper E. King, at the Hotel Hingham.\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, admiringly, to the content of all the children,
\x93I should think it was!\x94

\x93Let me take it in my hand,\x94 screamed Joel, reaching eagerly up for the
tempting brown parcel.

\x93Be careful then, Joe,\x94 said Polly, with an important air. So Joel took
a comfortable feel, and then Davie must have the same privilege. At
last it was off, and with intense satisfaction the children watched Ben
disappear with it down the long hill to Deacon Blodgett\x92s.

The next day Ben came running in from his work at the deacon\x92s.

\x93Oh, Polly, you had \x91em!\x94 he screamed, all out of breath. \x93You had \x91em!\x94

\x93Had what?\x94 asked Polly in astonishment. \x93Oh, Bensie, what do you mean?\x94

\x93Your flowers,\x94 he panted. \x93You sent some flowers to Jasper.\x94

\x93Flowers to Jasper!\x94 repeated Polly, afraid Ben had gone out of his
wits.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Ben; \x93I\x92ll begin at the beginning. You see, Polly, when I
went down this morning, Betsey was to set me to work. Deacon Blodgett
and Mrs. Blodgett had started early, you know; and while I was
a-cleanin\x92 up the woodshed, as she told me, all of a sudden she said,
as she stood in the door looking on, \x91Oh, Ben, Mis\x92 Blodgett took some
posies along with your parcel.\x92 \x91What?\x92 said I; I didn\x92t know as I\x92d
heard straight. \x91Posies, I said,\x92 says Betsey; \x91beautiful ones they
were, too, the best in the garding. I heard her tell Mr. Blodgett it
would be a pity if that sick boy couldn\x92t have some flowers, and she
knew the Pepper children were crazy about \x91em, so she twisted \x91em in
the string around the parcel, and there they stood up and looked fine, I
tell you, as they drove away.\x92 So, Polly!\x94

\x93Bensie Pepper!\x94 cried Polly, taking hold of his jacket, and spinning
him round, \x93I told you so! I told you so!\x94

\x93I know you did,\x94 said Ben, as she gave him a parting whirl, \x93an\x92 I wish
you\x92d say so about other things, Polly, if you can get \x91em so easy.\x94



JOLLY DAYS


\x93Oh Ben,\x94 cried Jasper, overtaking him by a smart run as he was turning
in at the little brown gate one morning three days after, \x93do wait.\x94

\x93Halloa!\x94 cried Ben, turning around, and setting down his load--a bag of
salt and a basket of potatoes--and viewing Jasper and Prince with great
satisfaction.

\x93Yes, here I am,\x94 said Jasper. \x93And how I\x92ve run; that fellow on the
stage was awful slow in getting here--oh, you\x92re so good,\x94 he said
and his eyes, brimful of gladness, beamed on Ben. \x93The cakes were just
prime, and \x91twas great fun to get your letter.\x94

\x93Did you like it?\x94 asked Ben, the color up all over his brown
face--\x93Like it!\x94 cried Jasper. \x93Why \x91twas just splendid; and the cakes
were royal! Isn\x92t Polly smart though, to bake like that!\x94 he added
admiringly.

\x93I guess she is,\x94 said Ben, drawing himself up to his very tallest
dimensions. \x93She knows how to do everything, Jasper King!\x94

\x93I should think she did,\x94 responded the boy quickly. \x93I wish she was my
sister,\x94 he finished longingly.

\x93Well, I don\x92t,\x94 quickly replied Ben, \x93for then she wouldn\x92t be mine;
and I couldn\x92t think of being without Polly! Was your father angry
about--about--\x91the gingerbread boy\x92?\x94 he asked timidly, trembling for an
answer.

\x93Oh dear,\x94 cried Jasper, tumbling over on the grass, \x93don\x92t, don\x92t! I
shan\x92t be good for anything if you make me laugh! oh! wasn\x92t it funny;\x94
 and he rolled over and over, shaking with glee.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Ben, immensely relieved to find that no offence had been
taken. \x93But she would send it; Polly tried not to have her, and she
most cried when Phronsie was so determined, cause she said your father
never\x92d let you come again--\x94

\x93Twas just lovely in Phronsie,\x94 said the boy, sitting up and wiping his
eyes, \x93but oh it was so funny! you ought to have seen my father, Ben
Pepper.\x94

\x93Oh, then he was angry,\x94 cried Ben.

\x93No indeed he wasn\x92t!\x94 said Jasper; \x93don\x92t you think it! do you know it
did him lots of good, for he\x92d been feeling real badly that morning, he
hadn\x92t eaten any breakfast, and when he saw that gingerbread boy--\x94
 here Jasper rolled over again with a peal of laughter--\x93and heard the
message, he just put back his head, and he laughed--why, I never heard
him laugh as he did then! the room shook all over; and he ate a big
dinner, and all that afternoon he felt as good as could be. But he says
he\x92s coming to see the little girl that baked it for him before we go
home.\x94

Ben nearly tumbled over by the side of Jasper at these words--\x93Coming to
see us!\x94 he gasped.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Jasper, who had scarcely got over his own astonishment about
it, for if the roof had suddenly whisked off on to the church steeple,
he couldn\x92t have been more amazed than when he heard his father say
cheerily: \x93Well, Jasper my boy, I guess I shall have to drive over and
see your little girl, since she\x92s been polite enough to bake me this,\x94
 pointing to the wild-looking \x93gingerbread boy.\x94

\x93Come in and tell \x91em about it,\x94 cried Ben, radiantly, picking up his
potatoes and salt. \x93It\x92s all right, Polly!\x94 he said in a jubilant voice,
\x93for here\x92s Jasper, and he\x92ll tell you so himself.\x94

\x93Hush!\x94 said Jasper warningly, \x93don\x92t let Phronsie hear; well, here\x92s
my pet now,\x94 and after bobbing lovingly to the others, with eyes beaming
over with fun, he caught up the little girl who was screaming--\x93Oh,
here\x92s Jasper! and my beyew-ti-ful doggie!\x94

\x93Now Phronsie,\x94 he cried, \x93give me a kiss; you haven\x92t any soft soap
to-day, have you? no; that\x92s a good, nice one, now; your \x91gingerbread
boy\x92 was just splendid!\x94

\x93Did he eat it?\x94 asked the child in grave delight.

\x93Well--no--he hasn\x92t eaten it yet,\x94 said Jasper, smiling on the others;
\x93he\x92s keeping it to look at, Phronsie.\x94

\x93I should think so!\x94 groaned Polly.

\x93Never mind, Polly,\x94 Ben whispered; \x93Jasper\x92s been a-tellin\x92 me about
it; his father liked it--he did truly.\x94

\x93Oh!\x94 said Polly, \x93I\x92m so glad!\x94

\x93He had eyes,\x94 said Phronsie, going back to the charms of the
\x93gingerbread boy.\x94

\x93I know it,\x94 said Jasper admiringly; \x93so he did.\x94

\x93Rather deep sunk, one of \x91em was,\x94 muttered Ben.

\x93And I\x92ll bake you one, Jasper,\x94 said the child as he put her down; \x93I
will very truly--some day.\x94

\x93Will you,\x94 smiled Jasper; \x93well then,\x94 and there was a whispered
conference with Phronsie that somehow sent that damsel into a blissful
state of delight. And then while Phronsie monopolized Prince, Jasper
told them all about the reception of the parcel--how very dull and
forlorn he was feeling that morning, Prince and he shut up in-doors--and
how his father had had a miserable night, and had eaten scarcely no
breakfast, and just at this juncture there came a knock at the door,
\x93and\x94 said Jasper, \x93your parcel walked in, all dressed up in flowers!\x94

\x93They weren\x92t our flowers,\x94 said Polly, honestly. \x93Mrs. Blodgett put \x91em
on.\x94

\x93Well she couldn\x92t have, if you hadn\x92t sent the parcel,\x94 said Jasper in
a tone of conviction.

Then he launched out into a description of how they opened the
package--Prince looking on, and begging for one of the cakes.

\x93Oh, didn\x92t you give him one?\x94 cried Polly at this. \x93Good old Prince!\x94

\x93Yes I did,\x94 said Jasper, \x93the biggest one of all.\x94

\x93The one I guess,\x94 interrupted Joel, \x93with the big raisin on top.\x94

Polly spoke up quickly to save any more remarks on Joel\x92s part. \x93Now
tell us about your father--and the \x91gingerbread boy.\x92\x94

So Jasper broke out with a merry laugh, into this part of the story,
and soon had them all in such a gale of merriment, that Phronsie stopped
playing out on the door-step with Prince, and came in to see what the
matter was.

\x93Never mind,\x94 said Polly, trying to get her breath, just as Jasper was
relating how Mr. King set up the \x93gingerbread boy\x94 on his writing table
before him, while he leaned back in his chair for a hearty laugh.

\x93And to make it funnier still,\x94 said Jasper \x93don\x92t you think, a little
pen-wiper he has, made like a cap, hanging on the pen-rack above him,
tumbled off just at this very identical minute right on the head of the
\x91gingerbread boy,\x92 and there it stuck!\x94

\x93Oh!\x94 they all screamed, \x93if we could only have seen it.\x94

\x93What was it?\x94 asked Phronsie, pulling Polly\x92s sleeve to make her hear.

So Jasper took her in his lap, and told how funny the \x93gingerbread boy\x94
 looked with a cap on, and Phronsie clapped her hands, and laughed with
the rest, till the little old kitchen rang and rang again.

And then they had the baking! and Polly tied one of her mother\x92s ample
aprons on Jasper, as Mrs. Pepper had left directions if he should come
while she was away; and he developed such a taste for cookery, and had
so many splendid improvements on the Peppers\x92 simple ideas, that the
children thought it the most fortunate thing in the world that he came;
and one and all voted him a most charming companion.

\x93You could cook a Thanksgiving dinner in this stove, just as easy as
not,\x94 said Jasper, putting into the oven something on a little cracked
plate that would have been a pie if there were any centre; but lacking
that necessary accompaniment, probably was a short-cake. \x93Just as easy
as not,\x94 he repeated with emphasis, slamming the door, to give point to
his remarks.

\x93No, you couldn\x92t either,\x94 said Ben at the table with equal decision;
\x93not a bit of it, Jasper King!\x94

\x93Why, Ben Pepper?\x94 asked Jasper, \x93that oven\x92s big enough! I should like
to know why not?\x94

\x93\x91Cause there isn\x92t anything to cook,\x94 said Ben coolly, cutting out a
piece of dough for a jumble; \x93we don\x92t keep Thanksgiving.\x94

\x93Not keep Thanksgiving!\x94 said Jasper, standing quite still; \x93never had a
Thanksgiving! well, I declare,\x94 and then he stopped again.

\x93Yes,\x94 answered Ben; \x93we had one once; \x91twas last year--but that wasn\x92t
much.\x94

\x93Well then,\x94 said Jasper, leaning over the table, \x93I\x92ll tell you what I
should think you\x92d do--try Christmas.\x94

\x93Oh, that\x92s always worse,\x94 said Polly, setting down her rolling-pin to
think--which immediately rolled away by itself off from the table.

\x93We never had a Christmas,\x94 said little Davie reflectively; \x93what are
they like, Jasper?\x94

Jasper sat quite still, and didn\x92t reply to this question for a moment
or two.

To be among children who didn\x92t like Thanksgiving, and who \x93never
had seen a Christmas,\x94 and \x93didn\x92t know what it was like,\x94 was a new
revelation to him.

\x93They hang up stockings,\x94 said Polly softly.

How many, many times she had begged her mother to try it for the younger
ones; but there was never anything to put in them, and the winters were
cold and hard, and the strictest economy only carried them through.

\x93Oh!\x94 said little Phronsie in horror, \x93are their feet in \x91em, Polly?\x94

\x93No dear,\x94 said Polly; while Jasper instead of laughing, only stared.
Something requiring a deal of thought was passing through the boy\x92s mind
just then. \x93They shall have a Christmas!\x94 he muttered, \x93I know father\x92ll
let me.\x94 But he kept his thoughts to himself; and becoming his own gay,
kindly self, he explained and told to Phronsie and the others, so many
stories of past Christmases he had enjoyed, that the interest over the
baking soon dwindled away, until a horrible smell of something burning
brought them all to their senses.

\x93Oh! the house is burning!\x94 cried Polly. \x93Oh get a pail of water!\x94

\x93Tisn\x92t either,\x94 said Jasper, snuffing wisely; \x93oh! I know--I forgot all
about it--I do beg your pardon.\x94 And running to the stove, he knelt
down and drew out of the oven, a black, odorous mass, which with a
crest-fallen air he brought to Polly.

\x93I\x92m no end sorry I made such a mess of it,\x94 he said, \x93I meant it for
you.\x94

\x93Tisn\x92t any matter,\x94 said Polly kindly.

\x93And now do you go on,\x94 cried Joel and David both in the same breath,
\x93all about the Tree, you know.\x94

\x93Yes, yes,\x94 said the others; \x93if you\x92re not tired, Jasper.\x94

\x93Oh, no,\x94 cried their accommodating friend, \x93I love to tell about it;
only wait--let\x92s help Polly clear up first.\x94

So after all traces of the frolic had been tidied up, and made nice for
the mother\x92s return, they took seats in a circle and Jasper regaled
them with story and reminiscence, till they felt as if fairy land were
nothing to it!

\x93How did you ever live through it, Jasper King,\x94 said Polly, drawing the
first long breath she had dared to indulge in. \x93Such an elegant time!\x94

Jasper laughed. \x93I hope I\x92ll live through plenty more of them,\x94 he said
merrily. \x93We\x92re going to sister Marian\x92s again, father and I; we always
spend our Christmas there, you know, and she\x92s to have all the cousins,
and I don\x92t know how many more; and a tree--but the best of all, there\x92s
going to be a German carol sung by choir boys--I shall like that best of
all.\x94

\x93What are choir boys?\x94 asked Polly who was intensely fond of music.

\x93In some of the churches,\x94 explained Jasper, \x93the choir is all boys; and
they do chant, and sing anthems perfectly beautifully, Polly!\x94

\x93Do you play on the piano, and sing?\x94 asked Polly, looking at him in
awe.

\x93Yes,\x94 said the boy simply; \x93I\x92ve played ever since I was a little
fellow, no bigger\x92n Phronsie.\x94

\x93Oh, Jasper!\x94 cried Polly, clasping her hands, her cheeks all
aflame--\x93do you mean to say you do really and truly play on the piano?\x94

\x93Why yes,\x94 said the boy, looking into her flashing eyes. \x93Polly\x92s
always crazy about music,\x94 explained Ben; \x93she\x92ll drum on the table, and
anywhere, to make believe it\x92s a piano.\x94

\x93There\x92s Dr. Fisher going by,\x94 said Joel, who, now that they had gotten
on the subject of music, began to find prickles running up and down his
legs from sitting so still. \x93I wish he\x92d stop.\x94

\x93Is he the one that cured your measles--and Polly\x92s eyes?\x94 asked Jasper
running to the window. \x93I want to see him.\x94

\x93Well there he is,\x94 cried Ben, as the doctor put his head out of the gig
and bowed and smiled to the little group in the window.

\x93He\x92s just lovely,\x94 cried Polly, \x93oh! I wish you knew him.\x94

\x93If father\x92s sick again,\x94 said Jasper, \x93we\x92ll have him--he looks nice,
anyway--for father don\x92t like the doctor over in Hingham--do you know
perhaps we\x92ll come again next summer; wouldn\x92t that be nice!\x94

\x93Oh!\x94 cried the children rapturously; \x93do come, Jasper, do!\x94

\x93Well, maybe,\x94 said Jasper, \x93if father likes it and sister Marian and
her family will come with us; they do some summers. You\x92d like little
Dick, I know,\x94 turning to Phronsie. \x93And I guess all of you\x92d like all
of them,\x94 he added, looking at the group of interested listeners. \x93They
wanted to come this year awfully; they said--\x91Oh grandpapa, do let us go
with you and Jappy, and--\x94

\x93What!\x94 said the children.

\x93Oh,\x94 said Jasper with a laugh, \x93they call me Jappy--its easier to say
than Jasper; ever so many people do for short. You may if you want to,\x94
 he said looking around on them all.

\x93How funny!\x94 laughed Polly, \x93But I don\x92t know as it is any worse than
Polly or Ben.\x94

\x93Or Phronsie,\x94 said Jappy. \x93Don\x92t you like Jappy?\x94 he said, bringing
his head down to her level, as she sat on the little stool at his feet,
content in listening to the merry chat.

\x93Is that the same as Jasper?\x94 she asked gravely.

\x93Yes, the very same,\x94 he said.

When they parted--Jappy and the little Peppers were sworn friends; and
the boy, happy in his good times in the cheery little home, felt the
hours long between the visits that his father, when he saw the change
that they wrought in his son, willingly allowed him to make.

\x93Oh dear!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper one day in the last of September--as a
carriage drawn by a pair of very handsome horses, stopped at their
door, \x93here comes Mr. King I do believe; we never looked worse\x92n we do
to-day!\x94

\x93I don\x92t care,\x94 said Polly, flying out of the bedroom. \x93Jappy\x92s with
him, mamma, and it\x92ll be nice I guess. At any rate, Phronsie\x92s clean as
a pink,\x94 she thought to herself looking at the little maiden, busy with
\x93baby\x94 to whom she was teaching deportment in the corner. But there was
no time to \x93fix up;\x94 for a tall, portly gentleman, leaning on his
heavy gold cane, was walking up from the little brown gate to the big
flat-stone that served as a step. Jasper and Prince followed decorously.

\x93Is this little Miss Pepper?\x94 he asked pompously of Polly, who answered
his rap on the door. Now whether she was little \x93Miss Pepper\x94 she never
had stopped to consider.

\x93I don\x92t know sir; I\x92m Polly.\x94 And then she blushed bright as a rose,
and the laughing brown eyes looked beyond to Jasper, who stood on the
walk, and smiled encouragingly.

\x93Is your mother in?\x94 asked the old gentleman, who was so tall he could
scarcely enter the low door. And then Mrs. Pepper came forward, and
Jasper introduced her, and the old gentleman bowed, and sat down in
the seat Polly placed for him. And Mrs. Pepper thanked him with a heart
overflowing with gratitude, through lips that would tremble even
then, for all that Jasper had done for them. And the old gentleman
said--\x93Humph!\x94 but he looked at his son, and something shone in his eye
just for a moment.

Phronsie had retreated with \x93baby\x94 in her arms behind the door on the
new arrival. But seeing everything progressing finely, and overcome by
her extreme desire to see Jappy and Prince, she began by peeping out
with big eyes to observe how things were going on. Just then the old
gentleman happened to say, \x93Well, where is my little girl that baked me
a cake so kindly?\x94

Then Phronsie, forgetting all else but her \x93poor sick man,\x94 who also was
\x93Jasper\x92s father,\x94 rushed out from behind the door, and coming up to the
stately old gentleman in the chair, she looked up pityingly, and said,
shaking her yellow head, \x93Poor, sick man, was my boy good?\x94

After that there was no more gravity and ceremony. In a moment, Phronsie
was perched upon old Mr. King\x92s knee, and playing with his watch;
while the others, freed from all restraint, were chatting and laughing
happily, till some of the cheeriness overflowed and warmed the heart of
the old gentleman.

\x93We go to-morrow,\x94 he said, rising, and looking at his watch. \x93Why, is
it possible that we have been here an hour! there, my little girl,
will you give me a kiss?\x94 and he bent his handsome old head down to the
childish face upturned to his confidingly.

\x93Don\x92t go,\x94 said the child, as she put up her little lips in grave
confidence. \x93I do like you--I do!\x94

\x93Oh, Phronsie,\x94 began Mrs. Pepper.

\x93Don\x92t reprove her, madam,\x94 said the old gentleman, who liked it
immensely. \x93Yes, we go to-morrow,\x94 he said, looking around on the group
to whom this was a blow they little expected. They had surely thought
Jasper was to stay a week longer.

\x93I received a telegram this morning, that I must be in the city on
Thursday. And besides, madam,\x94 he said, addressing Mrs. Pepper, \x93I think
the climate is bad for me now, as it induces rheumatism. The hotel is
also getting unpleasant; there are many annoyances that I cannot put up
with; so that altogether, I do not regret it.\x94

Mrs. Pepper, not knowing exactly what to say to this, wisely said
nothing. Meantime, Jappy and the little Peppers were having a sorry time
over in the corner by themselves.

\x93Well, I\x92ll write,\x94 cried Jasper, not liking to look at Polly just then,
as he was sure he shouldn\x92t want anyone to look at him, if he felt like
crying. \x93And you must answer \x91em all.\x94

\x93Oh, we will! we will!\x94 they cried. \x93And Jappy, do come next summer,\x94
 said Joel.

\x93If father\x92ll only say yes, we will, I tell you!\x94 he responded eagerly.

\x93Come, my boy,\x94 said his father the third time; and Jasper knew by the
tone that there must be no delay.

Mr. King had been nervously putting his hand in his pocket during the
last few moments that the children were together; but when he glanced
at Mrs. Pepper\x92s eyes, something made him draw it out again hastily,
as empty as he put it in. \x93No, \x91twouldn\x92t do,\x94 he said to himself; \x93she
isn\x92t the kind of woman to whom one could offer money.\x94

The children crowded back their tears, and hastily said their last
good-bye, some of them hanging on to Prince till the last moment.

And then the carriage door shut with a bang, Jasper giving them a bright
parting smile, and they were gone.

And the Peppers went into their little brown house, and shut the door.



GETTING A CHRISTMAS FOR THE LITTLE ONES


And so October came and went. The little Peppers were very lonely after
Jasper had gone; even Mrs. Pepper caught herself looking up one day when
the wind blew the door open suddenly, half expecting to see the merry
whole-souled boy, and the faithful dog come scampering in.

But the letters came--and that was a comfort; and it was fun to answer
them. The first one spoke of Jasper\x92s being under a private tutor, with
his cousins; then they were less frequent, and they knew he was studying
hard. Full of anticipations of Christmas himself, he urged the little
Peppers to try for one. And the life and spirit of the letter was so
catching, that Polly and Ben found their souls fired within them to try
at least to get for the little ones a taste of Christmastide.

\x93Now, mammy,\x94 they said at last, one day in the latter part of October,
when the crisp, fresh air filled their little healthy bodies with
springing vitality that must bubble over and rush into something,
\x93we don\x92t want a Thanksgiving--truly we don\x92t. But may we try for a
Christmas--just a little one,\x94 they added, timidly, \x93for the children?\x94
 Ben and Polly always called the three younger ones of the flock \x93the
children.\x94

To their utter surprise, Mrs. Pepper looked mildly assenting, and
presently she said, \x93Well, I don\x92t see why you can\x92t try; \x91twon\x92t do any
harm, I\x92m sure.\x94

You see Mrs. Pepper had received a letter from Jasper, which at present
she didn\x92t feel called upon to say anything about.

\x93Now,\x94 said Polly, drawing a long breath, as she and Ben stole away into
a corner to \x93talk over\x94 and lay plans, \x93what does it mean?\x94

\x93Never mind,\x94 said Ben; \x93as long as she\x92s given us leave I don\x92t care
what it is.\x94

\x93I neither,\x94 said Polly, with the delicious feeling as if the whole
world were before them where to choose; \x93it\x92ll be just gorgeous, Ben!\x94

\x93What\x92s that?\x94 asked Ben, who was not as much given to long words as
Polly, who dearly loved to be fine in language as well as other things.

\x93Oh, it\x92s something Jappy said one day; and I asked him, and he says
it\x92s fine, and lovely, and all that,\x94 answered Polly, delighted that she
knew something she could really tell Ben.

\x93Then why not say fine?\x94 commented Ben, practically, with a little
upward lift of his nose.

\x93Oh, I\x92d know, I\x92m sure,\x94 laughed Polly. \x93Let\x92s think what\x92ll we do
for Christmas--how many weeks are there, anyway, Ben?\x94 And she began to
count on her fingers.

\x93That\x92s no way,\x94 said Ben, \x93I\x92m going to get the Almanac.\x94 So he went to
the old clock where hanging up by its side, was a \x93Farmer\x92s Almanac.\x94

\x93Now, we\x92ll know,\x94 he said, coming back to their corner. So with heads
together they consulted and counted up till they found that eight weeks
and three days remained in which to get ready.

\x93Dear me!\x94 said Polly. \x93It\x92s most a year, isn\x92t it, Ben?\x94

\x93\x91Twon\x92t be much time for us,\x94 said Ben, who thought of the many hours
to be devoted to hard work that would run away with the time. \x93We\x92d
better begin right away, Polly.\x94

\x93Well, all right,\x94 said Polly, who could scarcely keep her fingers
still, as she thought of the many things she should so love to do if she
could. \x93But first, Ben, what let\x92s do?\x94

\x93Would you rather hang up their stockings?\x94 asked Ben, as if he had
unlimited means at his disposal; \x93or have a tree?\x94

\x93Why,\x94 said Polly, with wide open eyes at the two magnificent ideas, \x93we
haven\x92t got anything to put in the stockings when we hang \x91em, Ben.\x94

\x93That\x92s just it,\x94 said Ben. \x93Now, wouldn\x92t it be better to have a tree,
Polly? I can get that easy in the woods, you know.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 interrupted Polly, eagerly, \x93we haven\x92t got anything to hang on
that, either, Ben. You know Jappy said folks hang all sorts of presents
on the branches. So I don\x92t see,\x94 she continued, impatiently, \x93as
that\x92s any good. We can\x92t do anything, Ben Pepper, so there! there isn\x92t
anything to do anything with,\x94 and with a flounce Polly sat down on
the old wooden stool, and folding her hands looked at Ben in a most
despairing way.

\x93I know,\x94 said Ben, \x93we haven\x92t got much.\x94

\x93We haven\x92t got anything,\x94 said Polly, still looking at him. \x93Why, we\x92ve
got a tree,\x94 replied Ben, hopefully. \x93Well, what\x92s a tree,\x94 retorted
Polly, scornfully. \x93Anybody can go out and look at a tree outdoors.\x94

\x93Well, now, I tell you, Polly,\x94 said Ben, sitting down on the floor
beside her, and speaking very slowly and decisively, \x93we\x92ve got to do
something \x91cause we\x92ve begun; and we might make a tree real pretty.\x94

\x93How?\x94 asked Polly, ashamed of her ill-humor, but not in the least
seeing how anything could be made of a tree. \x93How, Ben Pepper?\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Ben, pleasantly, \x93we\x92d set it up in the corner--\x94

\x93Oh, no, not in the corner,\x94 cried Polly, whose spirits began to rise
a little as she saw Ben so hopeful. \x93Put it in the middle of the room,
do!\x94

\x93I don\x92t care where you put it,\x94 said Ben, smiling, happy that Polly\x92s
usual cheerful energy had returned, \x93but I thought.--\x91twill be a little
one, you know, and I thought \x91twould look better in the corner.\x94

\x93What else?\x94 asked Polly, eager to see how Ben would dress the tree.

\x93Well,\x94 said Ben, \x93you know the Henderson boys gave me a lot of corn
last week.\x94

\x93I don\x92t see as that helps much,\x94 said Polly, still incredulous. \x93Do you
mean hang the cobs on the branches, Ben? That would be just dreadful!\x94

\x93I should think likely,\x94 laughed Ben. \x93No, indeed, Polly Pepper! but
if we should pop a lot, oh! a bushel, and then we should string \x91em, we
could wind it all in and out among the branches, and--\x94

\x93Why, wouldn\x92t that be pretty?\x94 cried Polly, \x93real pretty--and we can do
that, I\x92m sure.\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 continued Ben; \x93and then, don\x92t you know, there\x92s some little
candle ends in that box in the Provision Room, maybe mammy\x92d give us
them.\x94

\x93I don\x92t believe but she would,\x94 cried Polly; \x93twould be just like
Jappy\x92s if she would! Let\x92s ask her now--this very same minute!\x94

And they scampered hurriedly to Mrs. Pepper, who to their extreme
astonishment, after all, said \x93yes,\x94 and smiled encouragingly on the
plan.

\x93Isn\x92t mammy good?\x94 said Polly, with loving gratitude, as they seated
themselves again.

\x93Now we\x92re all right,\x94 exclaimed Ben, \x93and I tell you we can make the
tree look perfectly splendid, Polly Pepper!\x94

\x93And I\x92ll tell you another thing, Ben,\x94 Polly said, \x93oh! something
elegant! You must get ever so many hickory nuts; and you know those bits
of bright paper I\x92ve got in the bureau drawer? Well, we can paste them
on to the nuts and hang \x91em on for the balls Jappy tells of.\x94

\x93Polly,\x94 cried Ben, \x93it\x92ll be such a tree as never was, won\x92t it?\x94

\x93Yes; but dear me,\x94 cried Polly, springing up, \x93the children are coming!
Wasn\x92t it good, grandma wanted \x91em to come over this afternoon, so\x92s
we could talk! Now hush!\x94 as the door opened to admit the noisy little
troop.

\x93If you think of any new plan,\x94 whispered Ben, behind his hand, while
Mrs. Pepper engaged their attention, \x93you\x92ll have to come out into the
wood-shed to talk after this.\x94

\x93I know it,\x94 whispered Polly back again; \x93oh! we\x92ve got just heaps of
things to think of, Bensie!\x94

Such a contriving and racking of brains as Polly and Ben set up after
this! They would bob over at each other, and smile with significant
gesture as a new idea would strike one of them, in the most mysterious
way that, if observed, would drive the others almost wild. And then,
frightened lest in some hilarious moment the secret should pop out,
the two conspirators would betake themselves to the wood-shed as before
agreed on. But Joel, finding this out, followed them one day--or, as
Polly said, tagged--so that was no good.

\x93Let\x92s go behind the wood-pile,\x94 she said to Ben, in desperation; \x93he
can\x92t hear there, if we whisper real soft.\x94

\x93Yes, he will,\x94 said Ben, who knew Joel\x92s hearing faculties much better.
\x93We\x92ll have to wait till they\x92re a-bed.\x94

So after that, when nightfall first began to make its appearance, Polly
would hint mildly about bedtime.

\x93You hustle us so!\x94 said Joel, after he had been sent off to bed for two
or three nights unusually early.

\x93Oh, Joey, it\x92s good for you to get to bed,\x94 said Polly, coaxingly;
\x93it\x92ll make you grow, you know, real fast.\x94

\x93Well, I don\x92t grow a-bed,\x94 grumbled Joel, who thought something was in
the wind. \x93You and Ben are going to talk, I know, and wink your eyes, as
soon as we\x92re gone.\x94

\x93Well, go along, Joe, that\x92s a good boy,\x94 said Polly, laughing, \x93and
you\x92ll know some day.\x94

\x93What\x92ll you give me?\x94 asked Joel, seeing a bargain, his foot on the
lowest stair leading to the loft, \x93say, Polly?\x94

\x93Oh, I haven\x92t got much to give,\x94 she said, cheerily; \x93but I\x92ll tell you
what, Joey--I\x92ll tell you a story every day that you go to bed.\x94

\x93Will you?\x94 cried Joe, hopping back into the room. \x93Begin now, Polly,
begin now!\x94

\x93Why, you haven\x92t been to bed yet,\x94 said Polly, \x93so I can\x92t till
to-morrow.\x94

\x93Yes, I have--you\x92ve made us go for three--no, I guess fourteen nights,\x94
 said Joel, indignantly.

\x93Well, you were made to go,\x94 laughed Polly. \x93I said if you\x92d go good,
you know; so run along, Joe, and I\x92ll tell you a nice one to-morrow.\x94

\x93It\x92s got to be long,\x94 shouted Joel, when he saw he could get no more,
making good time up to the loft.

To say that Polly, in the following days, was Master Joel\x92s slave, was
stating the case lightly. However, she thought by her story-telling she
got off easily, as each evening saw the boys drag their unwilling
feet to-bedward, and leave Ben and herself in peace to plan and work
undisturbed. There they would sit by the little old table, around the
one tallow candle, while Mrs. Pepper sewed away busily, looking up to
smile or to give some bits of advice; keeping her own secret meanwhile,
which made her blood leap fast, as the happy thoughts nestled in her
heart of her little ones and their coming glee. And Polly made the
loveliest of paper dolls for Phronsie out of the rest of the bits of
bright paper; and Ben made windmills and whistles for the boys; and a
funny little carved basket with a handle, for Phronsie, out of a hickory
nut shell; and a new pink calico dress for Seraphina peered out from
the top drawer of the old bureau in the bedroom, whenever anyone opened
it--for Mrs. Pepper kindly let the children lock up their treasures
there as fast as completed.

\x93I\x92ll make Seraphina a bonnet,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93for there\x92s that old
bonnet-string in the bag, you know, Polly, that\x92ll make it beautiful.\x94

\x93Oh, do, mother,\x94 cried Polly, \x93she\x92s been wanting a new one awfully.\x94

\x93And I\x92m going to knit some mittens for Joel and David,\x94 continued Mrs.
Pepper; \x93cause I can get the yarn cheap now. I saw some down at the
store yesterday I could have at half price.\x94

\x93I don\x92t believe anybody\x92ll have as good a Christmas as we shall,\x94 cried
Polly, pasting on a bit of trimming to the gayest doll\x92s dress; \x93no, not
even Jappy.\x94

An odd little smile played around Mrs. Pepper\x92s mouth, but she said not
a word, and so the fun and the work went on.

The tree was to be set up in the Provision Room; that was finally
decided, as Mrs. Pepper showed the children how utterly useless it would
be to try having it in the kitchen.

\x93I\x92ll find the key, children,\x94 she said, \x93I think I know where \x91tis, and
then we can keep them out.\x94

\x93Well, but it looks so,\x94 said Polly, demurring at the prospect.

\x93Oh, no, Polly,\x94 said her mother; \x93at any rate it\x92s clean.\x94

\x93Polly,\x94 said Ben, \x93we can put evergreen around, you know.\x94

\x93So we can,\x94 said Polly, brightly; \x93oh, Ben, you do think of the best
things; we couldn\x92t have had them in the kitchen.\x94

\x93And don\x92t let\x92s hang the presents on the tree,\x94 continued Ben; \x93let\x92s
have the children hang up their stockings; they want to, awfully--for I
heard David tell Joel this morning before we got up--they thought I
was asleep, but I wasn\x92t--that he did so wish they could, but, says he,
\x91Don\x92t tell mammy, \x91cause that\x92ll make her feel bad.\x94

\x93The little dears!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, impulsively; \x93they shall have
their stockings, too.\x94

\x93And we\x92ll make the tree pretty enough,\x94 said Polly, enthusiastically;
\x93we shan\x92t want the presents to hang on; we\x92ve got so many things. And
then we\x92ll have hickory nuts to eat; and perhaps mammy\x92ll let us make
some molasses candy the day before,\x94 she said, with a sly look at her
mother.

\x93You may,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, smiling.

\x93Oh, goody!\x94 they both cried, hugging each other ecstatically.

\x93And we\x92ll have a frolic in the Provision Room afterwards,\x94 finished
Polly; \x93oh! ooh!\x94

And so the weeks flew by--one, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight! till only the three days remained, and to think the fun that
Polly and Ben had had already!

\x93It\x92s better\x92n a Christmas,\x94 they told their mother, \x93to get ready for
it!\x94

\x93It\x92s too bad you can\x92t hang up your stockings,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper,
looking keenly at their flushed faces and bright eyes; \x93you\x92ve never
hung \x91em up.\x94

\x93That isn\x92t any matter, mamsie,\x94 they both said, cheerily; \x93it\x92s a
great deal better to have the children have a nice time--oh, won\x92t it be
elegant! p\x92r\x92aps we\x92ll have ours next year!\x94

For two days before, the house was turned upside down for Joel to find
the biggest stocking he could; but on Polly telling him it must be his
own, he stopped his search, and bringing down his well-worn one, hung it
by the corner of the chimney to be ready.

\x93You put yours up the other side, Dave,\x94 he advised.

\x93There isn\x92t any nail,\x94 cried David, investigating.

\x93I\x92ll drive one,\x94 said Joel, so he ran out to the tool-house, as one
corner of the wood-shed was called, and brought in the hammer and one or
two nails.

\x93Phronsie\x92s a-goin\x92 in the middle,\x94 he said, with a nail in his mouth.

\x93Yes, I\x92m a-goin\x92 to hang up my stockin\x92,\x94 cried the child, hopping from
one toe to the other.

\x93Run get it, Phronsie,\x94 said Joel, \x93and I\x92ll hang it up for you.

\x93Why, it\x92s two days before Christmas yet,\x94 said Polly, laughing; \x93how
they\x92ll look hanging there so long.\x94

\x93I don\x92t care,\x94 said Joel, giving a last thump to the nail; \x93we\x92re
a-goin\x92 to be ready. Oh, dear! I wish \x91twas to-night!\x94

\x93Can\x92t Seraphina hang up her stocking?\x94 asked Phronsie, coming up to
Polly\x92s side; \x93and Baby, too?\x94

\x93Oh, let her have part of yours,\x94 said Polly, \x93that\x92ll be
best--Seraphina and Baby, and you have one stocking together.\x94

\x93Oh, yes,\x94 cried Phronsie, easily pleased; \x93that\x92ll be best.\x94 So for
the next two days, they were almost distracted; the youngest ones asking
countless questions about Santa Claus, and how he possibly could get
down the chimney, Joel running his head up as far as he dared, to see if
it was big enough.

\x93I guess he can,\x94 he said, coming back in a sooty state, looking very
much excited and delighted.

\x93Will he be black like Joey?\x94 asked Phronsie, pointing to his grimy
face.

\x93No,\x94 said Polly; \x93he don\x92t ever get black.\x94

\x93Why?\x94 they all asked; and then, over and over, they wanted the
delightful mystery explained.

\x93We never\x92ll get through this day,\x94 said Polly in despair, as the last
one arrived. \x93I wish \x91twas to-night, for we\x92re all ready.\x94

\x93Santy\x92s coming! Santy\x92s coming!\x94 sang Phronsie, as the bright afternoon
sunlight went down over the fresh, crisp snow, \x93for it\x92s night now.\x94

\x93Yes, Santa is coming!\x94 sang Polly; and \x93Santa Claus is coming,\x94 rang
back and forth through the old kitchen, till it seemed as if the three
little old stockings would hop down and join in the dance going on so
merrily.

\x93I\x92m glad mine is red,\x94 said Phronsie, at last, stopping in the wild
jig, and going up to see if it was all safe, \x93cause then Santy\x92ll know
it\x92s mine, won\x92t he, Polly?\x94

\x93Yes, dear,\x94 cried Polly, catching her up. \x93Oh, Phronsie! you are going
to have a Christmas!\x94

\x93Well, I wish,\x94 said Joel, \x93I had my name on mine! I know Dave\x92ll get
some of my things.\x94

\x93Oh, no, Joe,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93Santa Claus is smart; he\x92ll know yours
is in the left-hand corner.\x94

\x93Will he?\x94 asked Joel, still a little fearful.

\x93Oh, yes, indeed,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, confidently. \x93I never knew him to
make a mistake.\x94

\x93Now,\x94 said Ben, when they had all made a pretence of eating supper,
for there was such an excitement prevailing that no one sat still long
enough to eat much, \x93you must every one fly off to bed as quick as ever
can be.\x94

\x93Will Santa Claus come faster then?\x94 asked Joel.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Ben, \x93just twice as fast.\x94

\x93I\x92m going, then,\x94 said Joel; \x93but I ain\x92t going to sleep, \x91cause I mean
to hear him come over the roof; then I\x92m going to get up, for I do so
want a squint at the reindeer!\x94

\x93I am, too,\x94 cried Davie, excitedly. \x93Oh, do come, Joe!\x94 and he began to
mount the stairs.

\x93Good night,\x94 said Phronsie, going up to the centre of the
chimney-piece, where the little red stocking dangled limpsily, \x93lift me
up, Polly, do.\x94

\x93What you want to do?\x94 asked Polly, running and giving her a jump. \x93What
you goin\x92 to do, Phronsie?\x94

\x93I want to kiss it good night,\x94 said the child, with eyes big with
anticipation and happiness, hugging the well worn toe of the little old
stocking affectionately. \x93I wish I had something to give Santa, Polly, I
do!\x94 she cried, as she held her fast in her arms.

\x93Never mind, Pet,\x94 said Polly, nearly smothering her with kisses; \x93if
you\x92re a good girl, Phronsie, that pleases Santa the most of anything.\x94

\x93Does it?\x94 cried Phronsie, delighted beyond measure, as Polly carried
her into the bedroom, \x93then I\x92ll be good always, I will!\x94



CHRISTMAS BELLS!


In the middle of the night Polly woke up with a start.

\x93What in the world!\x94 said she, and she bobbed up her head and looked
over at her mother, who was still peacefully sleeping, and was just
going to lie down again, when a second noise out in the kitchen made her
pause and lean on her elbow to listen. At this moment she thought she
heard a faint whisper, and springing out of bed she ran to Phronsie\x92s
crib--it was empty! As quick as a flash she sped out into the kitchen.
There, in front of the chimney, were two figures. One was Joel, and the
other, unmistakably, was Phronsie!

\x93What are you doing?\x94 gasped Polly, holding on to a chair.

The two little night-gowns turned around at this.

\x93Why, I thought it was morning,\x94 said Joel, \x93and I wanted my stocking.
Oh!\x94 as he felt the toe, which was generously stuffed, \x93give it to me,
Polly Pepper, and I\x92ll run right back to bed again!\x94

\x93Dear me!\x94 said Polly; \x93and you, too, Phronsie! Why, it\x92s the middle of
the night! Did I ever!\x94 and she had to pinch her mouth together tight
to keep from bursting out into a loud laugh. \x93Oh, dear, I shall laugh!
don\x92t look so scared, Phronsie, there won\x92t anything hurt you.\x94 For
Phronsie who, on hearing Joel fumbling around the precious stockings,
had been quite willing to hop out of bed and join him, had now, on
Polly\x92s saying the dire words \x93in the middle of the night,\x94 scuttled
over to her protecting side like a frightened rabbit.

\x93It never\x92ll be morning,\x94 said Joel taking up first one cold toe and
then the other; \x93you might let us have \x91em now, Polly.\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Polly sobering down; \x93you can\x92t have yours till Davie wakes
up, too. Scamper off to bed, Joey, dear, and forget all about \x91em--and
it\x92ll be morning before you know it.\x94

\x93Oh, I\x92d rather go to bed,\x94 said Phronsie, trying to tuck up her feet in
the little flannel night-gown, which was rather short, \x93but I don\x92t know
the way back, Polly. Take me, Polly, do,\x94 and she put up her arms to be
carried.

\x93Oh, I ain\x92t a-goin\x92 back alone, either,\x94 whimpered Joel, coming up to
Polly, too.

\x93Why, you came down alone, didn\x92t you?\x94 whispered Polly, with a little
laugh.

\x93Yes, but I thought \x91twas morning,\x94 said Joel, his teeth chattering with
something beside the cold.

\x93Well, you must think of the morning that\x92s coming,\x94 said Polly,
cheerily. \x93I\x92ll tell you--you wait till I put Phronsie into the crib,
and then I\x92ll come back and go half-way up the stairs with you.\x94

\x93I won\x92t never come down till it\x92s mornin\x92 again,\x94 said Joel, bouncing
along the stairs, when Polly was ready to go with him, at a great rate.

\x93Better not,\x94 laughed Polly, softly. \x93Be careful and not wake Davie nor
Ben.\x94

\x93I\x92m in,\x94 announced Joel, in a loud whisper; and Polly could hear him
snuggle down among the warm bedclothes. \x93Call us when \x91tis mornin\x92,
Polly.\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Polly, \x93I will; go to sleep.\x94

Phronsie had forgotten stockings and everything else on Polly\x92s return,
and was fast asleep in the old crib. The result of it was that the
children slept over, when morning did really come; and Polly had to
keep her promise, and go to the foot of the stairs and call--\x93MERRY
CHRISTMAS! oh, Ben! and Joel! and Davie!\x94

\x93Oh!--oh!--oo-h!\x94 and then the sounds that answered her, as with
smothered whoops of expectation they one and all flew into their
clothes!

Quick as a flash Joel and Davie were down and dancing around the
chimney.

\x93Mammy! mammy!\x94 screamed Phronsie, hugging her stocking, which Ben
lifted her up to unhook from the big nail, \x93Santy did come, he did!\x94 and
then she spun around in the middle of the floor, not stopping to look in
it.

\x93Well, open it, Phronsie,\x94 called Davie, deep in the exploring of his
own; \x93oh! isn\x92t that a splendid wind-mill, Joe?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said that individual, who, having found a big piece of molasses
candy, was so engaged in enjoying a huge bite that, regardless alike of
his other gifts or of the smearing his face was getting, he gave himself
wholly up to its delights.

\x93Oh, Joey,\x94 cried Polly, laughingly, \x93molasses candy for breakfast!\x94

\x93That\x92s prime!\x94 cried Joel, swallowing the last morsel. \x93Now I\x92m going
to see what\x92s this--oh, Dave, see here! see here!\x94 he cried in intense
excitement, pulling out a nice little parcel which, unrolled, proved to
be a bright pair of stout mittens. \x93See if you\x92ve got some--look quick!\x94

\x93Yes, I have,\x94 said David, picking up a parcel about as big. \x93No, that\x92s
molasses candy.\x94

\x93Just the same as I had,\x94 said Joel; \x93do look for the mittens. P\x92r\x92aps
Santa Claus thought you had some--oh, dear!\x94

\x93Here they are!\x94 screamed Davie. \x93I have got some, Joe, just exactly
like yours! See, Joe!\x94

\x93Goody!\x94 said Joel, immensely relieved; for now he could quite enjoy his
to see a pair on Davie\x92s hands, also. \x93Look at Phron,\x94 he cried, \x93she
hasn\x92t got only half of her things out!\x94

To tell the truth, Phronsie was so bewildered by her riches that she
sat on the floor with the little red stocking in her lap, laughing and
cooing to herself amid the few things she had drawn out. When she came
to Seraphina\x92s bonnet she was quite overcome. She turned it over and
over, and smoothed out the little white feather that had once adorned
one of Grandma Bascom\x92s chickens, until the two boys with their
stockings, and the others sitting around in a group on the floor
watching them, laughed in glee to see her enjoyment.

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Joel, at last, shaking his stocking; \x93I\x92ve got all
there is. I wish there were forty Christmases coming!\x94

\x93I haven\x92t!\x94 screamed Davie; \x93there\x92s some thing in the toe.\x94

\x93It\x92s an apple, I guess,\x94 said Joel; \x93turn it up, Dave.\x94

\x93\x91Tisn\x92t an apple,\x94 exclaimed Davie, \x93tisn\x92t round--it\x92s long and thin;
here \x91tis.\x94 And he pulled out a splendid long whistle on which he blew
a blast long and terrible, and Joel immediately following, all quiet was
broken up, and the wildest hilarity reigned.

\x93I don\x92t know as you\x92ll want any breakfast,\x94 at last said Mrs. Pepper,
when she had got Phronsie a little sobered down.

\x93I do, I do!\x94 cried Joel.

\x93Dear me! after your candy?\x94 said Polly.

\x93That\x92s all gone,\x94 said Joel, tooting around the table on his whistle.
\x93What are we going to have for breakfast?\x94

\x93Same as ever,\x94 said his mother; \x93it can\x92t be Christmas all the time.\x94

\x93I wish \x91twas,\x94 said little Davie; \x93forever and ever!\x94

\x93Forever an\x92 ever,\x94 echoed little Phronsie, flying up, her cheeks like
two pinks, and Seraphina in her arms with her bonnet on upside down.

\x93Dear, dear,\x94 said Polly, pinching Ben to keep still as they tumbled
down the little rickety steps to the Provision Room, after breakfast.
The children, content in their treasures, were holding high carnival in
the kitchen. \x93Suppose they should find it out now--I declare I should
feel most awfully. Isn\x92t it elegant?\x94 she asked, in a subdued whisper,
going all around and around the tree, magnificent in its dress of bright
red and yellow balls, white festoons, and little candle-ends all ready
for lighting. \x93Oh, Ben, did you lock the door?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 he said. \x93That\x92s a mouse,\x94 he added, as a little rustling noise
made Polly stop where she stood back of the tree and prick up her ears
in great distress of mind. \x93\x91Tis elegant,\x94 he said, turning around
in admiration, and taking in the tree which, as Polly said, was quite
\x93gorgeous,\x94 and the evergreen branches twisted up on the beams and
rafters, and all the other festive arrangements. \x93Even Jappy\x92s isn\x92t
better, I don\x92t believe!\x94

\x93I wish Jappy was here,\x94 said Polly with a small sigh.

\x93Well, he isn\x92t,\x94 said Ben; \x93come, we must go back into the kitchen, or
all the children will be out here. Look your last, Polly; \x91twon\x92t do to
come again till it\x92s time to light up.\x94

\x93Mammy says she\x92d rather do the lighting up,\x94 said Polly. \x93Had she?\x94
 said Ben, in surprise; \x93oh, I suppose she\x92s afraid we\x92ll set somethin\x92
a-fire. Well, then, we shan\x92t come in till we have it.\x94

\x93I can\x92t bear to go,\x94 said Polly, turning reluctantly away; \x93it\x92s most
beautiful--oh, Ben,\x94 and she faced him for the five-hundredth time with
the question, \x93is your Santa Claus dress all safe?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Ben, \x93I\x92ll warrant they won\x92t find that in one hurry! Such a
time as we\x92ve had to make it!\x94

\x93I know it,\x94 laughed Polly; \x93don\x92t that cotton wool look just like bits
of fur, Ben?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Ben, \x93and when the flour\x92s shaken over me it\x92ll be Santa
himself.\x94

\x93We\x92ve got to put back the hair into mamsie\x92s cushion the first thing
to-morrow,\x94 whispered Polly anxiously, \x93and we mustn\x92t forget it,
Bensie.\x94

\x93I want to keep the wig awfully,\x94 said Ben. \x93You did make that just
magnificent, Polly!\x94

\x93If you could see yourself,\x94 giggled Polly; \x93did you put it in the straw
bed? and are you sure you pulled the ticking over it smooth?\x94

\x93Yes, sir,\x94 replied Ben, \x93sure\x92s my name\x92s Ben Pepper! if you\x92ll only
keep them from seeing me when I\x92m in it till we\x92re ready--that\x92s all I
ask.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Polly a little relieved, \x93but I hope Joe won\x92t look.\x94

\x93Come on! they\x92re a-comin\x92!\x94 whispered Ben; \x93quick!\x94

\x93Polly!\x94 rang a voice dangerously near; so near that Polly, speeding
over the stairs to intercept it, nearly fell on her nose.

\x93Where you been?\x94 asked one.

\x93Let\x92s have a concert,\x94 put in Ben; Polly was so out of breath that she
couldn\x92t speak. \x93Come, now, each take a whistle, and we\x92ll march round
and round and see which can make the biggest noise.\x94

In the rattle and laughter which this procession made all mystery was
forgotten, and the two conspirators began to breathe freer.

Five o\x92clock! The small ones of the Pepper flock, being pretty well
tired out with noise and excitement, all gathered around Polly and Ben,
and clamored for a story.

\x93Do, Polly, do,\x94 begged Joel. \x93It\x92s Christmas, and \x91twon\x92t come again
for a year.\x94

\x93I can\x92t,\x94 said Polly, in such a twitter that she could hardly stand
still, and for the first time in her life refusing, \x93I can\x92t think of a
thing.\x94

\x93I will then,\x94 said Ben; \x93we must do something,\x94 he whispered to Polly.

\x93Tell it good,\x94 said Joel, settling himself.

So for an hour the small tyrants kept their entertainers well employed.

\x93Isn\x92t it growing awful dark?\x94 said Davie, rousing himself at last, as
Ben paused to take breath.

Polly pinched Ben.

\x93Mammy\x92s a-goin\x92 to let us know,\x94 he whispered in reply. \x93We must keep
on a little longer.\x94

\x93Don\x92t stop,\x94 said Joel, lifting his head where he sat on the floor.
\x93What you whisperin\x92 for, Polly?\x94

\x93I\x92m not,\x94 said Polly, glad to think she hadn\x92t spoken.

\x93Well, do go on, Ben,\x94 said Joel, lying down again.

\x93Polly\x92ll have to finish it,\x94 said Ben; \x93I\x92ve got to go upstairs now.\x94

So Polly launched out into such an extravagant story that they all,
perforce, had to listen.

All this time Mrs. Pepper had been pretty busy in her way. And now she
came into the kitchen and set down her candle on the table. \x93Children,\x94
 she said. Everybody turned and looked at her--her tone was so strange;
and when they saw her dark eyes shining with such a new light, little
Davie skipped right out into the middle of the room. \x93What\x92s the matter,
mammy?\x94

\x93You may all come into the Provision Room,\x94 said she.

\x93What for?\x94 shouted Joel, in amazement; while the others jumped to their
feet, and stood staring.

Polly flew around like a general, arranging her forces. \x93Let\x92s march
there,\x94 said she; \x93Phronsie, you take hold of Davie\x92s hand, and go
first.\x94

\x93I\x92m goin\x92 first,\x94 announced Joel, squeezing up past Polly. \x93No,
you mustn\x92t, Joe,\x94 said Polly decidedly; \x93Phronsie and David are the
youngest.\x94

\x93They\x92re always the youngest,\x94 said Joel, falling back with Polly to the
rear.

\x93Forward! MARCH!\x94 sang Polly. \x93Follow mamsie!\x94

Down the stairs they went with military step, and into the Provision
Room. And then, with one wild look, the little battalion broke ranks,
and tumbling one over the other in decidedly unmilitary style, presented
a very queer appearance!

And Captain Polly was the queerest of all; for she just gave one gaze at
the tree, and then sat right down on the floor, and said, \x93Oh! OH!\x94

Mrs. Pepper was flying around delightedly, and saying, \x93Please to come
right in,\x94 and \x93How do you do?\x94

And before anybody knew it, there were the laughing faces of Mrs.
Henderson and the Parson himself, Doctor Fisher and old Grandma Bascom;
while the two Henderson boys, unwilling to be defrauded of any of the
fun, were squeezing themselves in between everybody else, and coming up
to Polly every third minute, and saying, \x93There--aren\x92t you surprised?\x94

\x93It\x92s Fairyland!\x94 cried little Davie, out of his wits with joy; \x93Oh!
aren\x92t we in Fairyland, ma?\x94

The whole room was in one buzz of chatter and fun; and everybody beamed
on everybody else; and nobody knew what they said, till Mrs. Pepper
called, \x93Hush! Santa Claus is coming!\x94

A rattle at the little old window made everybody look there, just as a
great snow-white head popped up over the sill.

\x93Oh!\x94 screamed Joel, \x93\x91tis Santy!\x94

\x93He\x92s a-comin\x92 in!\x94 cried Davie in chorus, which sent Phronsie flying
to Polly. In jumped a little old man, quite spry for his years; with
a jolly, red face and a pack on his back, and flew into their midst,
prepared to do his duty; but what should he do, instead of making his
speech, \x93this jolly Old Saint--\x94 but first fly up to Mrs. Pepper, and
say--\x93Oh, mammy how did you do it?\x94

\x93It\x92s Ben!\x94 screamed Phronsie; but the little Old Saint didn\x92t hear,
for he and Polly took hold of hands, and pranced around that tree while
everybody laughed till they cried to see them go!

And then it all came out!

\x93Order!\x94 said Parson Henderson in his deepest tones; and then he put
into Santa Claus\x92 hands a letter, which he requested him to read.
And the jolly Old Saint, although he was very old, didn\x92t need any
spectacles, but piped out in Ben\x92s loudest tones:

\x93Dear Friends--A Merry Christmas to you all! And that you\x92ll have a good
time, and enjoy it all as much as I\x92ve enjoyed my good times at your
house, is the wish of your friend,

\x93JASPER ELYOT KING\x94

\x93Hurrah for Jappy!\x94 cried Santa Claus, pulling his beard; and \x93Hurrah
for Jasper!\x94 went all around the room; and this ended in three good
cheers--Phronsie coming in too late with her little crow--which was just
as well, however!

\x93Do your duty now, Santa Claus!\x94 commanded Dr. Fisher as master of
ceremonies; and everything was as still as a mouse!

And the first thing she knew, a lovely brass cage, with a dear little
bird with two astonished black eyes dropped down into Polly\x92s hands. The
card on it said: \x93For Miss Polly Pepper, to give her music everyday in
the year.\x94

\x93Mammy,\x94 said Polly; and then she did the queerest thing of the whole!
she just burst into tears! \x93I never thought I should have a bird for my
very own!\x94

\x93Hulloa!\x94 said Santa Claus, \x93I\x92ve got something myself!\x94

\x93Santa Claus\x92 clothes are too old,\x94 laughed Dr. Fisher, holding up a
stout, warm suit that a boy about as big as Ben would delight in.

And then that wonderful tree just rained down all manner of lovely
fruit. Gifts came flying thick and fast, till the air seemed full, and
each one was greeted with a shout of glee, as it was put into the
hands of its owner. A shawl flew down on Mrs. Pepper\x92s shoulders; and
a work-basket tumbled on Polly\x92s head; and tops and balls and fishing
poles, sent Joel and David into a corner with howls of delight!

But the climax was reached when a large wax doll in a very gay pink silk
dress, was put into Phronsie\x92s hands, and Dr. Fisher, stooping down,
read in loud tones: \x93FOR PHRONSIE, FROM ONE WHO ENJOYED HER GINGERBREAD
BOY.\x94

After that, nobody had anything to say! Books jumped down unnoticed, and
gay boxes of candy. Only Polly peeped into one of her books, and saw
in Jappy\x92s plain hand--\x93I hope we\x92ll both read this next summer.\x94 And
turning over to the title-page, she saw \x93A Complete Manual of Cookery.\x94

\x93The best is to come,\x94 said Mrs. Henderson in her gentle way. When there
was a lull in the gale, she took Polly\x92s hand, and led her to a
little stand of flowers in the corner concealed by a sheet--pinks and
geraniums, heliotropes and roses, blooming away, and nodding their
pretty heads at the happy sight--Polly had her flowers.

\x93Why didn\x92t we know?\x94 cried the children at last, when everybody was
tying on their hoods, and getting their hats to leave the festive scene,
\x93how could you keep it secret, mammy?\x94

\x93They all went to Mrs. Henderson\x92s,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper; \x93Jasper wrote me,
and asked where to send \x91em, and Mrs. Henderson was so kind as to say
that they might come there. And we brought \x91em over last evening, when
you were all abed. I couldn\x92t have done it,\x94 she said, bowing to the
Parson and his wife, \x93if \x91twasn\x92t for their kindness--never, in all this
world!\x94

\x93And I\x92m sure,\x94 said the minister, looking around on the bright group,
\x93if we can help along a bit of happiness like this, it is a blessed
thing!\x94

And here Joel had the last word. \x93You said \x91twan\x92t goin\x92 to be Christmas
always, mammy. I say,\x94 looking around on the overflow of treasures and
the happy faces--\x93it\x92ll be just forever!\x94



EDUCATION AHEAD


After that they couldn\x92t thank Jasper enough! They tried to, lovingly,
and an elaborate letter of thanks, headed by Mrs. Pepper, was drawn up
and sent with a box of the results of Polly\x92s diligent study of Jasper\x92s
book. Polly stripped off recklessly her choicest buds and blossoms from
the gay little stand of flowers in the corner, that had already begun
to blossom, and tucked them into every little nook in the box that could
possibly hold a posy. But as for thanking him enough!

\x93We can\x92t do it, mammy,\x94 said Polly, looking around on all the happy
faces, and then up at Cherry, who was singing in the window, and who
immediately swelled up his little throat and poured out such a merry
burst of song that she had to wait for him to finish. \x93No, not if we
tried a thousand years!\x94

\x93I\x92m a-goin\x92,\x94 said Joel, who was busy as a bee with his new tools that
the tree had shaken down for him, \x93to make Jappy the splendidest box you
ever saw, Polly! I guess that\x92ll thank him!\x94

\x93Do,\x94 cried Polly; \x93he\x92d be so pleased, Joey.\x94

\x93And I,\x94 said Phronsie, over in the corner with her children, \x93I\x92m goin\x92
to see my poor sick man sometime, Polly, I am!\x94

\x93Oh, dear!\x94 cried Polly, whirling around, and looking at her mother
in dismay. \x93She\x92ll be goin\x92 to-morrow! Oh, no, Phronsie, you can\x92t; he
lives miles and miles away--oh, ever so far!\x94

\x93Does he live as far as the moon?\x94 asked little Phronsie, carefully
laying Seraphina down, and looking up at Polly, anxiously.

\x93Oh, I don\x92t know,\x94 said Polly, giving Cherry a piece of bread, and
laughing to see how cunning he looked. \x93Oh, no, of course not, but it\x92s
an awful long ways, Phronsie.\x94

\x93I don\x92t care,\x94 said Phronsie, determinedly, giving the new doll a
loving little pat, \x93I\x92m goin\x92 sometime, Polly, to thank my poor sick
man, yes, I am!\x94

\x93You\x92ll see him next summer, Phronsie,\x94 sang Polly skipping around the
kitchen, \x93and Jappy\x92s sister Marian, the lovely lady, and all the boys.
Won\x92t that be nice?\x94 and Polly stopped to pat the yellow head bending in
motherly attentions over her array of dolls.

\x93Ye-es,\x94 said Phronsie, slowly; \x93the whole of \x91em, Polly?\x94

\x93Yes, indeed!\x94 said Polly, gayly; \x93the whole of \x91em, Phronsie!

\x93Hooray!\x94 shouted the two boys, while Phronsie only gave a long sigh,
and clasped her hands.

\x93Better not be looking for summer,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93until you do
your duty by the winter; then you can enjoy it,\x94 and she took a fresh
needleful of thread.

\x93Mamsie\x92s right,\x94 said Ben, smiling over at her. And he threw down
his book and jumped for his cap. \x93Now for a good chop!\x94 he cried, and
snatching a kiss from Phronsie, he rushed out of the door to his work,
whistling as he went.

\x93Warn\x92t Mr. Henderson good, ma,\x94 asked Polly, watching his retreating
figure, \x93to give Ben learning?\x94

\x93Yes, he was,\x94 replied Mrs. Pepper, enthusiastically. \x93We\x92ve got a
parson, if anybody has in this world!\x94

\x93And Ben\x92s learning,\x94 said Polly, swelling with pride, as she sat down
by her mother, and began to sew rapidly, \x93so that he\x92ll be a big man
right off! Oh, dear,\x94 as a thought made her needle pause a minute in its
quick flying in and out.

\x93What is it, Polly?\x94 Mrs. Pepper looked keenly at the troubled face and
downcast eyes.

\x93Why--\x94 began Polly, and then she finished very slowly, \x93I shan\x92t know
anything, and Ben\x92ll be ashamed of me.

\x93Yes, you will!\x94 cried Mrs. Pepper, energetically, \x93you keep on trying,
and the Lord\x92ll send some way; don\x92t you go to bothering your head about
it now, Polly--it\x92ll come when it\x92s time.\x94

\x93Will it?\x94 asked Polly, doubtfully, taking up her needle again.

\x93Yes, indeed!\x94 cried Mrs. Pepper, briskly; \x93come fly at your sewing;
that\x92s your learning now.\x94

\x93So \x91tis,\x94 said Polly, with a little laugh. \x93Now let\x92s see which\x92ll get
their seam done first, mamsie?\x94

And now letters flew thick and fast from the city to the little brown
house, and back again, warming Jasper\x92s heart, and filling the tedious
months of that winter with more of jollity and fun than the lad ever
enjoyed before; and never was fun and jollity more needed than now;
for Mr. King, having nothing to do, and each year finding himself less
inclined to exercise any thoughtful energy for others, began to look at
life something in the light of a serious bore, and accordingly made it
decidedly disagreeable for all around him, and particularly for Jasper
who was his constant companion. But the boy was looking forward to
summer, and so held on bravely.

\x93I do verily believe, Polly,\x94 he wrote, \x93that Badgertown\x92ll see the
gayest times it ever knew! Sister Marian wants to go, so that\x92s all
right. Now, hurrah for a good time--it\x92s surely coming!\x94

But alas! for Jasper! as spring advanced, his father took a decided
aversion to Hingham, Badgertown, and all other places that could be
mentioned in that vicinity.

\x93It\x92s a wretched climate,\x94 he asserted, over and over; \x93and the
foundation of all my ill feelings this winter was laid, I\x92m convinced,
in Hingham last summer.\x94

No use to urge the contrary; and all Jasper\x92s pleadings were equally
vain. At last, sister Marian, who was kind-hearted to a fault, sorry to
see her brother\x92s dismay and disappointment said, one day, \x93Why not have
one of the children come here? I should like it very much--do invite
Ben.\x94

\x93I don\x92t want Ben,\x94 said Jasper gloomily, \x93I want Polly.\x94 He added this
in much the same tone as Phronsie\x92s when she had rushed up to him the
day she was lost, declaring, \x93I want Polly!\x94

\x93Very well, then,\x94 said sister Marian, laughing, \x93I\x92m sure I didn\x92t mean
to dictate which one; let it be Polly then; yes, I should prefer Polly
myself, I think, as we\x92ve enough boys now,\x94 smiling to think of her own
brood of wide awake youngsters.

\x93If you only will, father, I\x92ll try to be ever so good!\x94 said Jasper,
turning suddenly to his father.

\x93Jasper needs some change,\x94 said sister Marian kindly, \x93he really has
grown very pale and thin.\x94

\x93Hey!\x94 said Mr. King, sharply, looking at him over his eyeglasses. \x93The
boy\x92s well enough; well enough!\x94 But he twisted uneasily in his chair,
all the same. At last he flung down his paper, twitched his fingers
through his hair two or three times, and then burst out--\x93Well, why
don\x92t you send for her? I\x92m sure I don\x92t care--I\x92ll write myself, and I
had better do it now. Tell Thomas to be ready to take it right down; it
must get into this mail.\x94

When Mr. King had made up his mind to do anything, everybody else must
immediately give up their individual plans, and stand out of the way for
him to execute his at just that particular moment! Accordingly Thomas
was dragged from his work to post the letter, while the old gentleman
occupied the time in pulling out his watch every third second until the
slightly-out-of-breath Thomas reported on his return that the letter
did get in. Then Mr. King settled down satisfied, and everything went on
smoothly as before.

But Polly didn\x92t come! A grateful, appreciative letter, expressed in
Mrs. Pepper\x92s own stiff way, plainly showed the determination of that
good woman not to accept what was such a favor to her child.

In vain Mr. King stormed, and fretted, and begged, offering every
advantage possible--Polly should have the best foundation for a musical
education that the city could afford; also lessons in the schoolroom
under the boys\x92 private tutor--it was all of no avail. In vain sister
Marian sent a gentle appeal, fully showing her heart was in it; nothing
broke down Mrs. Pepper\x92s resolve, until, at last, the old gentleman
wrote one day that Jasper, being in such failing health, really depended
on Polly to cheer him up. That removed the last straw that made it
\x93putting one\x92s self under an obligation,\x94 which to Mrs. Pepper\x92s
independent soul, had seemed insurmountable.

And now, it was decided that Polly was really to go! and pretty soon all
Badgertown knew that Polly Pepper was going to the big city. And there
wasn\x92t a man, woman, or child but what greatly rejoiced that a sunny
time was coming to one of the chicks in the little brown house. With
many warm words, and some substantial gifts, kind friends helped forward
the \x93outing.\x94 Only one person doubted that this delightful chance should
be grasped at once--and that one was Polly herself!

\x93I can\x92t,\x94 she said, and stood quite pale and still, when the Hendersons
advised her mother\x92s approval, and even Grandma Bascom said, \x93Go.\x94 \x93I
can\x92t go and leave mammy to do all the work.\x94

\x93But don\x92t you see, Polly,\x94 said Mrs. Henderson, drawing her to her
side, \x93that you will help your mother twice as much as you possibly
could here, by getting a good education? Think what your music will be;
only think, Polly!\x94

Polly drew a long breath at this and turned away.

\x93Oh, Polly!\x94 cried Ben, though his voice choked, \x93if you give this up,
there never\x92ll be another chance,\x94 and the boy put his arm around her,
and whispered something in her ear.

\x93I know,\x94 said Polly quietly--and then she burst out, \x93oh, but I can\x92t!
\x91tisn\x92t right.\x94

\x93Polly,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper--and never in all their lives had the children
seen such a look in mamsie\x92s eyes as met them then; \x93it does seem as
if my heart would be broken if you didn\x92t go!\x94 And then she burst out
crying, right before them all!

\x93Oh mammy,\x94 cried Polly, breaking away from everybody, and flinging
herself into her arms. \x93I\x92ll go--if you think I ought to. But it\x92s too
good! don\x92t cry--don\x92t, mammy dear,\x94 and Polly stroked the careworn face
lovingly, and patted the smooth hair that was still so black.

\x93And, Polly,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, smiling through her tears, \x93just think
what a comfort you\x92ll be to me, and us all,\x94 she added, taking in the
children who were crowding around Polly as the centre of attraction.
\x93Why, you\x92ll be the making of us,\x94 she added hopefully.

\x93I\x92ll do something,\x94 said Polly, her brown eyes kindling, \x93or I shan\x92t
be worthy of you, mammy.\x94

\x93O, you\x92ll do it,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, confidently, \x93now that you\x92re
going.\x94

But when Polly stepped into the stage, with her little hair trunk
strapped on behind, containing her one brown merino that Mrs. Henderson
had made over for her out of one of her own, and her two new ginghams,
her courage failed again, and she astonished everybody, and nearly upset
a mild-faced old lady who was in the corner placidly eating doughnuts,
by springing out and rushing up through the little brown gate, past
all the family, drawn up to see her off. She flew over the old flat
door-stone, and into the bedroom, where she flung herself down between
the old bed and Phronsie\x92s crib, in a sudden torrent of tears. \x93I can\x92t
go!\x94 she sobbed--\x93oh I can\x92t!\x94

\x93Why, Polly!\x94 cried Mrs. Pepper, hurrying in, followed by Joel and the
rest of the troops at his heels. \x93What are you thinking of!\x94

\x93Think of by-and-by, Polly,\x94 put in Ben, patting her on the back with
an unsteady hand, while Joel varied the proceedings by running back
and forth, screaming at the top of his lungs, \x93The stage\x92s going! your
trunk\x92ll be taken!\x94

\x93Dear me!\x94 ejaculated Mrs. Pepper, \x93do stop it somebody! there, Polly,
come now! Do as mother says!\x94

\x93I\x92ll try again,\x94 said poor Polly, choking back her sobs, and getting on
her feet.

Then Polly\x92s tears were wiped away, her hat straightened, after which
she was kissed all round again by the whole family, Phronsie waiting
for the last two, and then was helped again into the stage, the bags and
parcels, and a box for Jappy, which, as it wouldn\x92t go into the trunk,
Joel had insisted Polly should carry in her hand, were again piled
around her, and Mr. Tisbett mounted to his seat, and with a crack of the
whip, bore her safely off this time.

The doughnut lady, viewing poor Polly with extreme sympathy, immediately
forced upon her acceptance three of the largest and sugariest.

\x93Twill do you good,\x94 she said, falling to, herself, on another with
good zeal. \x93I always eat \x91em, and then there ain\x92t any room for
homesickness!\x94

And away, and away, and away they rumbled and jumbled to the cars.

Here Mr. Tisbett put Polly and her numerous bundles under the care of
the conductor, with manifold charges and explicit directions, to see her
safely into Mr. King\x92s own hands. He left her sitting straight up among
her parcels, her sturdy little figure drawn up to its full height, and
the clear brown eyes regaining a little of their dancing light; for
although a dreadful feeling tugged at her heart, as she thought of the
little brown house she was fast flying away from, there was something
else; our Polly had begun to realize that now she was going to \x93help
mother.\x94

And now they neared the big city, and everybody began to bustle around,
and get ready to jump out, and the minute the train stopped, the crowd
poured out from the cars, making way for the crowd pouring in, for this
was a through train.

\x93All aboard!\x94 sang the conductor. \x93Oh my senses!\x94 springing to Polly; \x93I
forgot you--here!\x94

But as quick as a flash he was pushed aside, and a bright, boyish figure
dashed up.

\x93Oh, Polly!\x94 he said in such a ringing voice! and in another second,
Polly and her bag, and the bundle of cakes and apples that Grandma
Bascom had put up for her, and Joel\x92s box, were one and all bundled
out upon the platform, and the train whizzed on, and there Mr. King was
fuming up and down, berating the departing conductor, and speaking
his mind in regard to all the railroad officials he could think of. He
pulled himself up long enough to give Polly a hearty welcome; and then
away again he flew in righteous indignation, while Jasper rushed off
into the baggage room with Polly\x92s check.

However, every now and then, turning to look down into the little rosy
face beside him, the old gentleman would burst forth, \x93Bless me, child!
I\x92m glad you\x92re here, Polly!--how could the fellow forget when--\x94

\x93Oh well, you know,\x94 said Polly, with a happy little wriggle under her
brown coat, \x93I\x92m here now.\x94

\x93So you are! so you are!\x94 laughed the old gentleman suddenly; \x93where can
Jasper be so long.\x94

\x93They\x92re all in the carriage,\x94 answered the boy skipping back. \x93Now,
father! now Polly!\x94

He was fairly bubbling over with joy and Mr. King forgot his dudgeon and
joined in the general glee, which soon became so great that travellers
gave many a glance at the merry trio who bundled away to Thomas and the
waiting grays.

\x93You\x92re sure you\x92ve got the right check?\x94 asked Mr. King, nervously,
getting into a handsome coach lined with dark green satin, and settling
down among its ample cushions with a sigh of relief.

\x93Oh yes,\x94 laughed Jasper; \x93Polly didn\x92t have any one else\x92s check, I
guess.\x94

Over through the heart of the city, down narrow, noisy business
streets, out into wide avenues, with handsome stately mansions on either
side--they flew along.

\x93Oh,\x94 said Polly; and then she stopped, and blushed very hard.

\x93What is it, my dear?\x94 asked Mr. King, kindly.

Polly couldn\x92t speak at first, but when Jasper stopped his merry chat
and begged to know what it was, she turned on him, and burst out, \x93You
live here?\x94

\x93Why, yes,\x94 laughed the boy; \x93why not?\x94

\x93Oh!\x94 said Polly again, her cheeks as red as two roses, \x93it\x92s so
lovely!\x94

And then the carriage turned in at a brown stone gateway, and winding
up among some fine old trees, stopped before a large, stately residence
that in Polly\x92s eyes seemed like one of the castles of Ben\x92s famous
stories. And then Mr. King got out, and gallantly escorted Polly out,
and up the steps, while Jasper followed with Polly\x92s bag which he
couldn\x92t be persuaded to resign to Thomas. A stiff waiter held the door
open--and then, the rest was only a pleasant, confused jumble of kind
welcoming words, smiling faces, with a background of high spacious
walls, bright pictures, and soft elegant hangings, everything and all
inextricably mixed--till Polly herself seemed floating--away--away, fast
to the Fairyland of her dreams; now, Mr. King was handing her around,
like a precious parcel, from one to the other--now Jasper was bobbing
in and out everywhere, introducing her on all sides, and then Prince
was jumping up and trying to lick her face every minute--but best of all
was, when a lovely face looked down into hers, and Jasper\x92s sister bent
to kiss her.

\x93I am very glad to have you here, little Polly.\x94 The words were simple,
but Polly, lifting up her clear brown eyes, looked straight into the
heart of the speaker, and from that moment never ceased to love her.

\x93It was a good inspiraton,\x94 thought Mrs. Whitney to herself; \x93this
little girl is going to be a comfort, I know.\x94 And then she set herself
to conduct successfully her three boys into friendliness and good
fellowship with Polly, for each of them was following his own sweet will
in the capacity of host, and besides staring at her with all his might,
was determined to do the whole of the entertaining, a state of things
which might become unpleasant. However, Polly stood it like a veteran.

\x93This little girl must be very tired,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney, at last with a
bright smile. \x93Besides I am going to have her to myself now.\x94

\x93Oh, no, no,\x94 cried little Dick in alarm; \x93why, she\x92s just come; we want
to see her.\x94

\x93For shame, Dick!\x94 said Percy, the eldest, a boy of ten years, who took
every opportunity to reprove Dick in public; \x93she\x92s come a great ways,
so she ought to rest, you know.\x94

\x93You wanted her to come out to the greenhouse yourself, you know you
did,\x94 put in Van, the next to Percy, who never would be reproved or
patronized, \x93only she wouldn\x92t go.\x94

\x93You\x92ll come down to dinner,\x94 said Percy, politely, ignoring Van. \x93Then
you won\x92t be tired, perhaps.\x94

\x93Oh, I\x92m not very tired now,\x94 said Polly, brightly, with a merry little
laugh, \x93only I\x92ve never been in the cars before, and--\x94

\x93Never been in the cars before!\x94 exclaimed Van, crowding up, while Percy
made a big round O with his mouth, and little Dick\x92s eyes stretched to
their widest extent.

\x93No,\x94 said Polly simply, \x93never in all my life.\x94

\x93Come, dear,\x94 said sister Marian, rising quickly, and taking Polly\x92s
hand; while Jasper, showing unmistakable symptoms of pitching into all
the three boys, followed with the bag.

Up the broad oak staircase they went, Polly holding by Mrs. Whitney\x92s
soft hand, as if for dear life, and Jasper tripping up two steps at a
time, in front of them. They turned after reaching the top, down a hall
soft to the foot and brightly lighted.

\x93Now, Polly,\x94 said sister Marian, \x93I\x92m going to have you here, right
next to my dressing room; this is your nest, little bird, and I hope
you\x92ll be very happy in it.\x94

And here Mrs. Whitney turned up the gas, and then, just because she
couldn\x92t help it, gathered Polly up in her arms without another word.
Jasper set down the bag on a chair, and came and stood by his sister\x92s
side, looking down at her as she stroked the brown wavy hair on her
bosom.

\x93It\x92s so nice to have Polly here, sister,\x94 he said, and he put his hand
on Mrs. Whitney\x92s neck; and then with the other hand took hold of both
of Polly\x92s chubby ones, who looked up and smiled; and in that smile the
little brown house seemed to hop right out, and bring back in a flash
all the nice times those eight happy weeks had brought him.

\x93Oh, \x91twas so perfectly splendid, sister Marian,\x94 he cried, flinging
himself down on the floor by her chair. \x93You don\x92t know what good times
we had--does she, Polly?\x94 and then he launched out into a perfect
shower of \x93Don\x92t you remember this?\x94 or \x93Oh, Polly! you surely haven\x92t
forgotten that!\x94 Mrs. Whitney good naturedly entering into it and
enjoying it all with them, until, warned by the lateness of the hour,
she laughingly reminded Jasper of dinner, and dismissed him to prepare
for it.

When the three boys saw Polly coming in again, they welcomed her with
a cordial shout, for one and all, after careful measurement of her,
had succumbed entirely to Polly; and each was unwilling that the others
should get ahead of him in her regard.

\x93This is your seat, Polly,\x94 said sister Marian, touching the chair next
to her own.

Thereupon a small fight ensued between the little Whitneys, while Jasper
looked decidedly discomfited.

\x93Let Polly sit next to me,\x94 said Van, as if a seat next to him was of
all things most to be desired.

\x93Oh, no, I want her,\x94 said little Dick.

\x93Pshaw, Dick! you\x92re too young,\x94 put in Percy. \x93You\x92d spill the bread
and butter all over her.\x94

\x93I wouldn\x92t either,\x94 said little Dick, indignantly, and beginning to
crawl into his seat; \x93I don\x92t spill bread and butter, now Percy, you
know.\x94

\x93See here,\x94 said Jasper, decidedly, \x93she\x92s coming up here by father
and me; that is, sister Marian,\x94 he finished more politely, \x93if you\x92re
willing.\x94

All this while Polly had stood quietly watching the group, the big,
handsome table, the bright lights, and the well-trained servants with
a curious feeling at her heart--what were the little-brown-house-people
doing?

\x93Polly shall decide it,\x94 said sister Marian, laughing. \x93Now, where
will you sit, dear?\x94 she added, looking down on the little quiet figure
beside her.

\x93Oh, by Jappy, please,\x94 said Polly, quickly, as if there could be no
doubt; \x93and kind Mr. King,\x94 she added, smiling at him.

\x93That\x92s right; that\x92s right, my dear,\x94 cried the old gentleman, pleased
beyond measure at her honest choice. And he pulled out her chair, and
waited upon her into it so handsomely that Polly was happy at once;
while Jasper, with a proud toss of his dark, wavy hair, marched up
delightedly, and took the chair on her other side.

And now, in two or three minutes it seemed as if Polly had always been
there; it was the most natural thing in the world that sister Marian
should smile down the table at the bright-faced narrator, who answered
all their numerous questions, and entertained them all with accounts of
Ben\x92s skill, of Phronsie\x92s cunning ways, of the boys who made fun for
all, and above everything else of the dear mother whom they all longed
to help, and of all the sayings and doings in the little brown house. No
wonder that the little boys forgot to eat; and for once never thought of
the attractions of the table. And when, as they left the table at last,
little Dick rushed impulsively up to Polly, and flinging himself into
her arms, declared, \x93I love you!--and you\x92re my sister!\x94 Nothing more
was needed to make Polly feel at home.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney, and nodded to herself in the saying, \x93it was a
good thing; and a comfort, I believe, has come to this house this day!\x94



BRAVE WORK AND THE REWARD


And on the very first morrow came Polly\x92s music teacher!

The big drawing-room, with its shaded light and draped furniture, with
its thick soft carpet, on which no foot-fall could be heard, with all
its beauty and loveliness on every side was nothing to Polly\x92s eyes,
only the room that contained the piano!

That was all she saw! And when the teacher came he was simply the Fairy
(an ugly little one, it is true, but still a most powerful being) who
was to unlock its mysteries, and conduct her into Fairyland itself. He
was a homely little Frenchman, with a long, curved nose, and an enormous
black moustache, magnificently waxed, who bowed elaborately, and called
her \x93Mademoiselle Pep-paire;\x94 but he had music in his soul, and Polly
couldn\x92t reverence him too much.

And now the big piano gave out new sounds; sounds that told of a strong
purpose and steady patience. Every note was struck for mother and the
home brood. Monsieur Tourtelotte, after watching her keenly out of his
little black eyes, would nod to himself like a mandarin, and the nod
would be followed by showers of extra politeness, as his appreciation of
her patient energy and attention.

Every chance she could get, Polly would steal away into the drawing-room
from Jappy and the three boys and all the attractions they could offer,
and laboriously work away over and over at the tedious scales and
exercises that were to be stepping-stones to so much that was glorious
beyond. Never had she sat still for so long a time in her active little
life; and now, with her arms at just such an angle, with the stiff,
chubby fingers kept under training and restraint--well, Polly realized,
years after, that only her love of the little brown house could ever
have kept her from flying up and spinning around in perfect despair.

\x93She likes it!\x94 said Percy, in absolute astonishment, one day, when
Polly had refused to go out driving with all the other children in the
park, and had gone resolutely, instead, into the drawing-room and shut
the door. \x93She likes those hateful old exercises and she don\x92t like
anything else.\x94

\x93Much you know about it,\x94 said Jappy; \x93she\x92s perfectly aching to go, now
Percy Whitney!\x94

\x93Well, why don\x92t she then?\x94 said Percy, opening his eyes to their widest
extent.

\x93Cause,\x94 said Jasper, stopping on his way to the door to look him full
in the face, \x93she\x92s commenced to learn to play, and there won\x92t anything
stop her.\x94

\x93I\x92m going to try,\x94 said Percy, gleefully. \x93I know lots of ways I can do
to try, anyway.\x94

\x93See here, now,\x94 said Jasper, turning back, \x93you let her alone! Do
you hear?\x94 he added, and there must have been something in his eye to
command attention, for Percy instantly signified his intention not to
tease this young music student in the least.

\x93Come on then, old fellow,\x94 and Jasper swung his cap on his head,
\x93Thomas will be like forty bears if we keep him waiting much longer.\x94

And Polly kept at it steadily day after day; getting through with the
lessons in the schoolroom as quickly as possible to rush to her music,
until presently the little Frenchman waxed enthusiastic to that degree
that, as day after day progressed and swelled into weeks, and each
lesson came to an end, he would skip away on the tips of his toes, his
nose in the air, and the waxed ends of his moustache, fairly trembling
with delight, \x93Ah, such patience as Mademoiselle Pep-paire has! I know
no other such little Americane!\x94

\x93I think,\x94 said Jasper one evening after dinner, when all the children
were assembled as usual in their favorite place on the big rug in front
of the fire in the library, Prince in the middle of the group, his head
on his paws, watching everything in infinite satisfaction, \x93that Polly\x92s
getting on in music as I never saw anyone do; and that\x92s a fact!\x94

\x93I mean to begin,\x94 said Van, ambitiously, sitting up straight and
staring at the glowing coals. \x93I guess I will to-morrow,\x94 which
announcement was received with a perfect shout--Van\x92s taste being
anything rather than of a musical nature.

\x93If you do,\x94 said Jappy, when the merriment had a little subsided, \x93I
shall go out of the house at every lesson; there won\x92t anyone stay in
it, Van.\x94

\x93I can bang all I want to, then,\x94 said Van, noways disturbed by the
reflection, and pulling one of Prince\x92s long ears, \x93you think you\x92re so
big, Jappy, just because you\x92re thirteen.\x94

\x93He\x92s only three ahead of me, Van,\x94 bristled Percy, who never could
forgive Jappy for being his uncle, much less the still greater sin of
having been born three years earlier than himself.

\x93Three\x92s just as bad as four,\x94 said Van.

\x93Let\x92s tell stories,\x94 began Polly, who never could remember such goings
on in the little brown house; \x93we must each tell one,\x94 she added with
the greatest enthusiasm, \x93and see which will be the biggest and the
best.\x94

\x93Oh, no,\x94 said Van, who perfectly revelled in Polly\x92s stories, and who
now forgot his trials in the prospect of one, \x93You tell, Polly--you tell
alone.\x94

\x93Yes, do, Polly,\x94 said Jasper; \x93we\x92d rather.\x94

So Polly launched out into one of her gayest and finest; and soon
they were in such a peal of laughter, and had reached such heights of
enjoyment, that Mr. King popped his head in at the door, and then came
in, and took a seat in a big rocking-chair in the corner to hear the fun
go on.

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Van, leaning back with a long sigh, and wiping his
flushed face as Polly wound up with a triumphant flourish, \x91how ever do
you think of such things, Polly Pepper?

\x93That isn\x92t anything,\x94 said Jappy, bringing his handsome face out into
the strong light; \x93why, it\x92s just nothing to what she has told time and
again in the little brown house in Badgertown;\x94 and then he caught
sight of Polly\x92s face, which turned a little pale in the firelight as he
spoke; and the brown eyes had such a pathetic droop in them that it went
to the boy\x92s very heart.

Was Polly homesick? and so soon!



POLLY IS COMFORTED


Yes, it must be confessed. Polly was homesick. All her imaginations of
her mother\x92s hard work, increased by her absence, loomed up before her,
till she was almost ready to fly home without a minute\x92s warning. At
night, when no one knew it, the tears would come racing over the poor,
forlorn little face, and would not be squeezed back. It got to be
noticed finally; and one and all redoubled their exertions to make
everything twice as pleasant as ever!

The only place, except in front of the grand piano, where Polly
approached a state of comparative happiness, was in the greenhouse.

Here she would stay, comforted and soothed among the lovely plants and
rich exotics, rejoicing the heart of Old Turner the gardener, who since
Polly\x92s first rapturous entrance, had taken her into his good graces for
all time.

Every chance she could steal after practice hours were over, and after
the clamorous demands of the boys upon her time were fully satisfied,
was seized to fly on the wings of the wind, to the flowers.

But even with the music and flowers the dancing light in the eyes went
down a little; and Polly, growing more silent and pale, moved around
with a little droop to the small figure that had only been wont to fly
through the wide halls and spacious rooms with gay and springing step.

\x93Polly don\x92t like us,\x94 at last said Van one day in despair. \x93Then,
dear,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney, \x93you must be kinder to her than ever;
think what it would be for one of you to be away from home even among
friends.\x94

\x93I\x92d like it first rate to be away from Percy,\x94 said Van, reflectively;
\x93I wouldn\x92t come back in three, no, six weeks.\x94

\x93My son,\x94 said his mamma, \x93just stop and think how badly you would feel,
if you really couldn\x92t see Percy.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Van, and he showed signs of relenting a little at that;
\x93but Percy is perfectly awful, mamma, you don\x92t know; and he feels so
smart too,\x94 he said vindictively.

\x93Well,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney, softly, \x93let\x92s think what we can do for
Polly; it makes me feel very badly to see her sad little face.\x94

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 said Van, running over in his mind all the possible ways
he could think of for entertaining anybody, \x93unless she\x92d like my new
book of travels--or my velocipede,\x94 he added.

\x93I\x92m afraid those wouldn\x92t quite answer the purpose,\x94 said his mamma,
smiling--\x93especially the last; yet we must think of something.\x94

But just here Mr. King thought it about time to take matters into his
hands. So, with a great many chucklings and shruggings when no one was
by, he had departed after breakfast one day, simply saying he shouldn\x92t
be back to lunch.

Polly sat in the drawing-room, near the edge of the twilight, practicing
away bravely. Somehow, of all the days when the home feeling was the
strongest, this day it seemed as if she could bear it no longer. If she
could only see Phronsie for just one moment! \x93I shall have to give up!\x94
 she moaned. \x93I can\x92t bear it!\x94 and over went her head on the music rack.

\x93Where is she?\x94 said a voice over in front of the piano, in the
gathering dusk--unmistakably Mr. King\x92s.

\x93Oh, she\x92s always at the piano,\x94 said Van. \x93She must be there now,
somewhere,\x94 and then somebody laughed. Then came in the loudest of
whispers from little Dick, \x93Oh, Jappy, what\x92ll she say?\x94

\x93Hush!\x94 said one of the other boys; \x93do be still, Dick!\x94

Polly sat up very straight, and whisked off the tears quickly. Up came
Mr. King with an enormous bundle in his arms; and he marched up to the
piano, puffing with his exertions.

\x93Here, Polly, hold your arms,\x94 he had only strength to gasp. And then he
broke out into a loud burst of merriment, in which all the troop joined,
until the big room echoed with the sound.

At this, the bundle opened suddenly, and--out popped Phronsie!

\x93Here I\x92m! I\x92m here, Polly!\x94

But Polly couldn\x92t speak; and if Jasper hadn\x92t caught her just in time,
she would have tumbled over backward from the stool, Phronsie and all!

\x93Aren\x92t you glad I\x92ve come, Polly?\x94 asked Phronsie, with her little face
close to Polly\x92s own.

That brought Polly to. \x93Oh, Phronsie!\x94 she cried, and strained her to
her heart; while the boys crowded around, and plied her with sudden
questions.

\x93Now you\x92ll stay,\x94 cried Van; \x93say, Polly, won\x92t you.\x94

\x93Weren\x92t you awfully surprised?\x94 cried Percy; \x93say, Polly, awfully?\x94

\x93Is her name Phronsie,\x94 put in Dick, unwilling to be left out, and not
thinking of anything else to ask.

\x93Boys,\x94 whispered their mother, warningly, \x93she can\x92t answer you; just
look at her face.\x94

And to be sure, our Polly\x92s face was a study to behold. All its old
sunniness was as nothing to the joy that now transfigured it.

\x93Oh!\x94 she cried, coming out of her rapture a little, and springing over
to Mr. King with Phronsie still in her arms. \x93Oh, you are the dearest
and best Mr. King I ever saw! but how did you make mammy let her come?\x94

\x93Isn\x92t he splendid!\x94 cried Jasper in intense pride, swelling up. \x93Father
knew how to do it.\x94

But Polly\x92s arms were around the old gentleman\x92s neck, so she didn\x92t
hear. \x93There, there,\x94 he said soothingly, patting her brown, fuzzy head.
Something was going down the old gentleman\x92s neck, that wet his collar,
and made him whisper very tenderly in her ear, \x93don\x92t give way now,
Polly; Phronsie\x92ll see you.\x94

\x93I know,\x94 gasped Polly, controlling her sobs; \x93I won\x92t--only--I can\x92t
thank you!\x94

\x93Phronsie,\x94 said Jasper quickly, \x93what do you suppose Prince said the
other day?\x94

\x93What?\x94 asked Phronsie in intense interest slipping down out of Polly\x92s
arms, and crowding up close to Jasper\x92s side. \x93What did he, Jasper?\x94

\x93Oh-ho, how funny!\x94 laughed Van, while little Dick burst right out,
\x93Japser!\x94

\x93Be still,\x94 said Jappy warningly, while Phronsie stood surveying them
all with grave eyes.

\x93Well, I asked him, \x91Don\x92t you want to see Phronsie Pepper, Prince?\x92 And
do you know, he just stood right upon his hind legs, Phronsie, and said:
\x91Bark! yes, Bark! Bark!\x92\x94

\x93Did he really, Jasper?\x94 cried Phronsie, delighted beyond measure; and
clasping her hands in rapture, \x93all alone by himself?\x94

\x93Yes, all alone by himself,\x94 asserted Jasper, vehemently, and winking
furiously to the others to stop their laughing; \x93he did now, truly,
Phronsie.\x94

\x93Then mustn\x92t I go and see him now, Jasper? yes, pretty soon now?\x94

\x93So you must,\x94 cried Jasper, enchanted at his success in amusing; \x93and
I\x92ll go with you.\x94

\x93Oh, no,\x94 cried Phronsie, shaking her yellow head. \x93Oh no, Jasper; I
must go by my very own self.\x94

\x93There Jap, you\x92ve caught it,\x94 laughed Percy; while the others screamed
at the sight of Jasper\x92s face.

\x93Oh Phronsie!\x94 cried Polly, turning around at the last words; \x93how could
you!\x94

\x93Don\x92t mind it, Polly,\x94 whispered Jasper; \x93twasn\x92t her fault.\x94

\x93Phronsie,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney, smilingly, stooping over the child,
\x93would you like to see a little pussy I have for you?\x94

But the chubby face didn\x92t look up brightly, as usual: and the next
moment, without a bit of warning, Phronsie sprang past them all, even
Polly, and flung herself into Mr. King\x92s arms, in a perfect torrent of
sobs. \x93Oh! let\x92s go back!\x94 was all they heard!

\x93Dear me!\x94 ejaculated the old gentleman, in the utmost amazement; \x93and
such a time as I\x92ve had to get her here too!\x94 he added, staring around
on the astonished group, none of whom had a word to say.

But Polly stood like a statue! All Jasper\x92s frantic efforts at comfort,
utterly failed. To think that Phronsie had left her for any one!--even
good Mr. King! The room seemed to buzz, and everything to turn upside
down--and just then, she heard another cry--\x93Oh, I want Polly, I do!\x94

With a bound, Polly was at Mr. King\x92s side, with her face on his coat,
close to the little tear-stained one. The fat, little arms unclasped
their hold, and transferred themselves willingly to Polly\x92s neck; and
Phronsie hugged up comfortingly to Polly\x92s heart, who poured into her
ear all the loving words she had so longed to say.

Just then there was a great rush and a scuffling noise; and something
rushed up to Phronsie \x93Oh!\x94 And then the next minute, she had her arms
around Prince\x92s neck, too, who was jumping all over her and trying as
hard as he could, to express his overwhelming delight.

\x93She\x92s the cunningest little thing I ever saw,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney,
enthusiastically, afterward, aside to Mr. King. \x93Such lovely yellow
hair, and such exquisite brown eyes--the combination is very striking.
How did her mother ever let her go?\x94 she asked impulsively, \x93I didn\x92t
believe you could persuade her, father.\x94

\x93I didn\x92t have any fears, if I worked it rightly,\x94 said the old
gentleman complacently. \x93I wasn\x92t coming without her, Marian, if it
could possibly be managed. The truth is, that Phronsie had been pining
for Polly to such an extent, that there was no other way but for her
to have Polly; and her mother was just on the point, although it almost
killed her, of sending for Polly--as if we should have let her go!\x94 he
cried in high dudgeon; just as if he owned the whole of the Peppers, and
could dispose of them all to suit his fancy! \x93So you see, I was just in
time; in the very nick of time, in fact!\x94

\x93So her mother was willing?\x94 asked his daughter, curiously. \x93Oh, she
couldn\x92t help it,\x94 cried Mr. King, beginning to walk up and down the
floor, and beaming as he recalled his successful strategy; \x93there wasn\x92t
the smallest use in thinking of anything else. I told her \x91twould just
stop Polly from ever being a musician if she broke off now--and so
\x91twould, you know yourself, Marian, for we should never get the child
here again, if we let her go now; and I talked--well, I had to talk
some; but, well--the upshot is I did get her, and I did bring her--and
here she is!\x94 And the old gentleman was so delighted with his success,
that he had to burst out into a series of short, happy bits of laughter,
that occupied quite a space of time. At last he came out of them, and
wiped his face vigorously.

\x93And to think how fond the little girl is of you, father!\x94 said Mrs.
Whitney, who hadn\x92t yet gotten over her extreme surprise at the old
gentleman\x92s complete subjection to the little Peppers: he, whom all
children had by instinct always approached so carefully, and whom every
one found it necessary to conciliate!

\x93Well, she\x92s a nice child,\x94 he said, \x93a very nice child; and,\x94
 straightening himself up to his fullest height, and looking so very
handsome, that his daughter could not conceal her admiration, \x93I shall
always take care of Phronsie Pepper, Marian!\x94

\x93So I hope,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney; \x93and father, I do believe they\x92ll repay
you; for I do think there\x92s good blood there; these children have a look
about them that shows them worthy to be trusted.\x94

\x93So they have: so they have,\x94 assented Mr. King, and then the
conversation dropped.



PHRONSIE


Phronsie was toiling up and down the long, oak staircase the next
morning; slowly going from one step to the other, drawing each little
fat foot into place laboriously, but with a pleased expression on her
face that only gave some small idea of the rapture within. Up and down
she had been going for a long time, perfectly fascinated; seeming to
care for nothing else in the world but to work her way up to the top of
the long flight, only to turn and come down again. She had been going
on so for some time, till at last, Polly, who was afraid she would tire
herself all out, sat down at the foot and begged and implored the little
girl, who had nearly reached the top, to stop and rest.

\x93You\x92ll be tired to death, Phronsie!\x94 she said, looking up at the small
figure on its toilsome journey. \x93Why you must have gone up a million
times! Do sit down, pet; we\x92re all going out riding, Phronsie, this
afternoon; and you can\x92t go if you\x92re all tired out.\x94

\x93I won\x92t be tired, Polly,\x94 said Phronsie, turning around and looking at
her, \x93do let me go just once more!\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Polly, who never could refuse her anything, \x93just once,
Phronsie, and then you must stop.\x94

So Phronsie kept on her way rejoicing, while Polly still sat on the
lowest stair, and drummed impatiently on the stair above her, waiting
for her to get through.

Jappy came through the hall and found them thus. \x93Halloa, Polly!\x94 he
said, stopping suddenly; \x93what\x92s the matter?\x94

\x93Oh, Phronsie\x92s been going so,\x94 said Polly, looking up at the little
figure above them, which had nearly reached the top in delight, \x93that I
can\x92t stop her. She has really, Jappy, almost all the morning; you can\x92t
think how crazy she is over it.\x94

\x93Is that so?\x94 said Jasper, with a little laugh. \x93Hulloa, Phronsie, is
it nice?\x94 and he tossed a kiss to the little girl, and then sat down by
Polly.

\x93Oh,\x94 said Phronsie, turning to come down, \x93it\x92s the beyew-tiflest place
I ever saw, Jasper! the very be-yew-tiflest!\x94

\x93I wish she could have her picture painted,\x94 whispered Jasper,
enthusiastically. \x93Look at her now, Polly, quick!\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Polly, \x93isn\x92t she sweet!\x94

\x93Sweet!\x94 said Jasper. \x93I should think she was!\x94

The sunlight through an oriel window fell on the childish face and
figure, glinting the yellow hair, and lighting up the radiant face, that
yet had a tender, loving glance for the two who waited for her below.
One little foot was poised, just in the act of stepping down to the next
lower stair, and the fat hand grasped the polished railing, expressive
of just enough caution to make it truly childish. In after years Jasper
never thought of Phronsie without bringing up this picture on that April
morning, when Polly and he sat at the foot of the stairs, and looked up
and saw it.

\x93Where\x92s Jap?\x94 called one of the boys; and then there was a clatter out
into the hall.

\x93What are you doing?\x94 and Van came to a full stop of amazement and
stared at them.

\x93Resting,\x94 said Jappy, concisely, \x93what do you want, Van?\x94

\x93I want you,\x94 said Van, \x93we can\x92t do anything without you, Jappy; you
know that.\x94

\x93Very well,\x94 said Jasper, getting up. \x93Come on, Polly, we must go.\x94

\x93And Phronsie,\x94 said Van, anxiously, looking up to Phronsie, who had
nearly reached them by this time, \x93we want her, too.\x94

\x93Of course,\x94 said Polly, running up and meeting her to give her a hug;
\x93I don\x92t go unless she does.\x94

\x93Where are we going, Polly?\x94 asked Phronsie, looking back longingly to
her beloved stairs as she was borne off.

\x93To the greenhouse, chick!\x94 said Jasper, \x93to help Turner; and it\x92ll be
good fun, won\x92t it, Polly?\x94

\x93What is a greenhouse?\x94 asked the child, wonderingly. \x93All green,
Jasper?\x94

\x93Oh, dear me,\x94 said Van, doubling up, \x93do you suppose she thinks it\x92s
painted green?\x94

\x93It\x92s green inside, Phronsie, dear,\x94 said Jasper, kindly, \x93and that\x92s
the best of all.\x94

When Phronsie was really let loose in the greenhouse she thought it
decidedly best of all; and she went into nearly as much of a rapture as
Polly did on her first visit to it.

In a few moments she was cooing and jumping among the plants, while old
Turner, staid and particular as he was, laughed to see her go.

\x93She\x92s your sister, Miss Mary, ain\x92t she?\x94 at last he asked, as Phronsie
bent lovingly over a little pot of heath, and just touched one little
leaf carefully with her finger.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Polly, \x93but she don\x92t look like me.\x94

\x93She is like you,\x94 said Turner, respectfully, \x93if she don\x92t look like
you; and the flowers know it, too,\x94 he added, \x93and they\x92ll love to see
her coming, just as they do you.\x94

For Polly had won the old gardener\x92s heart completely by her passionate
love for flowers, and nearly every morning a little nosegay, fresh and
beautiful, came up to the house for \x93Miss Mary.\x94

And now nobody liked to think of the time, or to look back to it, when
Phronsie hadn\x92t been in the house. When the little feet went pattering
through halls and over stairs, it seemed to bring sunshine and happiness
into every one\x92s heart just to hear the sounds. Polly and the boys in
the schoolroom would look up from their books and nod away brightly to
each other, and then fall to faster than ever on their lessons, to get
through the quicker to be with her again.

One thing Phronsie always insisted on, and kept to it
pertinaciously--and that was to go into the drawing-room with Polly
when she went to practice, and there, with one of her numerous family of
dolls, to sit down quietly in some corner and wait till she got through.

Day after day she did it, until Polly, who was worried to think how
tedious it must be for her, would look around and say, \x93Oh, childie, do
run out and play.\x94

\x93I want to stay,\x94 Phronsie would beg in an injured tone; \x93please let me,
Polly.\x94

So Polly would jump and give her a kiss, and then, delighted to know
that she was there, would go at her practicing with twice the vigor and
enthusiasm.

But Phronsie\x92s chief occupation, at least when she wasn\x92t with Polly,
was the entertainment and amusement of Mr. King. And never was she very
long absent from his side, which so pleased the old gentleman that
he could scarcely contain himself, as with a gravity befitting the
importance of her office, she would follow him around in a happy
contented way, that took with him immensely. And now-a-days, no one ever
saw the old gentleman going out of a morning, when Jasper was busy with
his lessons, without Phronsie by his side, and many people turned to see
the portly figure with the handsome head bent to catch the prattle of
a little sunny-haired child, who trotted along, clasping his hand
confidingly. And nearly all of them stopped to gaze the second time
before they could convince themselves that it was really that queer,
stiff old Mr. King of whom they had heard so much.

And now the accumulation of dolls in the house became something
alarming, for Mr. King, observing Phronsie\x92s devotion to her family,
thought there couldn\x92t possibly be too many of them; so he scarcely
ever went out without bringing home one at least to add to them, until
Phronsie had such a remarkable collection as would have driven almost
any other child nearly crazy with delight. She, however, regarded them
something in the light of a grave responsibility, to be taken care of
tenderly, to be watched over carefully as to just the right kind of
bringing up; and to have small morals and manners taught in just the
right way.

Phronsie was playing in the corner of Mrs. Whitney\x92s little boudoir,
engaged in sending out invitations for an elaborate tea-party to be
given by one of the dolls, when Polly rushed in with consternation in
her tones, and dismay written all over her face.

\x93What is it, dear?\x94 asked Mrs. Whitney, looking up from her embroidery.

\x93Why,\x94 said Polly, \x93how could I! I don\x92t see--but I\x92ve forgotten to
write to mamsie to-day; it\x92s Wednesday, you know, and there\x92s Monsieur
coming.\x94 And poor Polly looked out in despair to see the lively little
music teacher advancing towards the house at an alarming rate of speed.

\x93That is because you were helping Van so long last evening over his
lessons,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney; \x93I am so sorry.\x94

\x93Oh, no,\x94 cried Polly honestly, \x93I had plenty of time--but I forgot
\x91twas mamsie\x92s day. What will she do!\x94

\x93You will have to let it go now till the afternoon, dear; there\x92s no
other way; it can go in the early morning mail.\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 sighed Polly, \x93I suppose I must.\x94 And she went down to meet
Monsieur with a very distressed little heart.

Phronsie laid down the note of invitation she was scribbling, and
stopped to think; and a moment or two after, at a summons from a caller,
Mrs. Whitney left the room.

\x93I know I ought to,\x94 said Phronsie to herself and the dolls, \x93yes, I
know I had; mamsie will feel, oh! so bad, when she don\x92t get Polly\x92s
letter; and I know the way, I do, truly.\x94

She got up and went to the window, where she thought a minute; and then,
coming back, she took up her little stubby pencil, and bending over a
small bit of paper, she commenced to trace with laborious efforts and
much hard breathing, some very queer hieroglyphics that to her seemed to
be admirable, as at last she held them up with great satisfaction.

\x93Good-bye,\x94 she said then, getting up and bowing to the dolls who sat
among the interrupted invitations, \x93I won\x92t be gone but a little bit of
one minute,\x94 and she went out determinedly and shut the door.

Nobody saw the little figure going down the carriage drive, so of course
nobody could stop her. When Phronsie got to the gateway she looked up
and down the street carefully, either way.

\x93Yes,\x94 she said, at last, \x93it was down here, I\x92m very sure, I went with
grandpa,\x94 and immediately turned down the wrong way, and went on and
on, grasping carefully her small, and by this time rather soiled bit of
paper.

At last she reached the business streets; and although she didn\x92t come
to the Post Office, she comforted herself by the thought--\x93it must be
coming soon. I guess it\x92s round this corner.\x94

She kept turning corner after corner, until, at last, a little anxious
feeling began to tug at her heart; and she began to think--\x93I wish I
could see Polly--\x94 And now, she had all she could do to get out of
the way of the crowds of people who were pouring up and down the
thoroughfare. Everybody jostled against her, and gave her a push. \x93Oh
dear!\x94 thought Phronsie, \x93there\x92s such a many big people!\x94 and then
there was no time for anything else but to stumble in and out, to
keep from being crushed completely beneath their feet. At last, an old
huckster woman, in passing along, knocked off her bonnet with the end
of her big basket, which flew around and struck Phronsie\x92s head. Not
stopping to look into the piteous brown eyes, she strode on without a
word. Phronsie turned in perfect despair to go down a street that looked
as if there might be room enough for her in it. Thoroughly frightened,
she plunged over the crossing, to reach it!

\x93Look out!\x94 cried a ringing voice. \x93Stop!\x94

\x93The little girl\x92ll be killed!\x94 said others with bated breath, as a
powerful pair of horses whose driver could not pull them up in time,
dashed along just in front of her! With one cry, Phronsie sprang between
their feet, and reached the opposite curbstone in safety!

The plunge brought her up against a knot of gentlemen who were standing
talking on the corner.

\x93What\x92s this!\x94 asked one, whose back being next to the street, hadn\x92t
seen the commotion, as the small object dashed into their midst, and
fell up against him.

\x93Didn\x92t you see that narrow escape?\x94 asked a second, whose face had
paled in witnessing it. \x93This little girl was nearly killed a moment
ago--careless driving enough!\x94 And he put out his hand to catch the
child.

\x93Bless me!\x94 cried a third, whirling around suddenly, \x93Bless me! you
don\x92t say so! why--\x94 With a small cry, but gladsome and distinct in its
utterance, Phronsie gave one look--\x93Oh, grandpa!\x94 was all she could say.

\x93Oh! where--\x94 Mr. King couldn\x92t possibly have uttered another word, for
then his breath gave out entirely, as he caught the small figure.

\x93I went to the Post Office,\x94 said the child, clinging to him in delight,
her tangled hair waving over the little white face, into which a faint
pink color was quickly coming back. \x93Only it wouldn\x92t come; and I walked
and walked--where is it, grandpa?\x94 And Phronsie gazed up anxiously into
the old gentleman\x92s face.

\x93She went to the Post Office!\x94 turning around on the others fiercely,
as if they had contradicted him--\x93Why, my child, what were you going to
do?\x94

\x93Mamsie\x92s letter,\x94 said Phronsie, holding up for inspection the precious
bit, which by this time, was decidedly forlorn, \x93Polly couldn\x92t write;
and Mamsie\x92d feel so bad not to get one--she would really\x94 said the
child, shaking her head very soberly, \x93for Polly said so.\x94

\x93And you\x92ve been--oh! I can\x92t think of it,\x94 said Mr. King, tenderly
taking her up on his shoulder, \x93well, we must get home now, or I don\x92t
know what Polly will do!\x94 And without stopping to say a word to his
friends, he hailed a passing carriage, and putting Phronsie in, he
commanded the driver to get them as quickly as possible to their
destination.

In a few moments they were home. Mr. King pushed into the house with his
burden. \x93Don\x92t anybody know,\x94 he burst out, puffing up the stairs, and
scolding furiously at every step, \x93enough to take better care of this
child, than to have such goings on!\x94

\x93What is the matter, father?\x94 asked Mrs. Whitney, coming up the stairs,
after him. \x93What has happened out of the way?\x94

\x93Out of the way!\x94 roared the old gentleman, irascibly, \x93well, if you
want Phronsie racing off to the Post Office by herself, and nearly
getting killed, poor child! yes, Marian, I say nearly killed!\x94 he
continued.

\x93What do you mean?\x94 gasped Mrs. Whitney.

\x93Why, where have you been?\x94 asked the old gentleman, who wouldn\x92t let
Phronsie get down out of his arms, under any circumstances; so there she
lay, poking up her head like a little bird, and trying to say she wasn\x92t
in the least hurt, \x93where\x92s everybody been not to know she\x92d gone?\x94 he
exclaimed, \x93where\x92s Polly--and Jasper--and all of \x91em?\x94

\x93Polly\x92s taking her music lesson,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney. \x93Oh, Phronsie
darling!\x94 and she bent over the child in her father\x92s arms, and nearly
smothered her with kisses.

\x93Twas a naughty horse,\x94 said Phronsie, sitting up straight and looking
at her, \x93or I should have found the Post Office; and I lost off my
bonnet, too,\x94 she added, for the first time realizing her loss, putting
her hand to her head; \x93a bad old woman knocked it off with a basket--and
now mamsie won\x92t get her letter!\x94 and she waved the bit, which she still
grasped firmly between her thumb and finger, sadly towards Mrs. Whitney.

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 groaned that lady, \x93how could we talk before her! But who
would have thought it! Darling,\x94 and she took the little girl from her
father\x92s arms, who at last let her go, \x93don\x92t think of your mamma\x92s
letter; we\x92ll tell her how it was,\x94 and she sat down in the first chair
that she could reach; while Phronsie put her tumbled little head down on
the kind shoulder and gave a weary little sigh.

\x93It was so long,\x94 she said, \x93and my shoes hurt,\x94 and she thrust out the
dusty little boots, that spoke pathetically of the long and unaccustomed
tramp.

\x93Poor little lamb!\x94 said Mr. King, getting down to unbutton them. \x93What
a shame!\x94 he mumbled pulling off half of the buttons in his frantic
endeavors to get them off quickly.

But Phronsie never heard the last of his observations, for in a minute
she was fast asleep. The tangled hair fell off from the tired little
face; the breathing came peaceful and regular, and with her little hand
fast clasped in Mrs. Whitney\x92s she slept on and on.

Polly came flying up-stairs, two or three at a time, and humming a scrap
of her last piece that she had just conquered.

\x93Phronsie,\x94 she called, with a merry little laugh, \x93where--\x94

\x93Hush!\x94 said Mr. King, warningly, and then just because he couldn\x92t
explain there without waking Phronsie up, he took hold of Polly\x92s two
shoulders and marched her into the next room, where he carefully closed
the door, and told her the whole thing, using his own discretion about
the very narrow escape she had passed through. He told enough, however,
for Polly to see what had been so near them; and she stood there so
quietly, alternately paling and flushing as he proceeded, till at last,
when he finished, Mr. King was frightened almost to death at the sight
of her face.

\x93Oh, goodness me, Polly!\x94 he said, striding up to her, and then fumbling
around on the table to find a glass of water, \x93you are not going to
faint, are you? Phronsie\x92s all well now, she isn\x92t hurt in the least, I
assure you; I assure you--where is a glass of water! Marian ought to see
that there\x92s some here--that stupid Jane!\x94 and in utter bewilderment
he was fussing here and there, knocking down so many things in general,
that the noise soon brought Polly to, with a little gasp.

\x93Oh, don\x92t mind me, dear Mr. King--I\x92m--all well.\x94

\x93So you are,\x94 said the old gentleman, setting up a toilet bottle that he
had knocked over, \x93so you are; I didn\x92t think you\x92d go and tumble over,
Polly, I really didn\x92t,\x94 and he beamed admiringly down on her.

And then Polly crept away to Mrs. Whitney\x92s side where she threw herself
down on the floor, to watch the little sleeping figure. Her hand was
gathered up, into the kind one that held Phronsie\x92s; and there they
watched and watched and waited.

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Phronsie, suddenly, turning over with a little sigh,
and bobbing up her head to look at Polly; \x93I\x92m so hungry! I haven\x92t had
anything to eat in ever an\x92 ever so long, Polly!\x94 and she gazed at her
with a very injured countenance.

\x93So you must be,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney, kissing the flushed little face.
\x93Polly must ring the bell for Jane to bring this little bird some
crumbs.

\x93Can I have a great many?\x94 asked Phronsie, lifting her eyes, with the
dewy look of sleep still lingering in them, \x93as many as two birdies?\x94

\x93Yes, dear,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney, laughing; \x93I think as many as three
little birdies could eat, Phronsie.\x94

\x93Oh,\x94 said Phronsie, and leaned back satisfied, while Polly gave the
order, which was presently followed by Jane with a well-filled tray.

\x93Now,\x94 said Jappy, when he heard the account of the adventure, \x93I say
that letter ought to go to your mother, Polly.\x94

\x93Oh,\x94 said Polly, \x93it would scare mamsie most to death, Jappy!\x94

\x93Don\x92t tell her the whole,\x94 said Jasper, quickly, \x93I didn\x92t mean
that--about the horses and all that--but only enough to let her see how
Phronsie tried to get it to her.\x94

\x93And I\x92m going to write to your brother Joel,\x94 said Van, drawing up to
the library table; \x93I\x92ll scare him, Polly, I guess; he won\x92t tell your
mother.\x94

\x93Your crow-tracks\x92ll scare him enough without anything else,\x94 said
Percy, pleasantly, who really could write very nicely, while Polly broke
out in an agony:

\x93Oh, no, Van, you mustn\x92t! you mustn\x92t!\x94

\x93If Van does,\x94 said Jasper, decidedly, \x93it\x92ll be the last time he\x92ll
write to the \x91brown house,\x92 I can tell him; and besides, he\x92ll go to
Coventry.\x94 This had the desired effect.

\x93Let\x92s all write,\x94 said Polly.

So a space on the table was cleared, and the children gathered around
it, when there was great scratching of pens, and clearing of ideas;
which presently resulted in a respectable budget of letters, into which
Phronsie\x92s was lovingly tucked in the centre; and then they all filed
out to put it into the letterbox in the hall, for Thomas to mail with
the rest in the morning.



GETTING READY FOR MAMSIE AND THE BOYS


\x93And I\x92ll tell you, Marian, what I am going to do.\x94

Mr. King\x92s voice was pitched on a higher key than usual; and extreme
determination was expressed in every line of his face. He had met Mrs.
Whitney at the foot of the staircase, dressed for paying visits. \x93Oh,
are you going out?\x94 he said, glancing impatiently at her attire. \x93And
I\x92d just started to speak to you on a matter of great importance! Of the
greatest importance indeed!\x94 he repeated irritably, as he stood with one
gloved hand resting on the balustrade.

\x93Oh, it\x92s no matter, father,\x94 she replied pleasantly; \x93if it\x92s really
important, I can postpone going for another day, and--\x94

\x93Really important!\x94 repeated the old gentleman irascibly. \x93Haven\x92t I
just told you it\x92s of the greatest importance? There\x92s no time to be
lost; and with my state of health too, it\x92s of the utmost consequence
that I shouldn\x92t be troubled. It\x92s very bad for me; I should think you
would realize that, Marian.\x94

\x93I\x92ll tell Thomas to take the carriage directly back,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney
stepping to the door. \x93Or stay, father; I\x92ll just run up and send the
children out for a little drive. The horses ought to be used too, you
know,\x94 she said lightly, preparing to run up to carry out the changed
plan.

\x93Never mind that now,\x94 said Mr. King abruptly. \x93I want you to give me
your attention directly.\x94 And walking towards the library door, getting
a fresh accession of impatience with every step, he beckoned her to
follow.

But his progress was somewhat impeded by little Dick--or rather, little
Dick and Prince, who were standing at the top of the stairs to see Mrs.
Whitney off. When he saw his mother retrace her steps, supposing her
yielding to the urgent entreaties that he was sending after her to stay
at home, the child suddenly changed his \x93Good-byes\x94 to vociferous howls
of delight, and speedily began to plunge down the stairs to welcome her.

But the staircase was long, and little Dick was in a hurry, and besides,
Prince was in the way. The consequence was, nobody knew just how, that
a bumping noise struck into the conversation that made the two below in
the hall look up quickly, to see the child and dog come rolling over the
stairs at a rapid rate.

\x93Zounds!\x94 cried the old gentleman. \x93Here, Thomas, Thomas!\x94 But as that
individual was waiting patiently outside the door on the carriage box,
there was small hope of his being in time to catch the boy, who was
already in his mother\x92s arms, not quite clear by the suddenness of the
whole thing, as to how he came there.

\x93Oh! oh! Dicky\x92s hurt!\x94 cried somebody up above--followed by every
one within hearing distance, and all came rushing to the spot to ask a
thousand questions all in the same minute.

There sat Mrs. Whitney in one of the big carved chairs, with little Dick
in her lap, and Prince walking gravely around and around him with the
greatest expression of concern on his noble face. Mr. King was storming
up and down, and calling on everybody to bring a \x93bowl of water, and
some brown paper; and be quick!\x94 interpolated with showers of blame on
Prince for sitting on the stairs, and tripping people up! while Dick
meanwhile was laughing and chatting, and enjoying the distinction of
making so many people run, and of otherwise being the object of so much
attention!

\x93I don\x92t think he was sitting on the stairs, father,\x94 said Jasper, who,
when he saw that Dicky was really unhurt, began to vindicate his dog.
\x93He never does that; do you Sir?\x94 he said patting the head that was
lifted up to him, as if to be defended.

\x93And I expect we shall all be killed some day, Jasper,\x94 said Mr. King,
warming with his subject; and forgetting all about the brown paper and
water which he had ordered, and which was now waiting for him at his
elbow, \x93just by that creature.\x94

\x93He\x92s the noblest--\x94 began Jasper, throwing his arms around his neck; an
example which was immediately followed by the Whitney boys, and the two
little Peppers. When Dick saw this, he began to struggle to get down to
add himself to the number.

\x93Where\x92s the brown paper?\x94 began Mr. King, seeing this and whirling
around suddenly. \x93Hasn\x92t any body brought it yet?\x94

\x93Here \x91tis sir,\x94 said Jane, handing him a generous supply. \x93Oh, I don\x92t
want to,\x94 cried little Dick in dismay, seeing his grandfather advance
with an enormous piece of paper, which previously wet in the bowl of
water, was now unpleasantly clammy and wet--\x93oh, no, I don\x92t want to be
all stuck up with old horrid wet paper!\x94

\x93Hush, dear!\x94 said his mamma, soothingly. \x93Grandpapa wants to put it
on--there--\x94 as Mr. King dropped it scientifically on his head, and then
proceeded to paste another one over his left eye.

\x93And I hope they\x92ll all drop off,\x94 cried Dick, savagely, shaking his
head to facilitate matters. \x93Yes, I do, every single one of \x91em!\x94 he
added, with an expression that seen under the brown bits was anything
but benign.

\x93Was Prince on the stairs, Dick?\x94 asked Jasper, coming up and peering
under his several adornments. \x93Tell us how you fell!\x94

\x93No,\x94 said little Dick, crossly, and giving his head another shake.
\x93He was up in the hall--oh, dear, I want to get down,\x94 and he began to
stretch his legs and to struggle with so much energy, that two or three
pieces fell off, and landed on the floor to his intense delight.

\x93And how did you fall then?\x94 said Jasper, perseveringly. \x93Can\x92t you
remember, Dicky, boy?\x94

\x93I pushed Princey,\x94 said Dick, feeling, with freedom from some of
his encumbrances, more disposed for conversation, \x93and made him go
ahead--and then I fell on top of him--that\x92s all.\x94

\x93I guess Prince has saved him, father,\x94 cried Jasper, turning around
with eyes full of pride and love on the dog, who was trying as hard as
he could to tell all the children how much he enjoyed their caresses.

And so it all came about that the consultation so summarily interrupted
was never held. For, as Mrs. Whitney was about retiring that evening,
Mr. King rapped at her door, on his way to bed.

\x93Oh,\x94 he said popping in his head, in response to her invitation to come
in, \x93it\x92s nothing--only I thought I\x92d just tell you a word or two about
what I\x92ve decided to do.\x94

\x93Do you mean what you wanted to see me about this afternoon?\x94 asked Mrs.
Whitney, who hadn\x92t thought of it since. \x93Do come in, father.\x94

\x93It\x92s no consequence,\x94 said the old gentleman; \x93no consequence at all,\x94
 he repeated, waving his hand emphatically, \x93because I\x92ve made up my mind
and arranged all my plans--it\x92s only about the Peppers--\x94

\x93The Peppers?\x94 repeated Mrs. Whitney.

\x93Yes. Well, the fact of it is, I\x92m going to have them here for a
visit--the whole of them, you understand; that\x92s all there is to it.
And I shall go down to see about all the arrangements--Jasper and I--day
after to-morrow,\x94 said the old gentleman, as if he owned the whole
Pepper family inclusive, and was the only responsible person to be
consulted about their movements.

\x93Will they come?\x94 asked Mrs. Whitney, doubtfully.

\x93Come? of course,\x94 said Mr. King, sharply, \x93there isn\x92t any other way;
or else Mrs. Pepper will be sending for her children--and of course you
know, Marian, we couldn\x92t allow that--well, that\x92s all; so good night,\x94
 and the door closed on his retreating footsteps.

And so Polly and Phronsie soon knew that mamsie and the boys were to
be invited! And then the grand house, big as it was, didn\x92t seem large
enough to contain them.

\x93I declare,\x94 said Jasper, next day, when they had been laughing and
planning till they were all as merry as grigs, \x93if this old dungeon
don\x92t begin to seem a little like \x91the little brown house,\x92 Polly.\x94

\x93Twon\x92t,\x94 answered Polly, hopping around on one toe, followed by
Phronsie, \x93till mamsie and the boys get here, Jasper King!\x94

\x93Well, they\x92ll be here soon,\x94 said Jappy, pleased at Polly\x92s exultation
over it, \x93for we\x92re going to-morrow to do the inviting.\x94

\x93And Polly\x92s to write a note to slip into Marian\x92s,\x94 said Mr. King,
putting his head in at the door. \x93And if you want your mother to come,
child, why, you\x92d better mention it as strong as you can.\x94

\x93I\x92m going to write,\x94 said Phronsie, pulling up after a prolonged skip,
all out of breath. \x93I\x92m going to write, and beg mamsie dear. Then she\x92ll
come, I guess.\x94

\x93I guess she will,\x94 said Mr. King, looking at her. \x93You go on, Phronsie,
and write; and that letter shall go straight in my coat pocket alone by
itself.\x94

\x93Shall it?\x94 asked Phronsie, coming up to him, \x93and nobody will take it
out till you give it to mamsie?\x94

\x93No, nobody shall touch it,\x94 said the old gentleman, stooping to kiss
the upturned face, \x93till I put it into her own hand.\x94

\x93Then,\x94 said Phronsie, in the greatest satisfaction, \x93I\x92m going to write
this very one minute!\x94 and she marched away to carry her resolve into
immediate execution.

Before they got through they had quite a bundle of invitations and
pleadings; for each of the three boys insisted on doing his part, so
that when they were finally done up in an enormous envelope and put into
Mr. King\x92s hands, he told them with a laugh that there was no use for
Jappy and himself to go, as those were strong enough to win almost
anybody\x92s consent.

However, the next morning they set off, happy in their hopes, and
bearing the countless messages, which the children would come up every
now and then to intrust to them, declaring that they had forgotten to
put them in the letters.

\x93You\x92d had to have had an express wagon to carry the letters if you had
put them all in,\x94 at last cried Jasper. \x93You\x92ve given us a bushel of
things to remember.\x94

\x93And oh! don\x92t forget to ask Ben to bring Cherry,\x94 cried Polly, the last
minute as they were driving off although she had put it in her letter at
least a dozen times; \x93and oh, dear! of course the flowers can\x92t come.\x94

\x93We\x92ve got plenty here,\x94 said Jasper. \x93You would not know what to do
with them, Polly.\x94

\x93Well, I do wish mamsie would give some to kind Mrs. Henderson, then,\x94
 said Polly, on the steps, clasping her hands anxiously, while Jasper
told Thomas to wait till he heard the rest of the message, \x93and to
grandma--you know Grandma Bascom; she was so good to us,\x94 she said
impulsively. \x93And, oh! don\x92t let her forget to carry some to dear, dear
Dr. Fisher; and don\x92t forget to give him our love, Jappy; don\x92t forget
that!\x94 and Polly ran down the steps to the carriage door, where she
gazed up imploringly to the boy\x92s face.

\x93I guess I won\x92t,\x94 cried Jasper, \x93when I think how he saved your eyes,
Polly! He\x92s the best fellow I know!\x94 he finished in an impulsive burst.

\x93And don\x92t let mamsie forget to carry some in to good old Mr. and Mrs.
Beebe in town--where Phronsie got her shoes, you know; that is, if
mamsie can,\x94 she added, remembering how very busy her mother would be.

\x93I\x92ll carry them myself,\x94 said Jasper; \x93we\x92re going to stay over till
the next day, you know.\x94

\x93O!\x94 cried Polly, radiant as a rose, \x93will you, really, Jappy? you\x92re so
good!\x94

\x93Yes, I will,\x94 said Jasper, \x93everything you want done, Polly; anything
else?\x94 he asked, quickly, as Mr. King, impatient to be off, showed
unmistakable symptoms of hurrying up Thomas.

\x93Oh, no,\x94 said Polly, \x93only do look at the little brown house, Jasper,
as much as you can,\x94 and Polly left the rest unfinished. Jasper seemed
to understand, however, for he smiled brightly as he said, looking into
the brown eyes, \x93I\x92ll do it all, Polly; every single thing.\x94 And then
they were off.

Mamsie and the boys! could Polly ever wait till the next afternoon that
would bring the decision?

Long before it was possibly time for the carriage to come back from the
depot, Polly, with Phronsie and the three boys, who, improving Jasper\x92s
absence, had waited upon her with the grace and persistence of cavaliers
of the olden time, were drawn up at the old stone gateway.

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Van with an impatient fling; \x93they never will come!\x94

\x93Won\x92t they, Polly?\x94 asked Phronsie, anxiously, and standing quite
still.

\x93Dear me, yes,\x94 said Polly, with a little laugh, \x93Van only means they\x92ll
be a good while, Phronsie. They\x92re sure to come some time.\x94

\x93Oh!\x94 said Phronsie, quite relieved; and she commenced her capering
again in extreme enjoyment.

\x93I\x92m going,\x94 said little Dick, \x93to run down and meet them.\x94 Accordingly
off he went, and was immediately followed by Percy, who started with the
laudable desire of bringing him back; but finding it so very enjoyable,
he stayed himself and frolicked with Dick, till the others, hearing the
fun, all took hold of hands and flew off to join them.

\x93Now,\x94 said Polly, when they recovered their breath a little, \x93let\x92s all
turn our backs to the road; and the minute we hear the carriage we must
whirl round; and the one who sees \x91em first can ask first \x91Is mamsie
coming?\x94

\x93All right,\x94 cried the boys.

\x93Turn round, Dick,\x94 said Percy, with a little shove, for Dick was
staring with all his might right down the road. And so they all flew
around till they looked like five statues set up to grace the sidewalk.

\x93Suppose a big dog should come,\x94 suggested Van, pleasantly, \x93and snap at
our backs!\x94

At this little Dick gave a small howl, and turned around in a fright.

\x93There isn\x92t any dog coming,\x94 said Polly. \x93What does make you say such
awful things, Van?\x94

\x93I hear a noise,\x94 said Phronsie; and so they all whirled around in
expectation. But it proved to be only a market wagon coming at a furious
pace down the road, with somebody\x92s belated dinner. So they all had to
whirl back again as before. The consequence was that when the carriage
did come, nobody heard it.

Jasper, looking out, was considerably astonished to see, drawn up in
solemn array with their backs to the road, five children, who stood as
if completely petrified.

\x93What in the world!\x94 he began, and called to Thomas to stop, whose
energetic \x93Whoa!\x94 reaching the ears of the frozen line, caused it to
break ranks, and spring into life at an alarming rate.

\x93Oh, is she coming Jappy? Is she? Is she?\x94 they all screamed together,
swarming up to the carriage door, and over the wheels.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Jasper looking at Polly.

At that, Phronsie made a little cheese and sat right down on the
pavement in an ecstasy.

\x93Get in here, all of you;\x94 said Jasper merrily; \x93help Polly in first.
For shame Dick! don\x92t scramble so.\x94

\x93Dick always shoves,\x94 said Percy, escorting Polly up with quite an air.

\x93I don\x92t either,\x94 said Dick; \x93you pushed me awful, just a little while
ago,\x94 he added indignantly.

\x93Do say awfully,\x94 corrected Van, crowding up to get in. \x93You leave off
your lys so,\x94 he finished critically.

\x93I don\x92t know anything about any lees,\x94 said little Dick, who, usually
so good natured, was now thoroughly out of temper; \x93I want to get in
and go home,\x94 and he showed evident symptoms of breaking into a perfect
roar.

\x93There,\x94 said Polly, lilting him up, \x93there he goes! now--one, two,
three!\x94 and little Dick was spun in so merrily that the tears changed
into a happy laugh.

\x93Now then, bundle in, all the rest of you,\x94 put in Mr. King, who seemed
to be in the best of spirits. \x93That\x92s it; go on, Thomas!\x94

\x93When are they coming?\x94 Polly found time to ask in the general jumble.

\x93In three weeks from to-morrow,\x94 said Jasper. \x93And everything\x92s all
right, Polly! and the whole of them, Cherry and all, will be here then!\x94

\x93Oh!\x94 said Polly.

\x93Here we are!\x94 cried Van, jumping out almost before the carriage door
was open. \x93Mamma; mamma,\x94 he shouted to Mrs. Whitney in the doorway,
\x93the Peppers are coming, and the little brown house too!--everything and
everybody!\x94

\x93They are!\x94 said Percy, as wild as his brother; \x93and everything\x92s just
splendid! Jappy said so.\x94

\x93Everything\x92s coming,\x94 said little Dick, tumbling up the steps--\x93and the
bird--and--and--\x94

\x93And mamsie!\x94 finished Phronsie, impatient to add her part--while Polly
didn\x92t say anything--only looked.

Three weeks! \x93I can\x92t wait!\x94 thought Polly at first, in counting
over the many hours before the happy day would come. But on Jasper\x92s
suggesting that they should all do something to get ready for the
visitors, and have a general trimming up with vines and flowers
beside--the time passed away much more rapidly than was feared.

Polly chose a new and more difficult piece of music to learn to surprise
mamsie. Phronsie had aspired to an elaborate pin-cushion, that was
nearly done, made of bits of worsted and canvas, over whose surface
she had wandered according to her own sweet will, in a way charming to
behold.

\x93I don\x92t know what to do,\x94 said Van in despair, \x93cause I don\x92t know what
she\x92d like.\x94

\x93Can\x92t you draw her a little picture?\x94 asked Polly. \x93She\x92d like that.\x94

\x93Does she like pictures?\x94 asked Van with the greatest interest.

\x93Yes indeed!\x94 said Polly, \x93I guess you\x92d think so if you could see her!\x94

\x93I know what I shall do,\x94 with a dignified air said Percy, who couldn\x92t
draw, and therefore looked down on all Van\x92s attempts with the greatest
scorn. \x93And it won\x92t be any old pictures either,\x94 he added.

\x93What is it, old fellow?\x94 asked Jasper, \x93tell on, now, your grand plan.\x94

\x93No, I\x92m not going to tell,\x94 said Percy, with the greatest secrecy,
\x93until the very day.\x94

\x93What will you do, sir?\x94 asked Jasper, pulling one of Dick\x92s ears, who
stood waiting to speak, as if his mind was made up, and wouldn\x92t be
changed for anyone!

\x93I shall give Ben one of my kitties--the littlest and the best!\x94 he
said, with heroic self-sacrifice.

A perfect shout greeted this announcement.

\x93Fancy Ben going round with one of those awful little things,\x94 whispered
Jappy to Polly, who shook at the very thought.

\x93Don\x92t laugh! oh, it\x92s dreadful to laugh at him, Jappy,\x94 she said, when
she could get voice enough.

\x93No, I sha\x92n\x92t tell,\x94 said Percy, when the fun had subsided; who,
finding that no one teased him to divulge his wonderful plan, kept
trying to harrow up their feelings by parading it.

\x93You needn\x92t then,\x94 screamed Van, who was nearly dying to know. \x93I don\x92t
believe it\x92s so very dreadful much, anyway.\x94

\x93What\x92s yours, Jappy?\x94 asked Polly, \x93I know yours will be just
splendid.\x94

\x93Oh, no, it isn\x92t,\x94 said Jasper, smiling brightly, \x93but as I didn\x92t know
what better I could do, I\x92m going to get a little stand, and then beg
some flowers of Turner to fill it, and--\x94

\x93Why, that\x92s mine!\x94 screamed Percy, in the greatest disappointment.
\x93That\x92s just what I was going to do!\x94

\x93Hoh, hoh!\x94 shouted Van; \x93I thought you wouldn\x92t tell, Mr. Percy! hoh,
hoh!\x94

\x93Hoh, hoh!\x94 echoed Dick.

\x93Hush,\x94 said Jappy. \x93Why, Percy, I didn\x92t know as you had thought of
that,\x94 he said kindly. \x93Well, then, you do it, and I\x92ll take something
else. I don\x92t care as long as Mrs. Pepper gets \x91em.\x94

\x93I didn\x92t exactly mean that,\x94 began Percy; \x93mine was roots and little
flowers growing.\x94

\x93He means what he gets in the woods,\x94 said Polly, explaining; \x93don\x92t
you, Percy?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said the boy. \x93And then I was going to put stones and things in
among them to make them look pretty.\x94

\x93And they will,\x94 cried Jasper. \x93Go ahead, Percy, they\x92ll look real
pretty, and then Turner will give you some flowers for the stand, I
know; I\x92ll ask him to-morrow.\x94

\x93Will you?\x94 cried Percy, \x93that\x92ll be fine!\x94

\x93Mine is the best,\x94 said Van, just at this juncture; but it was said a
little anxiously, as he saw how things were prospering with Percy; \x93for
my flowers in the picture will always be there, and your old roots and
things will die.\x94

\x93What will yours be, then, Jappy?\x94 asked Polly very soberly. \x93The stand
of flowers would have been just lovely! and you do fix them so nice,\x94
 she added sorrowfully.

\x93Oh, I\x92ll find something else,\x94 said Jappy, cheerfully, who had quite
set his heart on giving the flowers. \x93Let me see--I might carve her a
bracket.\x94

\x93Do,\x94 cried Polly, clapping her hands enthusiastically. \x93And do carve a
little bird, like the one you did on your father\x92s.\x94

\x93I will,\x94 said Jasper, \x93just exactly like it. Now, we\x92ve got something
to do, before we welcome the \x91little brown house\x92 people--so let\x92s fly
at it, and the time won\x92t seem so long.\x94

And at last the day came when they could all say--To-morrow they\x92ll be
here!

Well, the vines were all up; and pots of lovely climbing ferns, and all
manner of pretty green things had been arranged and re-arranged a dozen
times till everything was pronounced perfect; and a big green \x93Welcome\x94
 over the library door, made of laurel leaves, by the patient fingers
of all the children, stared down into their admiring eyes as much as to
say, \x93I\x92ll do my part!\x94

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 said Phronsie, when evening came, and the children were, as
usual, assembled on the rug before the fire, their tongues running wild
with anticipation and excitement, \x93I don\x92t mean to go to bed at all,
Polly; I don\x92t truly.\x94

\x93Oh, yes, you do,\x94 said Polly laughing; \x93then you\x92ll be all fresh and
rested to see mammy when she does come.\x94

\x93Oh, no,\x94 said Phronsie, shaking her head soberly, and speaking in an
injured tone. \x93I\x92m not one bit tired, Polly; not one bit.\x94

\x93You needn\x92t go yet, Phronsie,\x94 said Polly. \x93You can sit up half an hour
yet, if you want to.\x94

\x93But I don\x92t want to go to bed at all,\x94 said the child anxiously, \x93for
then I may be asleep when mamsie comes, Polly.\x94

\x93She\x92s afraid she won\x92t wake up,\x94 said Percy, laughing. \x93Oh, there\x92ll be
oceans of time before they come, Phronsie.\x94

\x93What is oceans,\x94 asked Phronsie, coming up and looking at him,
doubtfully.

\x93He means mamsie won\x92t get here till afternoon,\x94 said Polly, catching
her up and kissing her; \x93then I guess you\x92ll be awake, Phronsie, pet.\x94

So Phronsie allowed herself to be persuaded, at the proper time, to be
carried off and inducted into her little nightgown. And when Polly went
up to bed, she found the little pin-cushion, with its hieroglyphics,
that she had insisted on taking to bed with her, still tightly grasped
in the little fat hand.

\x93She\x92ll roll over and muss it,\x94 thought Polly; \x93and then she\x92ll feel bad
in the morning. I guess I\x92d better lay it on the bureau.\x94

So she drew it carefully away, without awaking the little sleeper, and
placed it where she knew Phronsie\x92s eyes would rest on it the first
thing in the morning.

It was going on towards the middle of the night when Phronsie, whose
exciting dreams of mamsie and the boys wouldn\x92t let her rest quietly,
woke up; and in the very first flash she thought of her cushion.

\x93Why, where--\x94 she said, in the softest little tones, only half awake,
\x93why, Polly, where is it?\x94 and she began to feel all around her pillow
to see if it had fallen down there.

But Polly\x92s brown head with its crowd of anticipations and busy
plans was away off in dreamland, and she breathed on and on perfectly
motionless.

\x93I guess I better,\x94 said Phronsie to herself, now thoroughly awake, and
sitting up in bed, \x93not wake her up. Poor Polly\x92s tired; I can find it
myself, I know I can.\x94

So she slipped out of bed, and prowling around on the floor, felt all
about for the little cushion.

\x93\x91Tisn\x92t here, oh, no, it isn\x92t,\x94 she sighed at last, and getting up,
she stood still a moment, lost in thought. \x93Maybe Jane\x92s put it out
in the hall,\x94 she said, as a bright thought struck her. \x93I can get it
there,\x94 and out she pattered over the soft carpet to the table at the
end of the long hall, where Jane often placed the children\x92s playthings
over night. As she was coming back after her fruitless search, she
stopped to peep over the balustrade down the fascinating flight of
stairs, now so long and dark. Just then a little faint ray of light shot
up from below, and met her eyes.

\x93Why!\x94 she said in gentle surprise, \x93they\x92re all down-stairs! I guess
they\x92re making something for mamsie--I\x92m going to see.\x94

So, carefully picking her way over the stairs with her little bare feet,
and holding on to the balustrade at every step, she went slowly down,
guided by the light, which, as she neared the bottom of the flight, she
saw came from the library door.

\x93Oh, isn\x92t it funny!\x94 and she gave a little happy laugh. \x93They won\x92t
know I\x92m comin\x92!\x94 and now the soft little feet went pattering over the
thick carpet, until she stood just within the door. There she stopped
perfectly still.

Two dark figures, big and powerful, were bending over something that
Phronsie couldn\x92t see, between the two big windows. A lantern on the
floor flung its rays over them as they were busily occupied; and the
firelight from the dying coals made the whole stand out distinctly to
the gaze of the motionless little figure.

\x93Why! what are you doing with my grandpa\x92s things?\x94

The soft, clear notes fell like a thunderbolt upon the men. With a start
they brought themselves up, and stared--only to see a little white-robed
figure, with its astonished eyes uplifted with childlike, earnest gaze,
as she waited for her answer.

For an instant they were powerless to move; and stood as if frozen to
the spot, till Phronsie, moving one step forward, piped forth:

\x93Naughty men, to touch my dear grandpa\x92s things!\x94

With a smothered cry one of them started forward with arm uplifted; but
the other sprang like a cat and intercepted the blow.

\x93Stop!\x94 was all he said. A noise above the stairs--a rushing sound
through the hall! Something will save Phronsie, for the household is
aroused! The two men sprang through the window, having no time to catch
the lantern or their tools, as Polly, followed by one and another,
rushed in and surrounded the child.

\x93What!\x94 gasped Polly, and got no further.

\x93STOP, THIEF!\x94 roared Mr. King, hurrying over the stairs. The children,
frightened at the strange noises, began to cry and scream, as they
came running through the halls to the spot. Jasper rushed for the
men-servants.

And there stood Phronsie, surrounded by the pale group. \x93Twas two
naughty men,\x94 she said, lifting her little face with the grieved,
astonished look still in the big brown eyes, \x93and they were touching my
grandpa\x92s things, Polly!\x94

\x93I should think they were,\x94 said Jasper, running over amongst the few
scattered tools and the lantern, to the windows, where, on the floor,
was a large table cover hastily caught up by the corners, into which a
vast variety of silver, jewelry, and quantities of costly articles were
gathered ready for flight. \x93They\x92ve broken open your safe, father!\x94 he
cried in excitement, \x93see!\x94

\x93And they put up their hand--one man did,\x94 went on Phronsie. \x93And the
other said \x91Stop!\x92--oh, Polly, you hurt me!\x94 she cried, as Polly, unable
to bear the strain any longer, held her so tightly she could hardly
breathe.

\x93Go on,\x94 said Jasper, \x93how did they look?\x94

\x93All black,\x94 said the child, pushing back her wavy hair and looking at
him, \x93very all black, Jasper.\x94

\x93And their faces, Phronsie?\x94 said Mr. King, getting down on his old
knees on the floor beside her. \x93Bless me! somebody else ask her, I can\x92t
talk!\x94

\x93How did their faces look, Phronsie, dear?\x94 asked Jasper, taking one of
the cold hands in his. \x93Can\x92t you think?\x94

\x93Oh!\x94 said Phronsie--and then she gave a funny little laugh, \x93two big
holes, Jasper, that\x92s all they had!\x94

\x93She means they were masked,\x94 whispered Jasper.

\x93What did you get up for?\x94 Mrs. Whitney asked. \x93Dear child, what made
you get out of bed?\x94

\x93Why, my cushion-pin,\x94 said Phronsie looking worried at once. \x93I
couldn\x92t find it, and--\x94

But just at this, without a bit of warning, Polly tumbled over in a dead
faint.

And then it was all confusion again.

And so, on the following afternoon, it turned out that the Peppers,
about whose coming there had been so many plans and expectations, just
walked in as if they had always lived there. The greater excitement
completely swallowed up the less!



WHICH TREATS OF A GOOD MANY MATTERS


\x93Phooh!\x94 said Joel a few mornings after the emptying of the little brown
house into the big one, when he and Van were rehearsing for the fiftieth
time all the points of the eventful night, \x93phooh! if I\x92d been here they
wouldn\x92t have got away, I guess!\x94

\x93What would you have done?\x94 asked Van, bristling up at this reflection
on their courage, and squaring up to him. \x93What would you have done,
Joel Pepper?\x94

\x93I\x92d a-pitched right into \x91em--like--everything!\x94 said Joel valiantly;
\x93and a-caught \x91em! Yes, every single one of the Bunglers!\x94

\x93The what?\x94 said Van, bursting into a loud laugh.

\x93The Bunglers,\x94 said Joel with a red face. \x93That\x92s what you said they
were, anyway,\x94 he added positively.

\x93I said Burglars,\x94 said Van, doubling up with amusement, while Joel
stood, a little sturdy figure, regarding him with anything but a sweet
countenance.

\x93Well anyway, I\x92d a-caught \x91em, so there!\x94 he said, as Van at last
showed signs of coming out of his fit of laughter, and got up and wiped
his eyes.

\x93How\x92d you have caught \x91em?\x94 asked Van, scornfully surveying the square
little country figure before him. \x93You can\x92t hit any.

\x93Can\x92t?\x94 said Joel, the black eyes flashing volumes, and coming up in
front of Van. \x93You better believe I can, Van Whitney!\x94

\x93Come out in the back yard and try then,\x94 said Van hospitably, perfectly
delighted at the prospect, and flying alone towards the door. \x93Come
right out and try.\x94

\x93All right!\x94 said Joel, following sturdily, equally delighted to show
his skill.

\x93There,\x94 said Van, taking off his jacket, and flinging it on the grass,
while Joel immediately followed suit with his little homespun one.
\x93Now we can begin perfectly splendid! I won\x92t hit hard,\x94 he added
patronizingly, as both boys stood ready.

\x93Hit as hard as you\x92ve a-mind to,\x94 said Joel, \x93I\x92m a-going to.\x94

\x93Oh, you may,\x94 said Van politely, \x93because you\x92re company. All
right--now!\x94

So at it they went. Before very many minutes were over, Van relinquished
all ideas of treating his company with extra consideration, and was
only thinking how he could possibly hold his own with the valiant little
country lad. Oh, if he could only be called to his lessons--anything
that would summon him into the house! Just then a window above their
heads was suddenly thrown up, and his mamma\x92s voice in natural surprise
and distress called quickly: \x93Children what are you doing? Oh, Van, how
could you!\x94

Both contestants turned around suddenly. Joel looked up steadily. \x93We\x92re
a-hitting, ma\x92am; he said I couldn\x92t, and so we came out and--\x94

\x93Oh, Vanny,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney reproachfully, \x93to treat a little guest
in this way!\x94

\x93I wanted to,\x94 said Joel cheerfully; \x93twas great fun. Let\x92s begin again,
Van!\x94

\x93We mustn\x92t,\x94 said Van, readily giving up the charming prospect, and
beginning to edge quickly towards the house. \x93Mamma wouldn\x92t like it you
know. He hits splendidly, mamma,\x94 he added generously, looking up. \x93He
does really.\x94

\x93And so does Van,\x94 cried Joel, his face glowing at the praise. \x93We\x92ll
come out every day,\x94 he added slipping into his jacket, and turning
enthusiastically back to Van.

\x93And perhaps he could have pitched into the Burglars,\x94 finished Van,
ignoring the invitation, and tumbling into his jacket with alarming
speed.

\x93I know I could!\x94 cried Joel, scampering after him into the house. \x93If
I\x92d only a-been here!\x94

\x93Where\x92s Ben?\x94 said Van, bounding into the hall, and flinging himself
down on one of the chairs. \x93Oh dear, I\x92m so hot! Say, Joe, where do you
s\x92pose Ben is?\x94

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 replied Joel, who didn\x92t even puff.

\x93I saw him a little while ago with master Percy,\x94 said Jane, who was
going through the hall.

\x93There now! and they\x92ve gone off somewhere,\x94 cried Van in extreme
irritation, and starting up quickly. \x93I know they have. Which way did
they go, Jane? And how long ago?\x94

\x93Oh, I don\x92t know,\x94 replied Jane carelessly, \x93half an hour maybe; and
they didn\x92t go nowhere as I see, at least they were talking at the door,
and I was going up-stairs.\x94

\x93Right here?\x94 cried Van, and stamping with his foot to point out the
exact place; \x93at this door, Jane?\x94

\x93Yes, yes,\x94 said Jane; \x93at that very door,\x94 and then she went into the
dining-room to her work.

\x93Oh dear me!\x94 cried Van, and flying out on the veranda, he began to peer
wildly up and down the drive. \x93And they\x92ve gone to some splendid
place, I know, and wouldn\x92t tell us. That\x92s just like Percy!\x94 he added
vindictively, \x93he\x92s always stealing away! don\x92t you see \x91em, Joel? oh,
do come out and look!\x94

\x93\x91Tisn\x92t any use,\x94 said Joel coolly, sitting down on the chair Van had
just vacated, and swinging his feet comfortably; \x93they\x92re miles away if
they\x92ve been gone half an hour. I\x92m goin\x92 up-stairs,\x94 and he sprang up,
and energetically pranced to the stairs.

\x93They aren\x92t up-stairs!\x94 screamed Van, in scorn, bounding into the hall.
\x93Don\x92t go; I know that they\x92ve gone down to the museum!\x94

\x93The what?\x94 exclaimed Joel, nearly at the top, peering over the railing.
\x93What\x92s that you said--what is it?\x94

\x93A museum,\x94 shouted Van, \x93and it\x92s a perfectly elegant place, Joel
Pepper, and Percy knows I like to go; and now he\x92s taken Ben off;
and he\x92ll show him all the things! and they\x92ll all be old when I take
him--and--and--oh! I hope the snakes will bite him!\x94 he added, trying to
think of something bad enough.

\x93Do they have snakes there?\x94 asked Joel, staring.

\x93Yes, they do,\x94 snapped out Van. \x93They have everything!\x94

\x93Well, they shan\x92t bite Ben!\x94 cried Joel in terror. \x93Oh! do you suppose
they will?\x94 and he turned right straight around on the stairs, and
looked at Van.

\x93No,\x94 said Van, \x93they won\x92t bite--what\x92s the matter, Joe?\x94

\x93Oh, they may,\x94 said Joel, his face working, and screwing both fists
into his eyes; at last he burst right out into a torrent of sobs. \x93Oh,
don\x92t let \x91em Van--don\x92t!\x94

\x93Why, they can\x92t,\x94 said Van in an emphatic voice, running up the stairs
to Joel\x92s side, frightened to death at his tears.

Then he began to shake his jacket sleeve violently to bring him back to
reason, \x93Wait Joe! oh, do stop! oh, dear, what shall I do! I tell you,
they can\x92t bite,\x94 he screamed as loud as he could into his ear.

\x93You said--you--hoped--they--would,\x94 said Joel\x92s voice in smothered
tones.

\x93Well, they won\x92t anyway,\x94 said Van decidedly. \x93Cause they\x92re all
stuffed--so there now!\x94

\x93Ain\x92t they alive--nor anythin\x92?\x94 asked Joel, bringing one black eye
into sight from behind his chubby hands.

\x93No,\x94 said Van, \x93they\x92re just as dead as anything, Joel Pepper--been
dead years! and there\x92s old crabs there too, old dead crabs--and they\x92re
just lovely! Oh, such a lots of eggs as they\x92ve got! And there are
shells and bugs and stones--and an awful old crocodile, and--\x94 \x93Oh,
dear!\x94 sighed Joel, perfectly overcome at such a vision, and sitting
down on the stairs to think. \x93Well, mamsie\x92ll know where Ben is,\x94 he
said, springing up. \x93And then I tell you Van, we\x92ll just tag \x91em!\x94

\x93So she will,\x94 cried Van. \x93Why didn\x92t we think of that before? I wanted
to think.\x94

\x93I did,\x94 said Joel. \x93That was where I was goin\x92.\x94

Without any more ado they rushed into Mrs. Pepper\x92s big, sunny room,
there to see, seated at the square table between the two large windows,
the two lost ones bending over what seemed to be an object of the
greatest importance, for Polly was hanging over Ben\x92s shoulder with
intense pride and delight, which she couldn\x92t possibly conceal, and
Davie was crowded as near as he could get to Percy\x92s elbow.

Phronsie and little Dick were perched comfortably on the corner of the
table, surveying the whole scene in quiet rapture; and Mrs. Pepper with
her big mending basket, was ensconced over by the deep window seat just
on the other side of the room, underneath Cherry\x92s cage, and looking up
between quick energetic stitches, over at the busy group, with the most
placid expression on her face.

\x93Oh!--what you doin\x92?\x94 cried Joel, flying up to them. \x93Let us see, do
Ben!\x94

\x93What is it?\x94 exclaimed Van, squeezing in between Percy and Ben.

\x93Don\x92t--\x94 began Percy. \x93There, see, you\x92ve knocked his elbow and spoilt
it!\x94

\x93Oh no, he hasn\x92t,\x94 said Ben, putting down his pencil, and taking up a
piece of rubber. \x93There, see it all comes out--as good as ever.\x94

\x93Isn\x92t it just elegant?\x94 said Percy in the most pleased tone, and
wriggling his toes under the table to express his satisfaction.

\x93Yes,\x94 said Van, craning his neck to get a better view of the picture,
now nearly completed, \x93It\x92s perfectly splendid. How\x92d you do it, Ben?\x94

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 replied Ben with a smile, carefully shading in a few
last touches. \x93It just drew itself.\x94

\x93Tisn\x92t anything to what he can do,\x94 said Polly, standing up as tall as
she could, and beaming at Ben, \x93He used to draw most beautiful at home.\x94

\x93Better than this?\x94 asked Van, with great respect and taking up the
picture, after some demur on Percy\x92s part, and examining it critically.
\x93I don\x92t believe it, Polly.\x94

\x93Phooh; he did!\x94 exclaimed Joel, looking over his shoulder at a
wonderful view of a dog in an extremely excited state of mind running
down an interminable hill to bark at a locomotive and train of cars
whizzing along a curve in the foreground. \x93Lots better\x92n that! Ben can
do anything!\x94 he added, in an utterly convincing way.

\x93Now give it back,\x94 cried Percy, holding out his hand in alarm. \x93I\x92m
going to ask mamma to have it framed; and then I\x92m going to hang
it right over my bed,\x94 he finished, as Van reluctantly gave up the
treasure.

\x93Did you draw all the time in the little brown house?\x94 asked Van, lost
in thought. \x93How I wish I\x92d been there!\x94

\x93Dear, no!\x94 cried Polly with a little skip, turning away to laugh. \x93He
didn\x92t have hardly any time, and--\x94

\x93Why not?\x94 asked Percy.

\x93Cause there was things to do,\x94 said Polly. \x93But sometimes when it
rained, and he couldn\x92t go out and work, and there wasn\x92t anything to
do in the house--then we\x92d have--oh!\x94 and she drew a long breath at the
memory, \x93such a time, you can\x92t think!\x94

\x93Didn\x92t you wish it would always rain?\x94 asked Van, still gazing at the
picture.

\x93Dear, no!\x94 began Polly.

\x93I didn\x92t,\x94 broke in Joel, in horror. \x93I wouldn\x92t a-had it rain for
anything!--only once in a while,\x94 he added, as he thought of the good
times that Polly had spoken of.

\x93\x91Twas nice outdoors,\x94 said little Davie, reflectively; \x93and nice
inside, too.\x94 And then he glanced over to his mother, who gave him a
smile in return. \x93And \x91twas nice always.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Van, returning to the picture, \x93I do wish you\x92d tell me how
to draw, Ben. I can\x92t do anything but flowers,\x94 he said in a discouraged
way.

\x93Flowers aren\x92t anything,\x94 said Percy, pleasantly. \x93That\x92s girls\x92 work;
but dogs and horses and cars--those are just good!\x94

\x93Will you, Ben?\x94 asked Van, looking down into the big blue eyes, so
kindly turned up to his.

\x93Yes, indeed I will,\x94 cried Ben, \x93that is, all I know; \x91tisn\x92t much, but
everything I can, I\x92ll tell you.\x94

\x93Then I can learn, can\x92t I?\x94 cried Van joyfully.

\x93Oh, tell me too, Ben,\x94 cried Percy, \x93will you? I want to learn too.\x94

\x93And me!\x94 cried Dick, bending forward, nearly upsetting Phronsie as he
did so. \x93Yes, say I may, Ben, do!\x94

\x93You\x92re too little,\x94 began Percy. But Ben nodded his head at Dick,
which caused him to clap his hands and return to his original position,
satisfied.

\x93Well, I guess we\x92re going to, too,\x94 said Joel. \x93Dave an\x92 me; there
isn\x92t anybody goin\x92 to learn without us.\x94

\x93Of course not,\x94 said Polly, \x93Ben wouldn\x92t leave you out, Joey.\x94

Phronsie sat quite still all this time, on the corner of the table, her
feet tucked up under her, and her hands clasped in her lap, and never
said a word. But Ben looking up, saw the most grieved expression
settling on her face, as the large eyes were fixed in wonder on the
faces before her.

\x93And there\x92s my pet,\x94 he cried in enthusiasm, and reaching over the
table, he caught hold of one of the little fat hands. \x93Why we couldn\x92t
think of getting along without her! She shall learn to draw--she shall!\x94

\x93Really, Bensie?\x94 said Phronsie, the sunlight breaking all over the
gloomy little visage, and setting the brown eyes to dancing. \x93Real,
true, splendid pictures?\x94

\x93Yes, the splendidest,\x94 said Ben, \x93the very splendidest pictures,
Phronsie Pepper, you ever saw!\x94

\x93Oh!\x94 cried Phronsie; and before any one knew what she was about,
she tripped right into the middle of the table, over the papers and
everything, and gave a happy little whirl!

\x93Dear me, Phronsie!\x94 cried Polly catching her up and hugging her; \x93you
mustn\x92t dance on the table.\x94

\x93I\x92m going to learn,\x94 said Phronsie, coming out of Polly\x92s embrace, \x93to
draw whole pictures, all alone by myself--Ben said so!\x94

\x93I know it,\x94 said Polly, \x93and then you shall draw one for mamsie--you
shall!\x94

\x93I will,\x94 said Phronsie, dreadfully excited; \x93I\x92ll draw her a cow, and
two chickens, Polly, just like Grandma Bascom\x92s!\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 whispered Polly, \x93but don\x92t you tell her yet till you get it
done, Phronsie.\x94

\x93I won\x92t,\x94 said Phronsie in the loudest of tones--but putting her mouth
close to Polly\x92s ear. \x93And then she\x92ll be so s\x92prised, Polly! won\x92t
she?\x94

Just then came Jasper\x92s voice at the door. \x93Can I come in?\x94

\x93Oh, do, Jappy,\x94 cried Polly, rushing along with Phronsie in her arms to
open the door. \x93We\x92re so glad you\x92ve got home!\x94

\x93So am I,\x94 said Jasper, coming in, his face flushed and his eyes
sparkling; \x93I thought father never would be through downtown, Polly!\x94

\x93We\x92re going to learn to draw,\x94 said Percy, over by the table, who
wouldn\x92t on any account leave his seat by Ben, though he was awfully
tired of sitting still so long, for fear somebody else would hop into
it. \x93Ben\x92s going to teach us.\x94

\x93Yes, he is,\x94 put in Van, bounding up to Jasper and pulling at all the
buttons on his jacket he could reach, to command attention.

\x93And us,\x94 said Joel, coming up too. \x93You forgot us, Van.\x94

\x93The whole of us--every single one in this room,\x94 said Van decidedly,
\x93all except Mrs. Pepper.\x94

\x93Hulloa!\x94 said Jasper, \x93that is a class! Well, Professor Ben, you\x92ve got
to teach me then, for I\x92m coming too.\x94

\x93You?\x94 said Ben, turning around his chair, and looking at him; \x93I can\x92t
teach you anything, Jappy. You know everything already.\x94

\x93Let him come, anyway,\x94 said Polly, hopping up and down.

\x93Oh, I\x92m coming, Professor,\x94 laughed Jasper. \x93Never you fear, Polly;
I\x92ll be on hand when the rest of the class comes in!\x94

\x93And Van,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, pausing a minute in her work, and smiling
over at him in a lull in the chatter--\x93I think flowers are most
beautiful!\x94 and she pointed to a little framed picture on the mantel,
of the bunch of buttercups and one huge rose that Van had with infinite
patience drawn, and then colored to suit his fancy.

\x93Do you?\x94 cried Van, perfectly delighted; and leaving the group he
rushed up to her side. \x93Do you really think they\x92re nice, Mrs. Pepper?\x94

\x93Of course I do,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper briskly, and beaming on him; \x93I think
everything of them, and I shall keep them as long as I live, Van!\x94

\x93Well, then,\x94 said Van, very much pleased, \x93I shall paint you ever so
many more--just as many as you want!\x94

\x93Do!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, taking up her work again. \x93And I\x92ll hang them
every one up.\x94

\x93Yes, I will,\x94 said Van; \x93and I\x92ll go right to work on one to-morrow.
What you mending our jackets for?\x94 he asked abruptly as a familiar hole
caught his attention.

\x93Because they\x92re torn,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper cheerfully, \x93an\x92 they won\x92t
mend themselves.\x94

\x93Why don\x92t you let Jane?\x94 he persisted. \x93She always does them.\x94

\x93Jane\x92s got enough to do,\x94 replied Mrs. Pepper, smiling away as hard
as she could, \x93and I haven\x92t, so I\x92m going to look around and pick up
something to keep my hands out of mischief as much as I can, while I\x92m
here.\x94

\x93Do you ever get into mischief?\x94 asked little Dick, coming up and
looking into Mrs. Pepper\x92s face wonderingly. \x93Why, you\x92re a big woman!\x94

\x93Dear me, yes!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper. \x93The bigger you are, the more mischief
you can get into. You\x92ll find that out, Dickey.\x94

\x93And then do you have to stand in a corner?\x94 asked Dick, determined
to find out just what were the consequences, and reverting to his most
dreaded punishment.

\x93No,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper laughing. \x93Corners are for little folks; but
when people who know better, do wrong, there aren\x92t any corners they can
creep into, or they\x92d get into them pretty quick!\x94

\x93I wish,\x94 said little Dick, \x93you\x92d let me get into your lap. That would
be a nice corner!\x94

\x93Do, mamsie,\x94 said Polly, coming up, \x93that\x92s just the way I used to
feel; and I\x92ll finish the mending.\x94

So Mrs. Pepper put down her work, and moved the big basket for little
Dick to clamber up, when he laid his head contentedly back in her
motherly arms with a sigh of happiness. Phronsie regarded him with a
very grave expression. At last she drew near: \x93I\x92m tired; do, mamsie,
take me!\x94

\x93So mamsie will,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, opening her arms, when Phronsie
immediately crawled up into their protecting shelter, with a happy
little crow.

\x93Oh, now, tell us a story, Mrs. Pepper,\x94 cried Van; \x93please, please do!\x94

\x93No, no;\x94 exclaimed Percy, scuttling out of his chair, and coming up,
\x93let\x92s talk of the little brown house. Do tell us what you used to do
there--that\x92s best.\x94

\x93So \x91tis!\x94 cried Van; \x93ALL the nice times you used to have in it! Wait
just a minute, do.\x94 And he ran back for a cricket which he placed
at Mrs. Pepper\x92s feet; and then sitting down on it, he leaned on her
comfortable lap, in order to hear better.

\x93Wait for me too, till I get a chair,\x94 called Percy, starting. \x93Don\x92t
begin till I get there.\x94

\x93Here, let me, Percy,\x94 said Ben; and he drew forward a big easy-chair
that the boy was tugging at with all his might.

\x93Now I\x92m ready, too,\x94 said Polly, setting small finishing stitches
quickly with a merry little flourish, and drawing her chair nearer her
mother\x92s as she spoke.

\x93Now begin, please,\x94 said Van, \x93all the nice times you know.\x94

\x93She couldn\x92t tell all the nice times if she had ten years to tell them
in, could she, Polly?\x94 said Jasper.

\x93Well, in the first place then,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, clearing her throat,
\x93the little brown house had got to be, you know, so we made up our minds
to make it just the nicest brown house that ever was!\x94

\x93And it was!\x94 declared Jasper, with an emphatic ring to his voice. \x93The
very nicest place in the whole world!\x94

\x93Oh dear,\x94 broke in Van enviously; \x93Jappy\x92s always said so. I wish we\x92d
been there, too!\x94

\x93We didn\x92t want anybody but Jappy,\x94 said Joel not very politely.

\x93Oh Joey, for shame!\x94 cried Polly.

\x93Jappy used to bake,\x94 cried little Davie; \x93an\x92 we all made pies; an\x92
then we sat round an\x92 ate \x91em, an\x92 then told stories.\x94

\x93Oh what fun!\x94 cried Percy. \x93Do tell us!\x94

So the five little Peppers and Jasper flew off into reminiscences and
accounts of the funny doings, and Mrs. Pepper joined in heartily till
the room got very merry with the glee and enthusiasm called forth; so
much so, that nobody heard Mrs. Whitney knock gently at the door, and
nobody answering, she was obliged to come in by herself.

\x93Well, well,\x94 she cried, merrily, looking at the swarm of little ones
around Mrs. Pepper and the big chair. \x93You are having a nice time! May I
come and listen?\x94

\x93Oh, if you will, sister,\x94 cried Jasper, springing off from his arm of
the chair, while Ben flew from the other side, to hurry and get her a
chair.

Percy and Van rushed too, knocking over so many things that they didn\x92t
help much; and little Dick poked his head out from Mrs. Pepper\x92s arms
when he saw his mamma sitting down to stay and began to scramble down to
get into her lap.

\x93There now,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney, smiling over at Mrs. Pepper, who was
smiling at her. \x93You have your baby, and I have mine! Now children,
what\x92s it all about? What has Mrs. Pepper been telling you?\x94

\x93Oh, the little brown house,\x94 cried Dicky, his cheeks all a-flame. \x93The
dearest little house mamma! I wish I could live in one!

\x93Twouldn\x92t be the same without the Peppers in it,\x94 said Jasper. \x93Not a
bit of it!\x94

\x93And they had such perfectly elegant times,\x94 cried Percy, enviously,
drawing up to her side. \x93Oh, you can\x92t think, mamma!\x94

\x93Well now,\x94 said his mamma, \x93do go on, and let me hear some of the nice
times.\x94

So away they launched again, and Mrs. Whitney was soon enjoying it as
hugely as the children, when a heavy step sounded in the middle of the
room, and a voice spoke in such a tone that everybody skipped.

\x93Well, I should like to know what all this means! I\x92ve been all over the
house, and not a trace of anybody could I find.\x94

\x93Oh father!\x94 cried Mrs. Whitney. \x93Van, dear, get up and get grandpapa a
chair.\x94

\x93No, no!\x94 said the old gentleman, waving him off impatiently. \x93I\x92m not
going to stay; I must go and lie down. My head is in a bad condition
to-day; very bad indeed,\x94 he added.

\x93Oh!\x94 said Phronsie, popping up her head and looking at him. \x93I must get
right down.\x94

\x93What\x92s the matter, Phronsie?\x94 asked Mrs. Pepper, trying to hold her
back.

\x93Oh, but I must,\x94 said Phronsie, energetically wriggling. \x93My poor sick
man wants me, he does.\x94 And flying out of her mother\x92s arms, she ran up
to Mr. King, and standing on tiptoe, said softly, \x93I\x92ll rub your head,
grandpa dear, poor sick man; yes I will.\x94

\x93And you\x92re the best child,\x94 cried the old gentleman, catching her
up and marching over to the other side of the room where there was a
lounging chair. \x93There now, you and I, Phronsie, will stay by ourselves.
Then my head will feel better.\x94

And he sat down and drew her into his arms.

\x93Does it ache very bad?\x94 said Phronsie, in a soft little voice. Then
reaching up she began to pat and smooth it gently with one little hand,
\x93Very bad, dear grandpa?\x94

\x93It won\x92t,\x94 said the old gentleman, \x93if you only keep on taking care of
it, little Phronsie.\x94

\x93Then,\x94 said the child, perfectly delighted, \x93I\x92m going to take all care
of you, grandpa, always!\x94

\x93So you shall, so you shall!\x94 cried Mr. King, no less delighted than she
was. \x93Mrs. Pepper!\x94

\x93Sir?\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, trying to answer, which she couldn\x92t do very
well surrounded as she was by the crowd of little chatterers. \x93Yes, Sir;
excuse me what is it, sir?\x94

\x93We\x92ve got to come to an understanding about this thing,\x94 said the old
gentleman, \x93and I can\x92t talk much to-day, because my headache won\x92t
allow it.\x94

Here the worried look came into Phronsie\x92s face again, and she began to
try to smooth his head with both little hands.

\x93And so I must say it all in as few words as possible,\x94 he continued.

\x93What is it, sir?\x94 again asked Mrs. Pepper, wonderingly.

\x93Well, the fact is, I\x92ve got to have somebody who will keep this house.
Now Marian, not a word!\x94 as he saw symptoms of Mrs. Whitney\x92s joining
in the conversation. \x93You\x92ve been good; just as good as can be under the
circumstances; but Mason will be home in the fall, and then I suppose
you\x92ll have to go with him. Now I,\x94 said the old gentleman, forgetting
all about his head, and straightening himself up suddenly in the chair,
\x93am going to get things into shape, so that the house will be kept for
all of us; so that we can come or go. And how can I do it better than to
have the Peppers--you, Mrs. Pepper, and all your children--come here and
live, and--\x94

\x93Oh, father!\x94 cried Jasper, rushing up to him; and flinging his arms
around his neck, he gave him such a hug as he hadn\x92t received for many a
day.

\x93Goodness, Jasper!\x94 cried his father, feeling of his throat. \x93How can
you express your feelings so violently! And, besides, you interrupt.\x94

\x93Beg pardon, sir,\x94 said Jasper, swallowing his excitement, and trying to
control his eagerness.

\x93Do you say yes, Mrs. Pepper?\x94 queried the old gentleman impatiently.
\x93I must get this thing fixed up to-day. I\x92m really too ill to be worried
ma\x92am.\x94

\x93Why sir,\x94 stammered Mrs. Pepper, \x93I don\x92t know what to say. I couldn\x92t
think of imposing all my children on you, and--\x94

\x93Imposing! Who\x92s talking of imposing!\x94 said Mr. King in a loud key.
\x93I want my house kept; will you live here and keep it? That is the
question.\x94

\x93But sir,\x94 began Mrs. Pepper again, \x93you don\x92t think--\x94

\x93I do think; I tell you, ma\x92am, I do think,\x94 snapped the old gentleman.
\x93It\x92s just because I have thought that I\x92ve made up my mind. Will you do
it Mrs. Pepper?\x94

\x93What are you goin\x92 to do, mamsie?\x94 asked Joel quickly.

\x93I don\x92t know as I\x92m going to do anything yet,\x94 said poor Mrs. Pepper,
who was almost stunned.

\x93To come here and live!\x94 cried Jasper, unable to keep still any
longer--and springing to the children. \x93Don\x92t you want to, Joe?\x94

\x93To live!\x94 screamed Joel. \x93Oh whickety, yes! Do ma, do come here and
live--do!\x94

\x93To live?\x94 echoed Phronsie, over in the old gentleman\x92s lap. \x93In this
be-yew-ti-ful place? Oh, oh!\x94

\x93Oh, mamsie!\x94 that was all Polly could say.

And even Ben had his arms around his mother\x92s neck, whispering \x93Do\x94 into
her ear, while little Davie got into her lap and teased her with all his
might.

\x93What shall I do!\x94 cried the poor woman. \x93Did ever anybody see the
like?\x94

\x93It\x92s the very best thing you could possibly do,\x94 cried the old
gentleman. \x93Don\x92t you see it\x92s for the children\x92s advantage? They\x92ll get
such educations, Mrs. Pepper, as you want for them. And it accommodates
me immensely. What obstacle can there be to it?\x94

\x93If I was only sure \x91twas best?\x94 said Mrs. Pepper doubtfully.

\x93Oh, dear Mrs. Pepper,\x94 said Mrs. Whitney, laying her hand on hers. \x93Can
you doubt it?\x94

\x93Then,\x94 said Mr. King, getting up, but still holding on to Phronsie,
\x93we\x92ll consider it settled. This is your home, children,\x94 he said,
waving his hand at the five little Peppers in a bunch. And having thus
summarily disposed of the whole business, he marched out with Phronsie
on his shoulder.



POLLY\x92S DISMAL MORNING


Everything had gone wrong with Polly that day. It began with her boots.

Of all things in the world that tried Polly\x92s patience most were the
troublesome little black buttons that originally adorned those useful
parts of her clothing, and that were fondly supposed to be there when
needed. But they never were. The little black things seemed to be
invested with a special spite, for one by one they would hop off on the
slightest provocation, and go rolling over the floor, just when she was
in her most terrible hurry, compelling her to fly for needle and thread
on the instant. For one thing Mrs. Pepper was very strict about--and
that was, Polly should do nothing else till the buttons were all on
again, and the boots buttoned up firm and snug.

\x93Oh dear!\x94 said Polly, sitting down on the floor, and pulling on her
stockings. \x93There now, see that hateful old shoe, mamsie!\x94 And she
thrust out one foot in dismay.

\x93What\x92s the matter with it?\x94 said Mrs. Pepper straightening the things
on the bureau. \x93You haven\x92t worn it out already, Polly?\x94

\x93Oh no,\x94 said Polly, with a little laugh. \x93I hope not yet, but it\x92s
these dreadful hateful old buttons!\x94 And she twitched the boot off from
her foot with such an impatient little pull, that three or four more
went flying under the bed. \x93There now--there\x92s a lot more. I don\x92t care!
I wish they\x92d all go; they might as well!\x94 she cried, tossing that boot
on the floor in intense scorn, while she investigated the state of the
other one.

\x93Are they all off?\x94 asked Phronsie, pulling herself up out of a little
heap in the middle of the bed, and leaning over the side, where she
viewed Polly sorrowfully. \x93Every one, Polly?\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Polly, \x93but I wish they were, mean old things; when I was
going down to play a duet with Jasper! We should have had a good long
time before breakfast. Oh, mayn\x92t I go just once, mamsie? Nobody\x92ll
see me if I tuck my foot under the piano; and I can sew \x91em on
afterwards--there\x92ll be plenty of time. Do, just once, mamsie!\x94

\x93No,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper firmly, \x93there isn\x92t any time but now. And piano
playing isn\x92t very nice when you\x92ve got to stick your toes under it to
keep your shoes on.\x94

\x93Well then,\x94 grumbled Polly, hopping around in her stocking-feet, \x93where
is the work-basket, mamsie? Oh--here it is on the window-seat.\x94 A rattle
of spools, scissors and necessary utensils showed plainly that Polly had
found it, followed by a jumble of words and despairing ejaculations as
she groped hurriedly under chairs and tables to collect the scattered
contents.

When she got back with a very red face, she found Phronsie, who had
crawled out of bed, sitting down on the floor in her little nightgown
and examining the boot with profound interest.

\x93I can sew \x91em, Polly,\x94 she said, holding up her hand for the big needle
that Polly was trying to thread--\x93I can now truly; let me, Polly, do!\x94

\x93Dear no!\x94 said Polly with a little laugh, beginning to be very much
ashamed. \x93What could you do with your little mites of hands pulling
this big thread through that old leather? There, scamper into bed again;
you\x92ll catch cold out here.

\x93Tisn\x92t very cold,\x94 said Phronsie, tucking up her toes under the
night-gown, but Polly hurried her into bed, where she curled herself
up under the clothes, watching her make a big knot. But the knot
didn\x92t stay; for when Polly drew up the long thread triumphantly to
the end--out it flew, and away the button hopped again as if glad to be
released. And then the thread kinked horribly, and got all twisted up in
disagreeable little snarls that took all Polly\x92s patience to unravel.

\x93It\x92s because you\x92re in such a hurry,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, who was getting
Phronsie\x92s clothes. And coming over across the room she got down on
one knee, and looked over Polly\x92s shoulder. \x93There now, let mother see
what\x92s the matter.\x94

\x93Oh dear,\x94 said Polly, resigning the needle with a big sigh, and leaning
back to take a good stretch, followed by Phronsie\x92s sympathizing eyes;
\x93they never\x92ll be on! And there goes the first bell!\x94 as the loud sounds
under Jane\x92s vigorous ringing pealed up over the stairs. \x93There won\x92t
be time anyway, now! I wish there wasn\x92t such a thing as shoes in the
world!\x94 And she gave a flounce and sat up straight in front of her
mother.

\x93Polly!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper sternly, deftly fastening the little buttons
tightly into place with quick, firm stitches, \x93better be glad you\x92ve got
them to sew at all. There now, here they are. Those won\x92t come off in a
hurry!\x94

\x93Oh, mamsie!\x94 cried Polly, ignoring for a moment the delights of the
finished shoe to fling her arms around her mother\x92s neck and give her a
good hug. \x93You\x92re just the splendidest, goodest mamsie in all the world.
And I\x92m a hateful, cross old bear, so I am!\x94 she cried remorsefully,
buttoning herself into her boots. Which done, she flew at the rest of
her preparations and tried to make up for lost time.

But \x91twas all of no use. The day seemed to be always just racing ahead
of her, and turning a corner, before she could catch up to it, and Ben
and the other boys only caught dissolving views of her as she flitted
through halls or over stairs.

\x93Where\x92s Polly?\x94 said Percy at last, coming with great dissatisfaction
in his voice to the library door. \x93We\x92ve called her, I guess a million
times, and she won\x92t hurry.\x94

\x93What do you want to have her do?\x94 asked Jasper, looking up from the
sofa where he had flung himself with a book.

\x93Why, she said she\x92d make Van and me our sails you know,\x94 said Percy,
holding up a rather forlorn looking specimen of a boat, but which the
boys had carved with the greatest enthusiasm, \x93and we want her now.\x94

\x93Can\x92t you let her alone till she\x92s ready to come?\x94 said Jasper quickly.
\x93You\x92re always teasing her to do something,\x94 he added.

\x93I didn\x92t tease,\x94 said Percy indignantly, coming up to the sofa, boat
in hand, to enforce his words. \x93She said she\x92d love to do \x91em, so there,
Jasper King!\x94

\x93Coming! coming!\x94 sang Polly over the stairs, and bobbing into the
library, \x93Oh--here you are, Percy! I couldn\x92t come before; mamsie wanted
me. Now, says I, for the sails.\x94 And she began to flap out a long white
piece of cotton cloth on the table to trim into just the desired shape.

\x93That isn\x92t the way,\x94 said Percy, crowding up, the brightness that had
flashed over his face at Polly\x92s appearance beginning to fade. \x93Hoh!
those won\x92t be good for anything--those ain\x92t sails.\x94

\x93I haven\x92t finished,\x94 said Polly, snipping away vigorously, and longing
to get back to mamsie. \x93Wait till they\x92re done; then they\x92ll be good--as
good as can be!\x94

\x93And it\x92s bad enough to have to make them,\x94 put in Jasper, flinging
aside his book and rolling over to watch them, \x93without having to be
found fault with every second, Percy.\x94

\x93They\x92re too big,\x94 said Percy, surveying them critically, and then
looking at his boat.

\x93Oh, that corner\x92s coming off,\x94 cried Polly cheerfully, giving it a
sharp cut that sent it flying on the floor. \x93And they won\x92t be too big
when they\x92re done, Percy, all hemmed and everything. There,\x94 as she held
one up for inspection, \x93that\x92s just the way I used to make Ben\x92s and
mine, when we sailed boats.\x94

\x93Is it?\x94 asked Percy, looking with more respect at the piece of cloth
Polly was waving alluringly before him. \x93Just exactly like it, Polly?\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Polly, laying it down again for a pattern--\x93oh, how does
this go--oh--that\x92s it, there--yes, this is just exactly like Bensie\x92s
and mine--that was when I was ever so little; and then I used to make
Joel\x92s and Davie\x92s afterwards and--\x94

\x93And were theirs just like this?\x94 asked Percy, laying his hand on the
sail she had finished cutting out.

\x93Pre-cisely,\x94 said Polly, with a pin in her mouth. \x93Just as like as two
peas, Percy Whitney.\x94

\x93Then I like them,\x94 cried Percy, veering round and regarding them with
great satisfaction--as Van bounded in with a torrent of complaints, and
great disappointment in every line of his face.

\x93Oh now, that\x92s too bad!\x94 he cried, seeing Polly fold up the remaining
bits of cloth, and pick up the scraps on the floor. \x93And you\x92ve gone
and let her cut out every one of \x91em, and never told me a word! You\x92re a
mean, old hateful thing, Percy Whitney!\x94

\x93Oh don\x92t!\x94 said Polly, on her knees on the floor.

\x93I forgot--\x94 began Percy, \x93and she cut \x91em so quick--and--\x94

\x93And I\x92ve been waiting,\x94 said Van, in a loud wrathful key, \x93and
waiting--and waiting!\x94

\x93Never mind, Van,\x94 said Jasper consolingly, getting off from the sofa
and coming up to the table.

\x93They\x92re done and done beautifully, aren\x92t they?\x94 he said, holding up
one.

But this only proved fresh fuel for the fire of Van\x92s indignation.

\x93And you shan\x92t have \x91em, so!\x94 he cried, making a lunge at the one on
the table, \x93for I made most of the boat, there!\x94

\x93Oh no, you didn\x92t!\x94 cried Percy in the greatest alarm, hanging on to
the boat in his hand. \x93I cut--all the keel--and the bow--and--\x94

\x93Oh dear!\x94 said Polly, in extreme dismay, looking at Jasper. \x93Come, I\x92ll
tell you what I\x92ll do, boys.\x94

\x93What?\x94 said Van, cooling off a little, and allowing Percy to edge into
a corner with the beloved boat and one sail. \x93What will you, Polly?\x94

\x93I\x92ll make you another pair of sails,\x94 said Polly groaning within
herself as she thought of the wasted minutes, \x93and then you can see me
cut \x91em, Van.\x94

\x93Will you really,\x94 he said, delight coming all over his flushed face.

\x93Yes, I will,\x94 cried Polly, \x93wait a minute till I get some more cloth.\x94
 And she started for the door.

\x93Oh now, that\x92s too bad!\x94 said Jasper. \x93To have to cut more of those
tiresome old things! Van, let her off!\x94

\x93Oh no, I won\x92t! I won\x92t!\x94 he cried in the greatest alarm, running up to
her as she stood by the door. \x93You did say so, Polly! You know you did!\x94

\x93Of course I did, Vanny,\x94 said Polly, smiling down into his eager face,
\x93and we\x92ll have a splendid pair in just--one--minute!\x94 she sang.

And so the sails were cut out, and the hems turned down and basted, and
tucked away into Polly\x92s little work-basket ready for the sewing on the
morrow. And then Mr. King came in and took Jasper off with him; and the
two Whitney boys went up to mamma for a story; and Polly sat down in
mamsie\x92s room to tackle her French exercise.



POLLY\x92S BIG BUNDLE


The room was very quiet; but presently Phronsie strayed in, and seeing
Polly studying, climbed up in a chair by the window to watch the birds
hop over the veranda and pick up worms in the grass beside the carriage
drive. And then came Mrs. Pepper with the big mending basket, and
ensconced herself opposite by the table; and nothing was to be heard but
the \x93tick, tick\x94 of the clock, and an occasional dropping of a spool
of thread, or scissors, from the busy hands flying in and out among the
stockings.

All of a sudden there was a great rustling in Cherry\x92s cage that swung
in the big window on the other side of the room. And then he set up a
loud and angry chirping, flying up and down, and opening his mouth as if
he wanted to express his mind, but couldn\x92t, and otherwise acting in a
very strange and unaccountable manner.

\x93Dear me!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93what\x92s that?\x94

\x93It\x92s Cherry,\x94 said Polly, lifting up her head from \x93Fasquelle,\x94
 \x93and--oh, dear me!\x94 and flinging down the pile of books in her lap on a
chair, she rushed across the room and flew up to the cage and began to
wildly gesticulate and explain and shower down on him every endearing
name she could think of.

\x93What is the matter?\x94 asked her mother, turning around in her chair in
perfect astonishment. \x93What upon earth, Polly!\x94

\x93How could I!\x94 cried Polly, in accents of despair, not heeding her
mother\x92s question. \x93Oh, mamsie, will he die, do you think?\x94

\x93I guess not,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, laying down her work and coming up to
the cage, while Phronsie scrambled off from her chair and hurried to the
scene. \x93Why, he does act queer, don\x92t he? P\x92raps he\x92s been eating too
much?\x94

\x93Eating!\x94 said Polly, \x93oh mamsie, he hasn\x92t had anything.\x94 And she
pointed with shame and remorse to the seed-cup with only a few dried
husks in the very bottom.

\x93Oh, Polly,\x94 began Mrs. Pepper; but seeing the look on her face, she
changed her tone for one more cheerful. \x93Well, hurry and get him some
now; he\x92ll be all right, poor little thing, in a minute. There, there,\x94
 she said, nodding persuasively at the cage, \x93you pretty creature you! so
you sha\x92n\x92t be starved.\x94

At the word \x93starved,\x94 Polly winced as though a pin had been pointed at
her.

\x93There isn\x92t any, mamsie, in the house,\x94 she stammered; \x93he had the last
yesterday.\x94

\x93And you forgot him to-day?\x94 asked Mrs. Pepper, with a look in her black
eyes Polly didn\x92t like.

\x93Yes\x92m,\x94 said poor Polly in a low voice.

\x93Well, he must have something right away,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, decidedly.
\x93That\x92s certain.\x94

\x93I\x92ll run right down to Fletcher\x92s and get it,\x94 cried Polly.

\x93Twon\x92t take me but a minute, mamsie; Jasper\x92s gone, and Thomas, too, so
I\x92ve got to go,\x94 she added, as she saw her mother hesitate.

\x93If you could wait till Ben gets home,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, slowly. \x93I\x92m
most afraid it will rain, Polly.\x94

\x93Oh, no, mamsie,\x94 cried Polly, feeling as if she could fly to the ends
of the earth to atone, and longing beside for the brisk walk down town.
Going up to the window she pointed triumphantly to the little bit of
blue sky still visible. \x93There, now, see, it can\x92t rain yet awhile.\x94

\x93Well,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, while Phronsie, standing in a chair with her
face pressed close to the cage, was telling Cherry through the bars \x93not
to be hungry, please don\x92t!\x94 which he didn\x92t seem to mind in the least,
but went on screaming harder than ever! \x93And besides, \x91tisn\x92t much use
to wait for Ben. Nobody knows where he\x92ll get shoes to fit himself and
Joe and Davie, in one afternoon! But be sure, Polly, to hurry, for it\x92s
getting late, and I shall be worried about you.

\x93Oh, mamsie,\x94 said Polly, turning back just a minute, \x93I know the way to
Fletcher\x92s just as easy as anything. I couldn\x92t get lost.\x94

\x93I know you do,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93but it\x92ll be dark early on account
of the shower. Well,\x94 she said, pulling out her well-worn purse from her
pocket, \x93if it does sprinkle, you get into a car, Polly, remember.\x94

\x93Oh, yes, I will,\x94 she cried, taking the purse.

\x93And there\x92s ten cents for your bird seed in that pocket,\x94 said Mrs.
Pepper, pointing to a coin racing away into a corner by itself.

\x93Yes\x92m,\x94 said Polly, wild to be off.

\x93And there\x92s a five-cent piece in that one for you to ride up with,\x94
 said her mother, tying up the purse carefully. \x93Remember, for you to
ride up with. Well, I guess you better ride up anyway, Polly, come to
think, and then you\x92ll get home all the quicker.\x94

\x93Where you going?\x94 asked Phronsie, who on seeing the purse knew there
was some expedition on foot, and beginning to clamber down out of the
chair. \x93Oh, I want to go too, I do. Take me, Polly!\x94

\x93Oh, no. Pet, I can\x92t,\x94 cried Polly, \x93I\x92ve got to hurry like
everything!\x94

\x93I can hurry too,\x94 cried Phronsie, drawing her small figure to its
utmost height, \x93oh, so fast, Polly!\x94

\x93And it\x92s ever so far,\x94 cried Polly, in despair, as she saw the small
under lip of the child begin to quiver. \x93Oh, dear me, mamsie, what shall
I do!\x94

\x93Run right along,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, briskly. \x93Now, Phronsie, you and I
ought to take care of Cherry, poor thing.\x94

At this Phronsie turned and wiped away two big tears, while she gazed up
at the cage in extreme commiseration.

\x93I guess I\x92ll give him a piece of bread,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper to herself.
At this word \x93bread,\x94 Polly, who was half way down the hall, came
running back.

\x93Oh, mamsie, don\x92t,\x94 she said. \x93It made him sick before, don\x92t you know
it did--so fat and stuffy.\x94

\x93Well, hurry along then,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, and Polly was off.

Over the ground she sped, only intent on reaching the bird store, her
speed heightened by the dark and rolling bank of cloud that seemed to
shut right down suddenly over her and envelop her warningly.

\x93It\x92s good I\x92ve got the money to ride up with,\x94 she thought to herself,
hurrying along through the busy streets, filled now with anxious crowds
homeward rushing to avoid the threatening shower. \x93Well, here I am,\x94 she
said with a sigh of relief, as she at last reached Mr. Fletcher\x92s big
bird store.

Here she steadily resisted all temptations to stop and look at the new
arrivals of birds, and to feed the carrier-pigeons who seemed to be
expecting her, and who turned their soft eyes up at her reproachfully
when she failed to pay her respects to them. Even the cunning
blandishments of a very attractive monkey that always had entertained
the children on their numerous visits, failed to interest her now.
Mamsie would be worrying, she knew; and besides, the sight of so many
birds eating their suppers out of generously full seed-cups, only filled
her heart with remorse as she thought of poor Cherry and his empty one.

So she put down her ten cents silently on the counter, and took up the
little package of seed, and went out.

But what a change! The cloud that had seemed but a cloud when she went
in, was now fast descending in big ominous sprinkles that told of a
heavy shower to follow. Quick and fast they came, making everybody fly
to the nearest shelter.

\x93I don\x92t care,\x94 said Polly to herself, holding fast her little package.
\x93I\x92ll run and get in the car--then I\x92ll be all right.\x94

So she went on with nimble footsteps, dodging the crowd, and soon came
to the corner. A car was just in sight--that was fine! Polly put her
hand in her pocket for her purse, to have it all ready--but as quickly
drew it out again and stared wildly at the car, which she allowed to
pass by. Her pocket was empty!

\x93Oh, dear,\x94 she said to herself, as a sudden gust of wind blew around
the corner, and warned her to move on, \x93now what shall I do! Well, I
must hurry. Nothing for it but to run now!\x94

And secretly glad at the chance for a good hearty run along the hard
pavements, a thing she had been longing to do ever since she came to the
city, Polly gathered her bundle of seed up under her arm, and set out
for a jolly race. She was enjoying it hugely, when--a sudden turn of the
corner brought her up against a gentleman, who, having his umbrella down
to protect his face, hadn\x92t seen her till it was too late.

Polly never could tell how it was done; but the first thing she knew she
was being helped up from the wet, slippery pavement by a kind hand; and
a gentleman\x92s voice said in the deepest concern:

\x93I beg your pardon; it was extremely careless in me.\x94

\x93It\x92s no matter,\x94 said Polly, hopping up with a little laugh, and
straightening her hat. \x93Only--\x94 and she began to look for her parcel
that had been sent spinning.

\x93What is it?\x94 said the gentleman, bending down and beginning to explore,
too, in the darkness.

\x93My bundle,\x94 began Polly. \x93Oh, dear!\x94

No need to ask for it now! There lay the paper wet and torn, down at
their feet. The seed lay all over the pavement, scattered far and wide
even out to the puddles in the street. And not a cent of money to get
any more with! The rain that was falling around them as they stood there
sent with the sound of every drop such a flood of misery into Polly\x92s
heart!

\x93What was it, child?\x94 asked the gentleman, peering sharply to find out
what the little shiny things were.

\x93Bird-seed,\x94 gasped Polly.

\x93Is that all?\x94 said the gentleman with a happy laugh. \x93I\x92m very glad.\x94

\x93All!\x94 Polly\x92s heart stood still as she thought of Cherry, stark and
stiff in the bottom of his cage, if he didn\x92t get it soon. \x93Now,\x94 said
the kind tones, briskly, \x93come, little girl, we\x92ll make this all right
speedily. Let\x92s see--here\x92s a bird store. Now, then.\x94

\x93But, sir--\x94 began Polly, holding back.

Even Cherry had better die than to do anything her mother wouldn\x92t like.
But the gentleman already had her in the shop, and was delighting the
heart of the shop-keeper by ordering him to do up a big package of all
kinds of seed. And then he added a cunning arrangement for birds to
swing in, and two or three other things that didn\x92t have anything to do
with birds at all. And then they came out on the wet, slippery street
again.

\x93Now, then, little girl,\x94 said the gentleman, tucking the bundle under
his arm, and opening the umbrella; then he took hold of Polly\x92s hand,
who by this time was glad of a protector. \x93Where do you live? For I\x92m
going to take you safely home this time where umbrellas can\x92t run into
you.\x94

\x93Oh!\x94 said Polly, with a little skip. \x93Thank you sir! It\x92s up to Mr.
King\x92s; and--\x94

\x93What!\x94 said the gentleman, stopping short in the midst of an immense
puddle, and staring at her, \x93Mr. Jasper King\x92s?\x94

\x93I don\x92t know sir,\x94 said Polly, \x93what his other name is. Yes it must be
Jasper; that\x92s what Jappy\x92s is, anyway,\x94 she added with a little laugh,
wishing very much that she could see Jappy at that identical moment.

\x93Jappy!\x94 said the stranger, still standing as if petrified. \x93And are
there little Whitney children in the same house!\x94

\x93Oh, yes,\x94 said Polly, raising her clear, brown eyes up at him. The gas
lighter was just beginning his rounds, and the light from a neighboring
lamp flashed full on Polly\x92s face as she spoke, showing just how clear
and brown the eyes were. \x93There\x92s Percy, and Van, and little Dick--oh,
he\x92s so cunning!\x94 she cried, impulsively.

The gentleman\x92s face looked very queer just then; but he merely said:

\x93Why, you must be Polly?\x94

\x93Yes, sir, I am,\x94 said Polly, pleased to think he knew her. And then she
told him how she\x92d forgotten Cherry\x92s seed, and all about it. \x93And
oh, sir,\x94 she said, and her voice began to tremble, \x93Mamsie\x92ll be so
frightened if I don\x92t get there soon!\x94

\x93I\x92m going up there myself, so that it all happens very nicely,\x94 said
the gentleman, commencing to start off briskly, and grasping her hand
tighter. \x93Now, then, Polly.\x94

So off they went at a very fast pace; she, skipping through the puddles
that his long, even strides carried him safely over, chattered away
by his side under the umbrella, and answered his many questions, and
altogether got so very well acquainted that by the time they turned in
at the old stone gateway, she felt as if she had known him for years.

And there, the first thing they either of them saw, down in a little
corner back of the tall evergreens, was a small heap that rose as they
splashed up the carriage-drive, and resolved itself into a very red
dress and a very white apron, as it rushed impulsively up and flung
itself into Polly\x92s wet arms:

\x93And I was so tired waiting, Polly!\x94

\x93Oh dear me, Phronsie!\x94 cried Polly, huddling her up from the dark, wet
ground. \x93You\x92ll catch your death! What will mamsie say!\x94

The stranger, amazed at this new stage of the proceedings, was vainly
trying to hold the umbrella over both, till the procession could move on
again.

\x93Oh!\x94 cried Phronsie, shaking her yellow head decidedly, \x93they\x92re all
looking for you, Polly.\x94 She pointed one finger solemnly up to the big
carved door as she spoke. At that Polly gathered her up close and began
to walk with rapid footsteps up the path.

\x93Do let me carry you, little girl,\x94 said Polly\x92s kind friend
persuasively, bending down to the little face on Polly\x92s neck.

\x93Oh, no, no, no!\x94 said Phronsie, at each syllable grasping Polly around
the throat in perfect terror, and waving him off with a very crumpled,
mangy bit of paper, that had already done duty to wipe off the copious
tears during her anxious watch. \x93Don\x92t let him, Polly, don\x92t!\x94

\x93There sha\x92n\x92t anything hurt you,\x94 said Polly, kissing her reassuringly,
and stepping briskly off with her burden, just as the door burst open,
and Joel flew out on the veranda steps, followed by the rest of the
troop in the greatest state of excitement.

\x93Oh, whickety! she\x92s come!\x94 he shouted, springing up to her over the
puddles, and crowding under the umbrella. \x93Where\x92d you get Phronsie?\x94 he
asked, standing quite still at sight of the little feet tucked up to get
out of the rain. And without waiting for an answer he turned and shot
back into the house proclaiming in stentorian tones, \x93Ma, Polly\x92s
come--an\x92 she\x92s got Phronsie--an\x92 an awful big man--and they\x92re out by
the gate!\x94

\x93Phronsie!\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, springing to her feet, \x93why, I thought she
was up-stairs with Jane.\x94

\x93Now, somebody,\x94 exclaimed old Mr. King, who sat by the library table
vainly trying to read a newspaper, which he now threw down in extreme
irritation as he rose quickly and went to the door to welcome the
wanderers, \x93somebody ought to watch that poor child, whose business
it is to know where she is! She\x92s caught her death-cold, no doubt, no
doubt!\x94

Outside, in the rain, the children revolved around and around Polly and
Phronsie, hugging and kissing them, until nobody could do much more than
breathe, not seeming to notice the stranger, who stood quietly waiting
till such time as he could be heard.

At last, in a lull in the scramble, as they were dragging Polly and her
burden up the steps, each wild for the honor of escorting her into the
house, he cried out in laughing tones:

\x93Isn\x92t anybody going to kiss me, I wonder!\x94

The two little Whitneys, who were eagerly clutching Polly\x92s arms,
turned around; and Percy rubbed his eyes in a puzzled way, as Joel said,
stopping a minute to look up at the tall figure:

\x93We don\x92t ever kiss strangers--mamsie\x92s told us not to.\x94

\x93For shame, Joey!\x94 cried Polly, feeling her face grow dreadfully red in
the darkness, \x93the gentleman\x92s been so kind to me!\x94

\x93You\x92re right, my boy,\x94 said the stranger, laughing and bending down
to Joel\x92s upturned, sturdy countenance, at the same instant that Mrs.
Pepper flung open the big door, and a bright, warm light fell straight
across his handsome face. And then--well, then Percy gave a violent
bound, and upsetting Joel as he did so, wriggled his way down the
steps--at the same time that Van, on Polly\x92s other side, rushed up to
the gentleman:

\x93Papa--oh, papa!\x94

Polly, half way up the steps, turned around, and then, at the rush of
feeling that gathered at her heart, sat right down on the wet slippery
step.

\x93Why, Polly Pepper!\x94 exclaimed Joel, not minding his own upset. \x93You\x92re
right in all the slush--mother won\x92t like it, I tell you!\x94

\x93Hush!\x94 cried Polly, catching his arm, \x93he\x92s come--oh, Joel--he\x92s come!\x94

\x93Who?\x94 cried Joel, staring around blindly, \x93who, Polly?\x94 Polly had just
opened her lips to explain, when Mr. King\x92s portly, handsome figure
appeared in the doorway. \x93Do come in, children--why--good gracious,
Mason!\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 cried the stranger, lightly, dropping his big bundle and umbrella
as he passed in the door, with his little sons clinging to him. \x93Where
is Marian?\x94

\x93Why didn\x92t you write?\x94 asked the old gentleman, testily. \x93These
surprises aren\x92t the right sort of things,\x94 and he began to feel
vigorously of his heart. \x93Here, Mrs. Pepper, be so good as to call Mrs.
Whitney.\x94

\x93Pepper! Pepper!\x94 repeated Mr. Whitney, perplexedly.

\x93She\x92s coming--I hear her up-stairs,\x94 cried Van Whitney. \x93Oh, let me
tell her!\x94 He struggled to get down from his father\x92s arms as he said
this.

\x93No, I shall--I heard her first!\x94 cried Percy. \x93Oh, dear me! Grandpapa\x92s
going to!\x94

Mr. King advanced to the foot of the staircase as his daughter, all
unconscious, ran down with a light step, and a smile on her face.

\x93Has Polly come?\x94 she asked, seeing only her father. \x93Yes,\x94 replied the
old gentleman, shortly, \x93and she\x92s brought a big bundle, Marian!\x94

\x93A big bundle?\x94 she repeated wonderingly, and gazing at him.

\x93A very big bundle,\x94 he said, and taking hold of her shoulders he turned
her around on--her husband.

So Polly and Phronsie crept in unnoticed after all.

\x93I wish Ben was here,\x94 said little Davie, capering around the Whitney
group, \x93an\x92 Jappy, I do!\x94

\x93Where are they!\x94 asked Polly.

\x93Don\x92t know,\x94 said Joel, tugging at his shoe-string. \x93See--aren\x92t these
prime!\x94 He held up a shining black shoe, fairly bristling with newness,
for Polly to admire.

\x93Splendid,\x94 she cried heartily; \x93but where are the boys?\x94

\x93They went after you,\x94 said Davie, \x93after we came home with our shoes.\x94

\x93No, they didn\x92t,\x94 contradicted Joel, flatly; and sitting down on the
floor he began to tie and untie his new possessions. \x93When we came home
Ben drew us pictures--lots of \x91em--don\x92t you know?\x94

\x93Oh, yes,\x94 said Davie, nodding his head, \x93so he did; that was when we
all cried \x91cause you weren\x92t home, Polly.\x94

\x93He drawed me a be-yew-tiful one,\x94 cried Phronsie, holding up her mangy
bit; \x93see, Polly, see!\x94

\x93That\x92s the little brown house,\x94 said Davie, looking over her shoulder
as Phronsie put it carefully into Polly\x92s hand.

\x93It\x92s all washed out,\x94 said Polly, smoothing it out, \x93when you staid out
in the rain.\x94

Phronsie\x92s face grew very grave at that.

\x93Bad, naughty old rain,\x94 she said, and then she began to cry as hard as
she could.

\x93Oh dear, don\x92t!\x94 cried Polly in dismay, trying her best to stop her,
\x93oh, Phronsie, do stop!\x94 she implored, pointing into the next room
whence the sound of happy voices issued, \x93they\x92ll all hear you!\x94

But Phronsie in her grief didn\x92t care, but wailed on steadily.

\x93Who is it anyway?\x94 cried Joel, tired of admiring his precious shoes,
and getting up to hear them squeak, \x93that great big man, you know,
Polly, that came in with you?\x94

\x93Why, I thought I told you,\x94 said Polly, at her wit\x92s end over Phronsie.
\x93It\x92s Percy and Van\x92s father, Joey!\x94

\x93Whockey!\x94 cried Joel, completely stunned, \x93really and truly, Polly
Pepper?\x94

\x93Really and truly,\x94 cried Polly, bundling Phronsie up in her arms to lay
the little wet cheek against hers.

\x93Then I\x92m going to peek,\x94 cried Joel, squeaking across the floor to
carry his threat into execution.

\x93Oh, you mustn\x92t, Joe!\x94 cried Polly, frightened lest he should. \x93Come
right back, or I\x92ll tell mamsie!\x94

\x93They\x92re all comin\x92 in, anyway,\x94 cried little Davie, delightedly, and
scuttling over to Polly\x92s side.

\x93And here are the little friends I\x92ve heard so much about!\x94 cried
Mr. Whitney coming in amongst them. \x93Oh, you needn\x92t introduce me to
Polly--she brought me home!\x94

\x93They\x92re all Pepperses,\x94 said Percy, waving his hand, and doing the
business up at one stroke.

\x93Only the best of \x91em isn\x92t here,\x94 observed Van, rather ungallantly, \x93he
draws perfectly elegant, papa!\x94

\x93I like Polly best, I do!\x94 cried little Dick, tumbling after. \x93Peppers!\x94
 again repeated Mr. Whitney in a puzzled way.

\x93And here is Mrs. Pepper,\x94 said old Mr. King, pompously drawing her
forward, \x93the children\x92s mother, and--\x94

But here Mrs. Pepper began to act in a very queer way, rubbing her eyes
and twisting one corner of her black apron in a decidedly nervous manner
that, as the old gentleman looked up, he saw with astonishment presently
communicated itself to the gentleman opposite.

\x93Is it,\x94 said Mr. Whitney, putting out his hand and grasping the hard,
toil-worn one in the folds of the apron, \x93is it cousin Mary?\x94

\x93And aren\x92t you cousin John?\x94 she asked, the tears in her bright black
eyes.

\x93Of all things in this world!\x94 cried the old gentleman, waving his
head helplessly from one to the other. \x93Will somebody have the extreme
goodness to tell us what all this means?\x94

At this the little Peppers crowded around their mother, and into all the
vacant places they could find, to get near the fascinating scene.

\x93Well,\x94 said Mr. Whitney, sitting down and drawing his wife to his side,
\x93it\x92s a long story. You see, when I was a little youngster, and--\x94

\x93You were John Whitney then,\x94 put in Mrs. Pepper, slyly. \x93That\x92s the
reason I never knew when they were all talking of Mason Whitney.\x94

\x93John Whitney I was,\x94 said Mr. Whitney, laughing, \x93or rather, Johnny and
Jack. But Grandmother Mason, when I grew older, wanted me called by my
middle name to please grandfather. But to go back--when I was a little
shaver, about as big as Percy here--\x94

\x93Oh, papa!\x94 began Percy, deprecatingly. To be called \x93a little shaver\x94
 before all the others!

\x93He means, dearie,\x94 said his mamma, reassuringly, \x93when he was a boy
like you. Now hear what papa is going to say.\x94

\x93Well, I was sent up into Vermont to stay at the old place. There was a
little girl there; a bright, black-eyed little girl. She was my cousin,
and her name was Mary Bartlett.\x94

\x93Who\x92s Mary Bartlett?\x94 asked Joel, interrupting.

\x93There she is, sir,\x94 said Mr. Whitney, pointing to Mrs. Pepper, who was
laughing and crying together.

\x93Where?\x94 said Joel, utterly bewildered. \x93I don\x92t see any Mary Bartlett.
What does he mean, Polly?\x94

\x93I don\x92t know,\x94 said Polly. \x93Wait, Joey,\x94 she whispered, \x93he\x92s going to
tell us all about it.\x94

\x93Well, this little cousin and I went to the district school, and had
many good times together. And then my parents sent for me, and I went to
Germany to school; and when I came back I lost sight of her. All I could
find out was that she had married an Englishman by the name of Pepper.\x94

\x93Oh!\x94 cried all the children together.

\x93And I always supposed she had gone to England for despite all
my exertions, I could find no trace of her. Ah, Mary,\x94 he said
reproachfully, \x93why didn\x92t you let me know where you were?\x94

\x93I heard,\x94 said Mrs. Pepper, \x93that you\x92d grown awfully rich, and I
couldn\x92t.\x94

\x93You always were a proud little thing,\x94 he said laughing. \x93Well, but,\x94
 broke in Mr. King, unable to keep silence any longer, \x93I\x92d like to
inquire, Mason, why you didn\x92t find all this out before, in Marian\x92s
letters, when she mentioned Mrs. Pepper?\x94

\x93She didn\x92t ever mention her,\x94 said Mr. Whitney, turning around to face
his questioner, \x93not as Mrs. Pepper--never once by name. It was always
either \x91Polly\x92s mother,\x92 or \x91Phronsie\x92s mother.\x92 Just like a woman,\x94 he
added, with a mischievous glance at his wife, \x93not to be explicit.\x94

\x93And just like a man,\x94 she retorted, with a happy little laugh, \x93not to
ask for explanations.\x94

\x93I hear Jappy,\x94 cried Polly, in a glad voice, \x93and Ben--oh, good!\x94 as
a sound of rushing footsteps was heard over the veranda steps, and down
the long hall.

The door was thrown suddenly open, and Jasper plunged in, his face
flushed with excitement, and after him Ben, looking a little as he did
when Phronsie was lost, while Prince squeezed panting in between the two
boys.

\x93Has Polly got--\x94 began Jasper.

\x93Oh, yes, I\x92m here,\x94 cried Polly, springing up to them; \x93oh, Ben!\x94

\x93She has,\x94 cried Joel, disentangling himself from the group, \x93don\x92t you
see, Jappy?\x94

\x93She\x92s all home,\x94 echoed Phronsie, flying up. \x93Oh, Ben, do draw me
another little house!\x94

\x93And see--see!\x94 cried the little Whitneys, pointing with jubilant
fingers to their papa, \x93see what she brought!\x94

Jasper turned around at that--and then rushed forward.

\x93Oh, brother Mason!\x94

\x93Well, Jasper,\x94 said Mr. Whitney, a whole wealth of affection beaming on
the boy, \x93how you have stretched up in six months!\x94

\x93Haven\x92t I?\x94 said Jasper, laughing, and drawing himself up to his
fullest height.

\x93He\x92s a-standin\x92 on tip-toe,\x94 said Joel critically, who was hovering
near. \x93I most know he is!\x94 and he bent down to examine the position of
Jasper\x92s heels.

\x93Not a bit of it, Joe!\x94 cried Jasper, with a merry laugh, and setting
both feet with a convincing thud on the floor.

\x93Well, anyway, I\x92ll be just as big,\x94 cried Joel, \x93when I\x92m thirteen,
so!\x94

Just then a loud and quick rap on the table made all the children skip,
and stopped everybody\x92s tongue. It came from Mr. King.

\x93Phronsie,\x94 said he, \x93come here, child. I can\x92t do anything without
you,\x94 and held out his hand. Phronsie immediately left Ben, who was
hanging over Polly as if he never meant to let her go out of his sight
again, and went directly over to the old gentleman\x92s side.

\x93Now, then!\x94 He swung her upon his shoulder, where she perched like a
little bird, gravely surveying the whole group. One little hand stole
around the old gentleman\x92s neck, and patted his cheek softly, which so
pleased him that for a minute or two he stood perfectly still so that
everybody might see it.

\x93Now, Phronsie, you must tell all these children so that they\x92ll
understand--say everything just as I tell you, mind!\x94

\x93I will,\x94 said Phronsie, shaking her small head wisely, \x93every single
thing.\x94

\x93Well, then, now begin--\x94

\x93Well, then, now begin,\x94 said Phronsie, looking down on the faces with
an air as much like Mr. King\x92s as was possible, and finishing up with
two or three little nods.

\x93Oh, no, dear, that isn\x92t it,\x94 cried the old gentleman, \x93I\x92ll tell you.
Say, Phronsie, \x91you are all cousins--every one.\x92\x94

\x93You are all cousins--every one,\x94 repeated little Phronsie, simply,
shaking her yellow head into the very middle of the group.

\x93Does she mean it, grandpapa? Does she mean it?\x94 cried Percy, in the
greatest excitement.

\x93As true as everything?\x94 demanded Joel, crowding in between them.

\x93As true as--truth!\x94 said the old gentleman solemnly, patting the
child\x92s little fat hand. \x93So make the most of it.\x94

\x93Oh!\x94 said Polly, with a long sigh. And then Jasper and she took hold of
hands and had a good spin!

Joel turned around with two big eyes on Percy.

\x93We\x92re cousins!\x94 he said.

\x93I know it,\x94 said Percy, \x93and so\x92s Van!\x94

\x93Yes,\x94 said Van, flying up, \x93and I\x92m cousin to Polly, too--that\x92s best!\x94

\x93Can\x92t I be a Cousin?\x94 cried little Dick, crowding up, with two red
cheeks. \x93Isn\x92t anybody going to be a cousin to me, too?\x94

\x93Everybody but Jasper,\x94 said the old gentleman, laughing heartily at
them. \x93You and I, my boy,\x94 he turned to his son, \x93are left out in the
cold.\x94

At this a scream, loud and terrible to hear, struck upon them all, as
Joel flung himself flat on the floor.

\x93Isn\x92t Jappy--our--cousin? I--want--Jappy!\x94

\x93Goodness!\x94 exclaimed the old gentleman, in the greatest alarm, \x93what is
the matter with the boy! Do somebody stop him!\x94

\x93Joel,\x94 said Jasper, leaning over him, and trying to help Polly lift him
up. \x93I\x92ll tell you how we\x92ll fix it! I\x92ll be your brother. That\x92s best
of all--brother to Polly, and Ben and the whole of you--then we\x92ll see!\x94

Joel bolted up at that, and began to smile through the tears running
down the rosy face.

\x93Will you, really?\x94 he said, \x93just like Ben--and everything?\x94

\x93I can\x92t be as good as Ben,\x94 said Jappy, laughing, \x93but I\x92ll be a real
brother like him.\x94

\x93Phoo--phoo! Then I don\x92t care!\x94 cried Joel wiping off the last tear
on the back of his chubby hand. \x93Now I guess we\x92re better\x92n you,\x94 he
exclaimed with a triumphant glance over at the little Whitneys, as he
began to make the new shoes skip at a lively pace up and down the long
room.

\x93Oh, dear!\x94 they both cried in great distress.

\x93Now, papa, Jappy\x92s going to be Joey\x92s brother--and he isn\x92t anything
but our old uncle! Make him be ours more, papa, do!\x94

And then Polly sprang up.

\x93Oh! oh--deary me!\x94 And she rushed out into the hall and began to
tug violently at the big bundle, tossed down in a corner. \x93Cherry\x92ll
die--Cherry\x92ll die!\x94 she cried, \x93do somebody help me off with the
string!\x94

But Polly already had it off by the time Jasper\x92s knife was half out
of his pocket, and was kneeling down on the floor scooping out a big
handful of the seed.

\x93Don\x92t hurry so, Polly,\x94 said Jasper, as she jumped up to fly up-stairs.
\x93He\x92s had some a perfect age--he\x92s all right.\x94

\x93What!\x94 said Polly, stopping so suddenly that two or three little seeds
flew out of the outstretched hand and went dancing away to the foot of
the stairs by themselves.

\x93Oh, I heard him scolding away there when I first came home,\x94 said
Jasper, \x93so I just ran down a block or two, and got him some.\x94

\x93Is that all there is in that big bundle?\x94 said Joel in a disappointed
tone, who had followed with extreme curiosity to see its contents.
\x93Phoo!--that\x92s no fun--old bird-seed!\x94

\x93I know,\x94 said Polly with a gay little laugh, pointing with the handful
of seed into the library, \x93but I shouldn\x92t have met the other big bundle
if it hadn\x92t have been for this, Joe!\x94





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