Part 1 out of 5
Prepared by David Reed firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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
A HOME VIEW
MAKING HAPPINESS FOR MAMSIE
TROUBLE FOR THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE
HARD DAYS FOR POLLY
THE CLOUD OVER THE L1TI'LE BROWN HOUSE
A THREATENED BLOW
PHRONSIE PAYS A DEBT OF GRATITUDE
A LETTER TO JASPER
GETTING A CHRISTMAS FOR THE LITTLE ONES
BRAVE WORK AND THE REWARD
POLLY IS COMFORTED
GETTING READY FOR MAMSIE AND THE BOYS
WHICH TREATS OF A GOOD MANY MATTERS
POLLY'S DISMAL MORNING
POLLY'S BIG BUNDLE
FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS
A HOME VIEW
The little old kitchen had quieted down from the bustle and
confusion of mid-day; and now, with its afternoon manners on,
presented a holiday aspect, that as the principal room in the brown
house, it was eminently proper it should have. It was just on the
edge of the twilight; and the little Peppers, all except Ben, the
oldest of the flock, were enjoying a "breathing spell," as their
mother called it, which meant some quiet work suitable for the
hour. All the "breathing spell" they could remember however,
poor things; for times were always hard with them nowadays; and
since the father died, when Phronsie was a baby, Mrs. Pepper had
had hard work to scrape together money enough to put bread into
her children's mouths, and to pay the rent of the little brown house.
But she had met life too bravely to be beaten down now. So with a
stout heart and a cheery face, she had worked away day after day at
making coats, and tailoring and mending of all descriptions; and
she had seen with pride that couldn't be concealed, her noisy,
happy brood growing up around her, and filling her heart with
comfort, and making the little brown house fairly ring with jollity
"Poor things!" she would say to herself, "they haven't had any
bringing up; they've just scrambled up!" And then she would set
her lips together tightly, and fly at her work faster than ever. "I
must get schooling for them some way, but I don't see how!"
Once or twice she had thought, "Now the time is coming!" but it
never did: for winter shut in very cold, and it took so much more to
feed and warm them, that the money went faster than ever. And
then, when the way seemed clear again, the store changed hands,
so that for a long time she failed to get her usual supply of sacks
and coats to make; and that made sad havoc in the quarters and
half-dollars laid up as her nest egg. But---- "Well, it'll come some
time," she would say to herself; "because it must!" And so at it
again she would fly, brisker than ever.
"To help mother," was the great ambition of all the children, older
and younger; but in Polly's and Ben's souls, the desire grew so
overwhelmingly great as to absorb all lesser thoughts. Many and
vast were their secret plans, by which they were to astonish her at
some future day, which they would only confide--as they did
everything else--to one another. For this brother and sister were
everything to each other, and stood loyally together through "thick
Polly was ten, and Ben one year older; and the younger three of the
"Five Little Peppers," as they were always called, looked up to
them with the intensest admiration and love. What they failed to
do, couldn't very well be done by any One!
"Oh dear!" exclaimed Polly as she sat over in the corner by the
window helping her mother pull out basting threads from a coat
she had just finished, and giving an impatient twitch to the sleeve,
"I do wish we could ever have any light--just as much as we want!"
"You don't need any light to see these threads," said Mrs. Pepper,
winding up hers carefully, as she spoke, on an old spool. "Take
care, Polly, you broke that; thread's dear now."
"I couldn't help it," said Polly, vexedly; "it snapped; everything's
dear now, it seems to me! I wish we could have--oh! ever an' ever
so many candles; as many as we wanted. I'd light 'em all, so there!
and have it light here one night, anyway!"
"Yes, and go dark all the rest of the year, like as anyway,"
observed Mrs. Pepper, stopping to untie a knot. "Folks who do so
never have any candles," she added, sententiously.
"How many'd you have, Polly?" asked Joel, curiously, laying down
his hammer, and regarding her with the utmost anxiety.
"Oh, two hundred!" said Polly, decidedly. "I'd have two hundred,
all in a row!"
"Two hundred candles!" echoed Joel, in amazement. "My
whockety! what a lot!"
"Don't say such dreadful words, Joel," put in Polly, nervously,
stopping to pick up her spool of basting thread that was racing
away all by itself; "tisn't nice."
"Tisn't worse than to wish you'd got things you haven't," retorted
Joel. "I don't believe you'd light 'em all at once," he added,
"Yes, I would too!" replied Polly, reckessly; "two hundred of 'em,
if I had a chance; all at once, so there, Joey Pepper!"
"Oh," said little Davie, drawing a long sigh. "Why, 'twould be just
like heaven, Polly! but wouldn't it cost money, though!"
"I don't care," said Polly, giving a flounce in her chair, which
snapped another thread; "oh dear me! I didn't mean to, mammy;
well, I wouldn't care how much money it cost, we'd have as much
light as we wanted, for once; so!"
"Mercy!" said Mrs. Pepper, "you'd have the house afire! Two
hundred candles! who ever heard of such a thing!"
"Would they burn?" asked Phronsie, anxiously, getting up from the
floor where she was crouching with David, overseeing Joel nail on
the cover of an old box; and going to Polly's side she awaited her
"Burn?" said Polly. "There, that's done now, mamsie dear!" And
she put the coat, with a last little pat, into her mother's lap. "I guess
they would, Phronsie pet." And Polly caught up the little girl, and
spun round and round the old kitchen till they were both glad to
"Then," said Phronsie, as Polly put her down, and stood breathless
after her last glorious spin, "I do so wish we might, Polly; oh, just
this very one minute!"
And Phronsie clasped her fat little hands in rapture at the thought.
"Well," said Polly, giving a look up at the old clock in the corner;
"deary me! it's half-past five; and most time for Ben to come
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~ys, who were
thoroughly dismayed at being obliged to remove their traps into a
Phronsie still stood just where Polly left her. Two hundred
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--"ohl" she screamed.
"Goodness!" said Polly, taking her head out of the old cupboard in
the corner, "how you scared me, Phronsie!"
"Would they ever go out?" asked the child gravely, still standing
where Polly left her.
"What?" asked Polly, stopping with a dish of cold potatoes in her
hand. "What, Phronsie?"
"Why, the candles," said the child, "the ever-an'-ever so many
"Oh, my senses!" cried Polly, with a little laugh, "haven't you
forgotten that! Yes--no, that is, Phronsie, if we could have 'em at
all, we wouldn't ever let 'em go out!"
"Not once?" asked Phronsie, coming up to Polly with a little skip,
and nearly upsetting her, potatoes and all--"not once, Polly, truly?"
"No, not forever-an'-ever," said Polly; "take care, Phronsie! there
goes a potato; no, we'd keep 'em always!"
"No, you don't want to," said Mrs. Pepper, coming out of the
bedroom in time to catch the last words; "they won't be good
to-morrow; better have them to-night, Polly."
"Ma'am!" said Polly, setting down her potato-dish on the table, and
staring at her mother with all her might--"have what, mother?"
"Why, the potatoes, to be sure," replied Mrs. Pepper; "didn't you
say you better keep them, child?"
"Twasn't potatoes--at all," said Polly, with a little gasp; "twas--dear
me! here's Ben!" For the door opened, and Phronsie, with a scream
of delight, bounded into Ben's arms.
"It's just jolly," said Ben, coming in, his chubby face all aglow, and
his big blue eyes shining so honest and true; "it's just jolly to get
home! supper ready, Polly?"
"Yes," said Polly; "that is--all but--" and she dashed off for
Phronsie's eating apron.
"Sometime," said Phronsie, with her mouth half full, when the
meal was nearly over, "we're going to be awful rich; we are, Ben,
"No?" said Ben, affecting the most hearty astonishment; "you don't
say so, Chick!"
"Yes," said Phronsie, shaking her yellow head very wisely at him,
and diving down into her cup of very weak milk and water to see if
Polly had put any sugar in by mistake--a proceeding always
expectantly observed. "Yes, we are really, Bensie, very dreadful
"I wish we could be rich now, then," said Ben, taking another
generous slice of the brown bread; "in time for mamsic's birthday,"
and he cast a sorrowful glance at Polly.
"I know," said Polly; "oh dear! if we only could celebrate it!"
"I don't want any other celebration," said Mrs. Pepper, beaming on
them so that a little flash of sunshine seemed to hop right down on
the table, "than to look round on you all; I'm rich now, and that's a
"Mamsie don't mind her five bothers," cried Polly, jumping up and
running to hug her mother; thereby producing a like desire in all
the others, who immediately left their seats and followed her
"Mother's rich enough," ejaculated Mrs. Pepper; her bright, black
eyes glistening with delight, as the noisy troop filed back to their
bread and potatoes; "if we can only keep together, dears, and grow
up good, so that the little brown house won't be ashamed of us,
that's all I ask."
"Well," said Polly, in a burst of confidence to Ben, after the table
had been pushed back against the wall, the dishes nicely washed,
wiped, and set up neatly in the cupboard, and all traces of the meal
cleared away; "I don't care; let's try and get a celebration,
somehow, for mamsie!"
"How are you going to do it?" asked Ben, who was of a decidedly
practical turn of mind, and thus couldn't always follow Polly in her
ffights of imagination.
"I don't know," said Polly; "but we must some way."
"Phohi that's no good," said Ben, disdainfully; then seeing Polly's
face, he added kindly: "let's think, though; and perhaps there'll be
"Oh, I know," cried Polly, in delight; "I know the very thing, Ben!
let's make her a cake; a big one, you know, and"-- "She'll see you
bake it," said Ben; "or else she'll smell it, and that'd be just as bad."
"No, she won't either," replied Polly. "Don't you know she's going
to help Mrs. Henderson to-morrow; so there!"
"So she is," said Ben; "good for you, Polly, you always think of
"And then," said Polly, with a comfortable little feeling at her heart
at Ben's praise, "why, we can have it all out of the way splendidly,
you know, when she comes home--and besides, Grandma
Bascom'll tell me how. You know we've only got brown flour,
Ben; I mean to go right over and ask her now."
"Oh, no, you mustn't," cried Ben, catching hold of her arm as she
was preparing to fly off. "Mammy'll find it out; better wait till
to-morrow; and besides Polly--" And Ben stopped, unwilling to
dampen this propitious beginning. "The stove'll act like everything,
to-morrow! I know 'twill; then what'll you do!"
"It sha'n't!" said Polly, running up to look it in the face; "if it does,
I'll shake it; the mean old thing!"
The idea of Polly's shaking the lumbering old black affair, sent
Ben into such a peal of laughter that it brought all the other
children running to the spot; and nothing would do but they must
one and all, be told the reason. So Polly and Ben took them into
confidence, which so elated them that half an hour after, when
long past her bedtime, Phronsie declared, "I'm not going to bed! I
want to sit up like Polly!"
"Don't tease her," whispered Polly to Ben, who thought she ought
to go; so she sat straight up on her little stool, winking like
everything to keep awake.
At last, as Polly was in the midst of one of her liveliest sallies,
over tumbled Phronsie, a sleepy little heap, upon the floor.
"I want--to go--to bed!" she said; "take me--Polly!"
"I thought so," laughed Polly, and bundled her off into the
MAKING HAPPINESS FOR MAMSIE
And so, the minute her mother had departed for the minister's
house next morning, and Ben had gone to his day's work, chopping
wood for Deacon Blodgett, Polly assembled her force around the
old stove, and proceeded to business. She and the children had
been up betimes that morning to get through with the work; and
now, as they glanced around with a look of pride on the neatly
swept floor, the dishes all done, and everything in order, the
moment their mother's back was turned they began to implore
Polly to huny and begin.
"It's most 'leven o'clock," said Joel, who, having no work to do
outside, that day, was prancing around, wild to help along the
festivities; "it's most 'leven o'clock, Polly Pepper! you won't have it
"Oh, no; 'tisn't either, Joe;" said Polly, with a very flushed face,
and her arms full of kindlings, glancing up at the old clock as she
spoke; "tisn't but quarter of nine; there, take care, Phronsie! you
can't lift off the cover; do help her, Davie."
"No; let me!" cried Joel, springing forward; "it's my turn; Dave got
the shingles; it's my turn, Polly."
"So 'tis," said Polly; "I forgot; there," as she flung in the wood, and
poked it all up in a nice little heap coaxingly. "It can't help but
burn; what a cake we'll have for mamsie!"
"It'll be so big," cried Phronsie, hopping around on one set of toes,
"that mamsie won't know what to do, will she, Polly?"
"No, I don't believe she will," said Polly, gayly, stuffing in more
wood; "Oh, dear! there goes Ben's putty; it's all come out!"
"So it has," said Joel, going around back of the stove to explore;
and then he added cheerfully, "it's bigger'n ever; oh! it's an awful
big hole, Polly!"
"Now, whatever shall we do!" said Polly, in great distress; "that
hateful old crack! and Ben's clear off to Deacon Blodgett's!"
"I'll run and get him," cried Joel, briskly; "I'll bring him right home
in ten minutes."
"Oh, no, you must not, Joe," cried Polly in alarm; "it wouldn't ever
be right to take him off from his work; manisie wouldn't like it."
"What will you do, then?" asked Joel, pausing on his way to the
"I'm sure I don't know," said Polly, getting down on her knees to
examine the crack; "I shall have to stuff it with paper, I s'pose."
"'Twon't stay in," said Joel, scornfully; "don't you know you stuffed
it before, last week?"
"I know," said Polly, with a small sigh; and sitting down on the
floor, she remained quite still for a minute, with her two black
hands thrust out straight before her.
"Can't you fix it?" asked Davie, soberly, coming up; "then we can't
have the cake."
"Dear me!" exclaimed Polly, springing up quickly; "don't be afraid;
we're going to have that cake! There, you ugly old thing, you!"
(this to the stove) "see what you've done!" as two big tears flew out
of Phronsie's brown eyes at the direful prospect; and the sorrowful
faces of the two boys looked up into Polly's own, for comfort. "I
can fix it, I most know; do get some paper, Joe, as quick as you
"Don't know where there is any," said Joel, rummaging around;
"it's all tore up; 'xcept the almanac; can't I take that?"
"Oh dear, no!" cried Polly; "put it right back, Joe; I guess there's
some in the wood-shed."
"There isn't either," said little Davie, quickly; "Joel and I took it to
make kites with."
"Oh dear," groaned Polly; "I don't know what we shall do; unless,"
as a bright thought struck her, "you let me have the kites, boys."
"Can't," said Joel; "they're all flew away; and torn up."
"Well, now, children," said Polly, turning round impressively upon
them, the effect of which was heightened by the extremely crocky
appearance she had gained in her explorations, "we must have
some paper, or something to stop up that old hole with--some way,
"I know," said little Davie, "where we'll get it; it's upstairs;" and
without another word he flew out of the room, and in another
minute he put into Polly's hand an old leather boottop, one of his
most treasured possessions. "You can chip it," he said, "real fine,
and then 'twill go in."
"So we can," said Polly; "and you're a real good boy, Davie, to give
it; that's a splendid present to help celebrate for mamsic!"
"I'd a-given a boot-top," said Joel, looking grimly at the precious
bit of leather which Polly was rapidly stripping into little bits, "if
I'd a-hed it; I don't have anything!"
"I know you would, Joey," said Polly, kindly; "there now, you'll
stay, I guess!" as with the united efforts of the two boys, cheered
on by Phronsie's enthusiastic little crow of delight, the leather was
crowded into place, and the fire began to burn.
"Now, boys," said Polly, getting up, and drawing a long breath,
"I'm going over to Grandma Bascom's to get her to tell me how to
make the cake; and you must stay and keep house."
"I'm going to nail," said Joel; "I've got lots to do."
"All right," said Polly, tying on her hood; "Phronsie'll love to watch
you; I won't be gone long," and she was off.
"Grandma Bascom," wasn't really the children's grandmother; only
everybody in the village called her so by courtesy. Her cottage was
over across the lane, and just a bit around the corner; and Polly
flew along and up to the door, fully knowing that now she would
be helped out of her difliculty. She didn't stop to knock, as the old
lady was so deaf she knew she wouldn't hear her, but opened the
door and walked in. Grandma was sweeping up the floor, already
as neat as a pin; when she saw Polly coming, she stopped, and
leaned on her broom.
"How's your ma?" she asked, when Polly had said "good morning,"
and then hesitated.
"Oh, mammy's pretty well," shouted Polly into the old lady's ear;
"and to-morrow's her birthday!"
"To-morrow'll be a bad day!" said grandma. "Oh, don't never say
that. You mustn't borrow trouble, child."
"I didn't," said Polly; "I mean--it's her birthday, grandma!" this last
so loud that grandma's cap-border vibrated perceptibly.
"The land's sakes 'tis!" cried Mrs. Bascom, delightedly; "you don't
"Yes," said Polly, skipping around the old lady, and giving her a
small hug; "and we're going to give her a surprise."
"What is the matter with her eyes?" asked grandma, sharply,
turning around and facing her; "she's been a-sewin' too stiddy,
"A surprise!" shouted Polly, standing upon tiptoe, to bring her
mouth on a level with the old lady's ear; "a cake, grandma, a big
"A cake!" exclaimed grandma, dropping the broom to settle her
cap, which Polly in her extreme endeavors to carry on the
conversation, had knocked slightly awry; "well, that'll be fine."
"Yes," said Polly, picking up the broom, and ffinging off her hood
at the same time; "and, oh! won't you please tell me how to make
"To be sure; to be sure;" cried the old lady, delighted beyond
measure to give advice; "I've got splendid receets; I'll go get 'em
right off," and she ambled to the door of the pantry.
"And I'll finish sweeping up," said Polly, which grandma didn't
hear; so she took up the broom, and sent it energetically, and
merrily flying away to the tune of her own happy thoughts.
"Yes, they're right in here," said grandma, waddling back with an
old tin teapot in her hand;--"goodness, child! what a dust you've
kicked up! that ain't the way to sweep." And she took the broom
out of Polly's hand, who stood quite still in mortification.
"There," she said, drawing it mildly over the few bits she could
scrape together, and gently coaxing them into a little heap; "that's
the way; and then they don't go all over the room.
"I'm sorry," began poor Polly.
"'Tain't any matter," said Mrs. Bascom kindly, catching sight of
Polly's discomfited face; "tain't a mite of matter; you'll sweep
better next time; now let's go to the cake;" and putting the broom
into the corner, she waddled back again to the table, followed by
Polly, and proceeded to turn out the contents of the teapot, in
search of just the right "receet."
But the right one didn't seem to appear; not even after the teapot
was turned upside down and shaken by both grandma's and Polly's
anxious hands. Every other "receet" seemed to tumble out gladly,
and stare them in the face--little dingy rolls of yellow paper, with
an ancient odor of spice still clinging to them; but all efforts to
find this particular one failed utterly.
"Won't some other one do?" asked Polly, in the interval of fruitless
searching, when grandma bewailed and lamented, and wondered,
"where I could a put it!"
"No, no, child," answered the old lady; "now, where do you s'pose
'tis!" and she clapped both hands to her head, to see if she could
possibly remember; "no, no, child," she repeated. "Why, thcy had it
down to my niece Mirandy's weddin'--'twas just elegant! light as a
feather; and 'twan't rich either," she added; "no eggs, nor"-- "Oh, I
couldn't have eggs;" cried Polly, in amazement at the thought of
such luxury; "and we've only brown flour, grandma, you know."
"Well, you can make it of brown," said Mrs. Bascom, kindly;
"when the raisins is in 'twill look quite nice."
"Oh, we haven't any raisins," answered Polly.
"Haven't any raisins!" echoed grandma, looking at her over her
spectacles; "what are you goin' to put in?"
"Oh--cinnamon," said Polly, briskly; "we've got plenty of that,
and--it'll be good, I guess, grandma!" she finished, anxiously;
"anyway, we must have a cake; there isn't any other way to
celebrate mamsie's birthday."
"Well, now," said grandma, bustling around; "I shouldn't be
surprised if you had real good luck, Polly. And your ma'll set ever
so much by it; now, if we only could find that receet!" and
returning to the charge she commenced to fumble among her bits
of paper again; "I never shall forget how they eat on it; why, there
wasn't a crumb left, Polly!"
"Oh, dear," said Polly, to whom "Mirandy's wedding cake" now
became the height of her desires; "if you only can find it! can't I
climb up and look on the pantry shelves?"
"Maybe 'tis there," said Mrs. Bascom, slowly; "you might try;
sometimes I do put things away, so's to have 'em safe."
So Polly got an old wooden chair, according to direction, and then
mounted up on it, with grandma below to direct, she handed down
bowl after bowl, interspersed at the right intervals with cracked
teacups and handleless pitchers. But at the end of these
explorations, "Mirandy's wedding cake" was further off than ever.
"Tain't a mite o' use," at last said the old lady, sinking down in
despair, while Polly perched on the top of the chair and looked at
her; "I must a-give it away."
"Can't I have the next best one, then?" asked Polly, despairingly,
feeling sure that "Mirandy's wedding cake" would have celebrated
the day just right; "and I must hurry right home, please," she
added, getting down from the chair, and tying on her hood; "or
Phronsie won't know what to do."
So another "receet" was looked over, and selected; and with many
charges, and bits of advice not to let the oven get too hot, etc., etc.,
Polly took the precious bit in her hand, and flew over home.
"Now, we've got to--" she began, bounding in merrily, with
dancing eyes; but her delight had a sudden stop, as she brought up
so suddenly at the sight within, that she couldn't utter another
word. Phronsie was crouching, a miserable little heap of woe, in
one corner of the mother's big calico-covered rocking-chair, and
crying bitterly, while Joel hung over her in the utmost concern.
"What's the matter?" gasped Polly. Flinging the "receet" on the
table, she rushed up to the old chair and was down on her knees
before it, her arms around the little figure. Phronsie turned, and
threw herself into Polly's protecting arms, who gathered her up,
and sitting down in the depths of the chair, comforted her as only
"What is it?" she asked of Joel, who was nervously begging
Phronsie not to cry; "now, tell me all that's happened."
"I was a-nailing," began Joel; "oh dear! don't cry, Phronsie! do stop
"Go on," said Polly, hoarsely.
"I was a-nailing," began Joel, slowly; "and--and--Davie's gone to
get the peppermint," he added, brightening up.
"Tell me, Joe," said Polly, "all that's been going on," and she
looked sternly into his face; "or I'll get Davie to," as little Davie
came running back, with a bottle of castor oil, which in his flurry
he had mistaken for peppermint. This he presented with a flourish
to Polly, who was too excited to see it.
"Oh, no!" cried Joel, in intense alarm; "Davie isn't going to! I'll
tell, Polly; I will truly."
"Go on, then," said Polly; "tell at once;" (feeling as if somebody
didn't tell pretty quick, she should tumble over.)
"Well," said Joel, gathering himself up with a fresh effort, "the old
hammer was a-shaking and Phronsie stuck her foot in the
way--and--I couldn't help it, Polly--no, I just couldn't, Polly."
Quick as a flash, Polly tore off the little old shoe, and well-worn
stocking, and brought to light Phronsie's fat little foot. Tenderly
taking hold of the white toes, the boys clustering around in the
greatest anxiety, she worked them back and forth, and up and
down. "Nothing's broken," she said at last, and drew a long breath.
"It's there," said Phronsie, through a rain of tears; "and it hurts,
Polly;" and she began to wiggle the big toe, where around the nail
was settling a small black spot.
"Poor little toe," began Polly, cuddling up the suffering foot. Just
then, a small and peculiar noise struck her ear; and looking up she
saw Joel, with a very distorted face, making violent efforts to keep
from bursting out into a loud cry. All his attempts, however, failed;
and he flung himself into Polly's lap in a perfect torrent of tears. "I
didn't--mean to--Polly," he cried; "'twas the--ugly, old hammer! oh
"There, there, Joey, dear," said Polly, gathering him up in the other
corner of the old chair, close to her side; "don't feel bad; I know
you didn't mean to," and she dropped a kiss on his stubby black
When Phronsie saw that anybody else could cry, she stopped
immediately, and leaning over Polly, put one little fat hand on
Joel's neck. "Don't cry," she said; "does your toe ache?"
At this, Joel screamed louder than ever; and Polly was at her wit's
end to know what to do; for the boy's heart was almost broken.
That he should have hurt Phronsie! the baby, the pet of the whole
house, upon whom all their hearts centered--it was too much. So
for the next few moments, Polly had all she could do by way of
comforting and consoling him. Just as she had succeeded, the door
opened, and Grandma Bascom walked in.
"Settin' down?" said she; "I hope your cake ain't in, Polly," looking
anxiously at the stove, "for I've found it;" and she waved a small
piece of paper triumphantly towards the rocking-chair as she
"Do tell her," said Polly to little David, "what's happened; for I
can't get up."
So little Davie went up to the old lady, and standing on tiptoe,
screamed into her ear all the particulars he could think of,
concerning the accident that had just happened.
"Hey?" said grandma, in a perfect bewilderment; "what's he
a-sayin', Polly--I can't make it out."
"You'll have to go all over it again, David," said Polly,
despairingly; "she didn't hear one word, I don't believe."
So David tried again; this time with better success. And then he
got down from his tiptoes, and escorted grandma to Phronsie, in
"Land alive!" said the old lady, sitting down in the chair which he
brought her; "you got pounded, did you?" looking at Phronsie, as
she took the little foot in her ample hand.
"Yes'm," said Polly, quickly; "twasn't any one's fault; what'll we do
for it, grandma?"
"Wormwood," said the old lady, adjusting her spectacles in
extreme deliberation, and then examining the little black and blue
spot, which was spreading rapidly, "is the very best thing; and I've
got some to home--you run right over," she said, turning round on
David, quickly, "an' get it; it's a-hang-in' by the chimbley."
"Let me; let me!" cried Joel, springing out of the old chair, so
suddenly that grandma's spectacles nearly dropped off in fright;
"oh! I want to do it for Phronsie!"
"Yes, let Joel, please," put in Polly; "he'll find it, grandma." So
Joel departed with great speed; and presently returned, with a
bunch of dry herbs, which dangled comfortingly by his side, as he
"Now I'll fix it," said Mrs. Bascom, getting up and taking off her
shawl; "there's a few raisins for you, Polly; I don't want 'em, and
they'll make your cake go better," and she placed a little parcel on
the table as she spoke. "Yes, I'll put it to steep; an' after it's put on
real strong, and tied up in an old cloth, Phronsie won't know as
she's got any toes!" and grandma broke up a generous supply of the
herb, and put it into an old tin cup, which she covered up with a
saucer, and placed on the stove.
"Oh!" said Polly; "I can't thank you! for the raisins and all--you're
"They're awful hard," said Joel, investigating into the bundle with
Davie, which, however, luckily the old lady didn't hear.
"There, don't try," she said cheerily; "an' I found cousin Mirandy's
weddin' cake receet, for--"
"Did you?" cried Polly; "oh! I'm so glad!" feeling as if that were
comfort enough for a good deal.
"Yes, 'twas in my Bible," said Mrs. Bascom; "I remember now; I
put it there to be ready to give John's folks when they come in;
they wanted it; so you'll go all straight now; and I must get home,
for I left some meat a-boilin'." So grandma put on her shawl, and
waddled off, leaving a great deal of comfort behind her.
"Now, says I," said Polly to Phronsie, when the little foot was
snugly tied up in the wet wormwood, "you've got to have one of
mamsie's old slippers."
"Oh, ho," laughed Phronsie; "won't that be funny, Polly!"
"I should think it would," laughed Polly, back again, pulling on the
big cloth slipper, which Joel produced from the bedroom, the two
boys joining uproariously, as the old black thing flapped dismally
up and down, and showed strong symptoms of flying off. "We
shall have to tie it on."
"It looks like a pudding bag," said Joel, as Polly tied it securely
through the middle with a bit of twine; "an old black pudding
bag!" he finished.
"Old black pudding bag!" echoed Phronsie, with a merry little
crow; and then all of a sudden she grew very sober, and looked
intently at the foot thrust out straight before her, as she still sat in
"What is it, Phronsie?" asked Polly, who was bustling around,
making preparations for the cake-making.
"Can I ever wear my new shoes again?" asked the child, gravely,
looking dismally at the black bundle before her.
"Oh, yes; my goodness, yes!" cried Polly; "as quick again as ever;
you'll be around again as smart as a cricket in a week --see if you
"Will it go on?" asked Phronsie, still looking incredulously at the
bundle, "and button up?"
"Yes, indeed!" cried Polly, again; "button into every one of the
little holes, Phronsie Pepper; just as elegant as ever!"
"Oh!" said Phronsie; and then she gave a sigh of relief, and thought
no more of it, because Polly had said that all would be right.
"Run down and get the cinnamon, will you, Joey?" said Polly; "it's
in the 'Provision Room."
The "Provision Room" was a little shed that was tacked on to the
main house, and reached by a short ffight of rickety steps; so
called, because as Polly said, "'twas a good place to keep
provisions in, even if we haven't any; and besides," she always
finished, "it sounds nice!"
"Come on, Dave! then we'll get something to eat!"
So the cinnamon was handed up, and then Joel flew back to Davie.
And now, Polly's cake was done, and ready for the oven. With
many admiring glances from herself, and Phronsie, who with
Seraphina, an extremely old but greatly revered doll, tightly
hugged in her arms was watching everything with the biggest of
eyes from the depths of the old chair, it was placed in the oven, the
door shut to with a happy little bang, then Polly gathered Phronsie
up in her arms, and sat down in the chair to have a good time with
her and to watch the process of cooking.
There was a bumping noise that came from the "Provision Room"
that sounded ominous, and then a smothered sound of words,
followed by a scuffling over the old floor.
"Boys!" called Polly. No answer; everything was just as still as a
mouse. "Joel and David!" called Polly again, in her loudest tones.
"Yes," came up the crooked stairs, in Davie's voice.
"Come up here, right away!" went back again from Polly. So up
stairs trudged the two boys, and presented themselves rather
sheepishly before the big chair.
"What was that noise?" she asked; "what have you been doing?"
"Twasn't anything but the pail," answered Joel, not looking at her.
"We had something to eat," said Davie, by way of explanation;
"you always let us."
"I know," said Polly; "that's right, you can have as much bread as
you want to; but what you been doing with the pail?"
"Nothing," said Joel; "'twouldn't hangup, that's all."
"And you've been bumping it," said Polly; "oh! Joel, how could
you! You might have broken it; then what would mamsie say?"
"I didn't," said Joel, stoutly, with his hands in his pockets, "bump it
worse'n Davie, so there!"
"Why, Davie," said Polly, turning to him sorrowfully, "I shouldn't
have thought you would!"
"Well, I'm tired of hanging it up," said little Davie, vehemently;
"and I said I wasn't a-goin' to; Joel always makes me; I've done it
for two million times, I guess!"
"Oh, dear," said Polly, sinking back into the chair, "I don't know
what I ever shall do; here's Phronsie hurt; and we want to celebrate
to-morrow; and you two boys are bumping and banging out the
bread pail, and"-- "Oh! we won't!" cried both of the children,
perfectly overwhelined with remorse; "we'll hang it right up."
"I'll hang it," said Davie, clattering off down the stairs with a will.
"No, I will!" shouted Joel, going after him at double pace; and
presently both came up with shining faces, and reported it nicely
"And now," said Polly, after they had all sat around the stove
another half-hour, watching and sniffing expectantly, "the cake's
done!--dear me! it's turning black!"
And quickly as possible Polly twitched it out with energy, and set
it on the table.
Oh, dear; of all things in the world! The beautiful cake over which
so many hopes had been formed, that was to have given so much
happiness on the morrow to the dear mother, presented a forlorn
appearance as it stood there in anything but holiday attire. It was
quite black on the top, in the center of which was a depressing
little dump, as if to say, "My feelings wouldn't allow me to rise to
"Now," said Polly, turning away with a little ffing, and looking at
the stove, "I hope you're satisfied, you old thing; you've spoiled our
mamsie's birthday!" and without a bit of warning, she sat right
down in the middle of the floor and began to cry as hard as she
"Well, I never!" said a cheery voice, that made the children skip.
"It's Mrs. Beebe; oh, it's Mrs. Beebe!" cried Davie; "see, Polly."
Polly scrambled up to her feet, ashamed to be caught thus, and
whisked away the tears; the others explaining to their new visitor
the sad disappointment that had befallen them; and she was soon
oh-ing, and ah-ing enough to suit even their distressed little souls.
"You poor creeters, you!" she exclaimed at last, for about the
fiftieth time. "Here, Polly, here's some posies for you, and"-- "Oh,
thank you!" cried Polly, with a radiant face, "why, Mrs. Beebe, we
can put them in here, can't we? the very thing!"
And she set the little knot of flowers in the hollow of the cake, and
there they stood and nodded away to the delighted children, like
brave little comforters, as they were.
"The very thing!" echoed Mrs. Beebe, tickled to death to see their
delight; "it looks beautiful, I declare! and now, I must run right
along, or pa'll be worrying;" and so the good woman trotted out to
her waiting husband, who was impatient to be off. Mr. Beebe kept
a little shoe shop in town; and always being of the impression if he
left it for ten minutes that crowds of customers would visit it. He
was the most restless of companions on any pleasure excursion.
"And Phronsie's got hurt," said Mrs. Beebe, telling him the news,
as he finished tucking her up, and started the old horse.
"Ho? you don't say so!" he cried; "whoa!"
"Dear me!" said Mrs. Beebe; "how you scat me, pal what's the
"What?--the little girl that bought the shoes?" asked her husband.
"Yes," replied his wife, "she's hurt her foot."
"Sho, now," said the old gentleman; "that's too bad," and he began
to feel in all his pockets industriously; "there, can you get out
again, and take her that?" and he laid a small piece of peppermint
candy, thick and white, in his wife's lap.
"Oh, yes," cried Mrs. Beebe, good-naturedly, beginning to clamber
over the wheel.
So the candy was handed in to Phronsie, who insisted that Polly
should hold her up to the window to thank Mr. Beebe. So amid
nods, and shakings of hands, the Beebes drove off, and quiet
settled down over the little brown house again.
"Now, children," said Polly, after Phronsie had made them take a
bite of her candy all around, "let's get the cake put away safe, for
mamsie may come home early.
"Where'll you put it?" asked Joel, wishing the world was all
"Oh--in the cupboard," said Polly, taking it up; "there, Joe, you can
climb up, and put it clear back in the corner, oh! wait; I must take
the posies off, and keep them fresh in water;" so the cake was
finally deposited in a place of safety, followed by the eyes of all
"Now," said Polly, as they shut the door tight, "don't you go to
looking at the cupboard, Joey, or mammy'll guess something."
"Can't I just open it a little crack, and take one smell when she isn't
looking?" asked Joel; "I should think you might, Polly; just one."
"No," said Polly, firmly; "not one, Joe; she'll guess if you do." But
Mrs. Pepper was so utterly engrossed with her baby when she
came home and heard the account of the accident, that she
wouldn't have guessed if there'd been a dozen cakes in the
cupboard. Joel was consoled, as his mother assured him in a
satisfactory way that she never should think of blaming him; and
Phronsie was comforted and coddled to her heart's content. And so
the evening passed rapidly and happily away; Ben smuggling
Phronsie off into a corner, where she told him all the doings of the
day--the disappointment of the cake, and how it was finally
crowned with flowers; all of which Phronsie, with no small pride
in being the narrator, related gravely to her absorbed listener. "And
don't you think, Bensie," she said, clasping her little hand in a
convincing way over his two bigger, stronger ones, "that Polly's
stove was very naughty to make poor Polly cry?"
"Yes, I do," said Ben, and he shut his lips tightly together.
To have Polly cry, hurt him more than he cared to have Phronsie
"What are you staring at, Joe?" asked Polly, a few minutes later, as
her eyes fell upon Joel, who sat with his back to the cupboard,
persistently gazing at the opposite wall.
"Why, you told me yourself not to look at the cupboard," said Joel,
in the loudest of stage whispers.
"Dear me; that'll make mammy suspect worse'n anything else if
you look like that," said Polly.
"What did you say about the cupboard?" asked Mrs. Pepper, who
caught Joe's last word.
"We can't tell," said Phronsie, shaking her head at her mother;
"cause there's a ca"-- "Ugh!" and Polly clapped her hand on the
child's mouth; "don't you want Ben to tell us a stoty?"
"Oh, yes!" cried little Phronsie, in which all the others joined with
a whoop of delight; so a most wonderful story, drawn up in Ben's
best style, followed till bedtime.
The first thing Polly did in the morning, was to run to the old
cupboard, followed by all the others, to see if the cake was safe;
and then it had to be drawn out, and dressed anew with the
flowers, for they had decided to have it on the breakfast table.
"It looks better," whispered Polly to Ben, "than it did yesterday;
and aren't the flowers pretty?"
"It looks good enough to eat, anyway," said Ben, smacking his lips.
"Well, we tried," said Polly, stilling a sigh; "now, boys, call
marnsie; everything's ready."
Oh! how surprised their mother appeared when she was ushered
out to the feast, and the full glory of the table burst upon her. Her
delight in the cake was fully enough to satisfy the most exacting
mind. She admired and admired it on every side, protesting that
she shouldn't have supposed Polly could possibly have baked it as
good in the old stove; and then she cut it, and gave a piece to every
child, with a little posy on top. Wasn't it good, though! for like
many other things, the cake proved better on trial than it looked,
and so turned out to be really quite a good surprise all around.
"Why can't I ever have a birthday?" asked Joel, finishing the last
crumb of his piece; "I should think I might," he added, reflectively.
"Why, you have, Joe," said Ben; "eight of 'em."
"What a story!" ejaculated Joel; "when did I have 'em? I never had
a cake; did I, Polly?"
"Not a cake-birthday, Joel," said his mother; "you haven't got to
"When's it coming?" asked Joel, who was decidedly of a
matter-of-fact turn of mind.
"I don't know," said Mrs. Pepper, laughing; "but there's plenty of
TROUBLE FOR THE LITTLE BROWN HOUSE
"Oh, I do wish," said Joel, a few mornings after, pushing back his
chair and looking discontentedly at his bowl of mush and
molasses, "that we could ever have something new besides this
everlasting old breakfast! Why can't we, mammy?"
"Better be glad you've got that, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper, taking
another cold potato, and sprinkling on a little salt; "folks shouldn't
complain so long as they've anything to eat."
"But I'm so tired of it--same old thing!" growled Joel; "seems as if
I sh'd turn into a meal-bag or a molasses jug!"
"Well, hand it over, then," proposed Ben, who was unusually
hungry, and had a hard day's work before him.
"No," said Joel, alarmed at the prospect, and putting in an
enormous mouthful; "it's better than nothing."
"Oh, dear," said little Phronsie, catching Joel's tone, "it isn't nice;
no, it isn't." And she put down her spoon so suddenly that the
molasses spun off in a big drop, that trailed off the corner of the
table, and made Polly jump up and run for the floor-cloth.
"Oh, Phronsie," she said, reprovingly; "you ought not to. Never
mind, pet," as she caught sight of two big tears trying to make a
path in the little molasses-streaked face, "Polly'll wipe it up."
"Sha'n't we ever have anything else to eat, Polly?" asked the child,
gravely, getting down from her high chair to watch the operation
of cleaning the floor.
"Oh, yes," said Polly, cheerfully, "lots and lots--when our ship
"What'll they be?" asked Phronsie, in the greatest delight, prepared
"Oh, I don't know," said Polly; "ice cream for one thing, Phronsie,
and maybe, little cakes."
"With pink on top?" interrupted Phronsie, getting down by Polly's
"Oh, yes," said Polly, warming with her subject; "ever and ever so
much pink, Phronsie Pepper; more than you could eat!"
Phronsie just clasped her hands and sighed. More than she could
eat was beyond her!
"Hohi" said Joel, who caught the imaginary bill of fare, "that's
nothing, Polly. I'd speak for a plum-puddin'."
"Like the one mother made us for Thanksgiving?" asked Polly,
getting up and waiting a minute, cloth in hand, for the answer.
"Yes, sir," said Joel, shutting one eye and looking up at the ceiling,
musingly, while he smacked his lips in remembrance; "wasn't that
"Yes," said Polly, thoughtfully; "would you have 'em all like that,
"Every one," replied Joe, promptly; "I'd have seventy-five of 'em."
"Seventy-five what?" asked Mrs. Pepper, who had gone into the
bedroom, and now came out, a coat in hand, to sit down in the
west window, where she began to sew rapidly. "Better clear up the
dishes, Polly, and set the table back--seventy-five what, Joel?"
"Flum-puddings," said Joel, kissing Phronsie.
"Dear me!" ejaculated Mrs. Pepper; "you don't know what you're
saying, Joel Pepper; the house couldn't hold 'em!"
"Wouldn't long," responded Joel; "we'd eat 'em."
"That would be foolish," interposed Ben; "I'd have roast beef and
fixings--and oysters--and huckleberry pie."
"Oh, dear," cried Polly; "how nice, Ben! you always do think of the
very best things."
But Joel phoohed and declared he wouldn't waste his time "over
old beef; he'd have something like!" And then he cried:
"Come on, Dave, what'd you choose?"
Little Davie had been quietly eating his breakfast amid all this
chatter, and somehow thinking it might make the mother feel
badly, he had refrained from saying just how tiresome he had
really found this "everlasting breakfast" as Joel called it. But now
he looked up eagerly, his answer all ready. "Oh, I know," he cried,
"what would be most beautiful! toasted bread--white bread--and
"What's candy?" asked Phronsie.
"Oh, don't you know, Phronsie," cried Polly, "what Mrs. Beebe
gave you the day you got your shoes--the pink sticks; and"-- "And
the peppermint stick Mr. Beebe gave you, Phronsie," finished Joel,
his mouth watering at the remembrance.
"That day, when you got your toe pounded," added Davie, looking
"Oh!" cried Phronsie; "I want some now, I do!"
"Well, Davie," said Polly, "you shall have that for breakfast when
our ship comes in then."
"Your ships aren't ever coming," broke in Mrs. Pepper, wisely, "if
you sit there talking--folks don't ever make any fortunes by
"True enough," laughed Ben, jumping up and setting back his
chair. "Come on, Joe; you've got to pile to-day."
"Oh, dear," said Joel, dismally; "I wish Mr. Blodgett's wood was
"Never say that, Joel," said Mrs. Pepper, looking up sternly; "it's
biting your own nose off to wish that wood was a-fire-- and
besides it's dreadfully wicked."
Joel hung his head, for his mother never spoke in that way unless
she was strongly moved; but he soon recovered, and hastened off
for his jacket.
"I'm sorry I can't help you do the dishes, Polly," said David,
running after Joel.
"I'm going to help her," said Phronsie; "I am."
So Polly got the little wooden tub that she always used, gave
Phronsie the well-worn cup-napkin, and allowed her to wipe the
handleless cups and cracked saucers, which afforded the little one
"Don't you wish, Polly," said little Phronsie, bustling around with a
very important air, nearly smothered in the depths of a big brown
apron that Polly had carefully tied under her chin, "that you didn't
ever-an'-ever have so many dishes to do?"
"Urn--maybe," said Polly, thoughtlessly. She was thinking of
something else besides cups and saucers just then; of how nice it
would be to go off for just one day, and do exactly as she had a
mind to in everything. She even envied Ben and the boys who were
going to work hard at Deacon Blodgett's woodpile.
"Well, I tell you," said Phronsie, confidentially, setting down a cup
that she had polished with great care, "I'm going to do 'em all
to-morrow, for you, Polly--I can truly; let me now, Polly, do."
"Nonsense!" said Polly, giving a great splash with her mop in the
tub, ashamed of her inward repinings. "Phronsie, you're no bigger
than a mouse!"
"Yes, I am," retorted Phronsie, very indignantly. Her face began to
get very red, and she straightened up so suddenly to show Polly
just how very big she was that her little head came up against the
edge of the tub--over it went! a pile of saucers followed.
"There now," cried Polly, "see what you've done!"
"Ow!" whimpered Phronsie, breaking into a subdued roar; "oh,
Polly! it's all running down my back."
"Is it?" said Polly, bursting out into a laugh; "never mind, Phronsie,
I'll dry you."
"Dear me, Polly!" said Mrs. Pepper, who had looked up in time to
see the tub racing along by itself towards the "Provision Room"
door, a stream of dish-water following in its wake, "she will be wet
clear through; do get off her things, quick."
"Yes'm," cried Polly, picking up the tub, and giving two or three
quick sops to the floor. "Here you are, Pussy," grasping Phronsie,
crying as she was, and carrying her into the bedroom.
"Oh, dear," wailed the child, still holding the wet dish towel; "I
won't ever do it again, if you'll only let me do 'em all to-morrow."
"When you're big and strong," said Polly, giving her a hug, "you
shall do 'em every day."
"May I really?" said little Phronsie, blinking through the tears, and
"Yes, truly--every day."
"Then I'll grow right away, I will," said Phronsie, bursting out
merrily; and she sat down and pulled off the well-worn shoes, into
which a big pool of dish-water had run, while Polly went for dry
"So you shall," said Polly, coming back, a big piece of gingerbread
in her hand; "and this'll make you grow, Phronsie."
"O-o-h!" and Phronsie's little white teeth shut down quickly on the
comforting morsel. Gingerbread didn't come often enough into the
Pepper household to be lightly esteemed.
"Now," said Mrs. Pepper, when order was restored, the floor
washed up brightly, and every cup and platter in place, hobnobbing
away to themselves on the shelves of the old corner cupboard, and
Polly had come as usual with needle and thread to help mother--
Polly was getting so that she could do the plain parts on the coats
and jackets, which filled her with pride at the very thought--"now,"
said Mrs. Pepper, "you needn't help me this morning, Polly: I'm
getting on pretty smart; but you may just run down to the parson's,
and see how he is."
"Is he sick?" asked Polly, in awe.
To have the parson sick, was something quite different from an
ordinary person's illness.
"He's taken with a chill," said Mrs. Pepper, biting off a thread, "so
Miss Huldy Folsom told me last night, and I'm afraid he's going to
have a fever."
"Oh, dear," said Polly, in dire distress; "whatever'd we do,
"Don't know, I'm sure," replied Mrs. Pepper, setting her stitches
firmly; "the Lord'll provide. So you run along, child, and see how
"Can't Phronsie go?" asked Polly, pausing half-way to the bedroom
"Well, yes, I suppose she might," said Mrs. Pepper, assentingly.
"No, she can't either," said Polly, coming back with her sun-bonnet
in her hand, and shutting the door carefully after her, "cause she's
fast asleep on the floor."
"Is she?" said Mrs. Pepper; "well, she's been running so this
morning, she's tired out, I s'pose."
"And her face is dreadfully red," continued Polly, tying on her
bonnet; "now, what'll I say, mammy?"
"Well, I should think 'twould be," said Mrs. Pepper, replying to the
first half of Polly's speech; "she cried so. Well, you just tell Mrs.
Henderson your ma wants to know how Mr. Flenderson is this
morning, and if 'twas a chill he had yesterday, and how he slept
last night, and"-- "Oh, ma," said Polly, "I can't ever remember all
"Oh, yes, you can," said Mrs. Pepper, encouragingly; "just put your
mind on it, Polly; 'tisn't anything to what I used to have to
remember--when I was a little girl, no bigger than you are.
Polly sighed, and feeling sure that something must be the matter
with her mind, gave her whole attention to the errand; till at last
after a multiplicity of messages and charges not to forget any one
of them, Mrs. Pepper let her depart.
Up to the old-fashioned green door, with its brass knocker, Polly
went, running over in her mind just which of the messages she
ought to give first. She couldn't for her life think whether "if 'twas
a chill he had yesterday?" ought to come before "how he slept?"
She knocked timidly, hoping Mrs. Henderson would help her out
of her difficulty by telling her without the asking. All other front
doors in Badgertown were ornaments, only opened on grand
occasions, like a wedding or a funeral. But the minister's was
accessible alike to all. So Polly let fall the knocker, and awaited
A scuffling noise sounded along the passage; and then Polly's soul
sank down in dire dismay. It was the minister's sister, and not
gentle little Mrs. Henderson. She never could get on with Miss
Jerusha in the least. She made her feel as she told her mother
once--"as if I don't know what my name is." And now here she
was; and all those messages.
Miss Jerusha unbolted the door, slid back the great bar, opened the
upper half, and stood there. She was a big woman, with sharp
black eyes, and spectacles--over which she looked--which to Polly
was much worse, for that gave her four eyes.
"Well, and what do you want?" she asked.
"I came to see--I mean my ma sent me," stammered poor Polly.
"And who is your ma?" demanded Miss Jerusha, as much like a
policeman as anything; "and where do you live?"
"I live in Primrose Lane," replied Polly, wishing very much that
she was back there.
"I don't want to know where you live, before I know who you are,"
said Miss Jerusha; "you should answer the question I asked first;
always remember that."
"My ma's Mrs. Pepper," said Polly.
"Mrs. who?" repeated Miss Jerusha.
By this time Polly was so worn that she came very near turning and
fleeing, but she thought of her mother's disappointment in her, and
the loss of the news, and stood quite still.
"What is it, Jerusha?" a gentle voice here broke upon Polly's ear.
"I don't know," responded Miss Jerusha, tartly, still holding the
door much as if Polly were a robber; "it's a little girl, and I can't
make out what she wants."
"Why, it's Polly Pepper!" exclaimed Mrs. Henderson, pleasantly.
"Come in, child." She opened the other half of the big door, and
led the way through the wide hail into a big, old-fashioned room,
with painted floor, and high, old side-board, and some stiff-backed
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
"Oh!" said Polly, and then she stopped, and the color flushed up
into her face.
"What is it, my dear?" and the minister took her hand kindly, and
looked down into her flushed face.
"You are not going to have a fever, and be sick and die!" she cried.
"I hope not, my little girl," he smiled back, encouragingly; and
then Polly gave her messages, which now she managed easily
"There," broke in Miss Jerusha, "a cat can't sneeze in this town but
everybody'll know it in quarter of an hour."
And then Mrs. Henderson took Polly out to see a brood of new
little chicks, that had just popped their heads out into the world;
and to Polly, down on her knees, admiring, the time passed very
"Now I must go, ma'am," she said at last, looking up into the lady's
face, regretfully, "for mammy didn't say I was to stay."
"Very well, dear; do you think you could carry a little pat of
butter? I have some very nice my sister sent me, and I want your
mother to share it."
"Oh, thank you, ma'am!" cried Polly, thinking, "how glad Davie'll
be, for he does so love butter! only"-- "Wait a bit, then," said Mrs.
Henderson, who didn't seem
to notice the objection. So she went into the house, and Polly went
down again in admiration before the fascinating little puff-balls.
But she was soon on the way, with a little pat of butter in a blue
bowl, tied over with a clean cloth; happy in her gift for mammy,
and in the knowledge of the minister being all well.
"I wonder if Phronsie's awake," she thought to herself, turning in at
the little brown gate; "if she is, she shall have a piece of bread with
lots of butter."
"Hush!" said Mrs. Pepper, from the rocking-chair in the middle of
the floor. She had something in her arms. Polly stopped suddenly,
almost letting the bowl fall.
"It's Phronsie," said the mother, "and I don't know what the matter
is with her; you'll have to go for the doctor, Polly, and just as fast
as you can."
Polly still stood, holding the bowl, and staring with all her might.
"Don't wake her," said Mrs. Pepper.
Poor Polly couldn't have stirred to save her life, for a minute; then
she said--"Where shall I go?"
"Oh, run to Dr. Fisher's; and don't be gone long."
Polly set down the bowl of butter, and sped on the wings of the
wind for the doctor. Something dreadful was the matter, she felt,
for never had a physician been summoned to the hearty Pepper
family since she could remember, only when the father died. Fear
lent speed to her feet; and soon the doctor came, and bent over
poor little Phronsie, who still lay in her mother's arms, in a burning
"It's measles," he pronounced, "that's all; no cause for alarm; you
ever had it?" he asked, turning suddenly around on Polly, who was
watching with wide-open eyes for the verdict.
"No, sir," answered Polly, not knowing in the least what "measles"
"What shall we do!" said Mrs. Pepper; "there haven't any of them
The doctor was over by the little old table under the window,
mixing up some black-looking stuff in a tumbler, and he didn't
"There," he said, putting a spoonful into Phronsie's mouth, "she'll
get along well enough; only keep her out of the cold." Then he
pulled out a big silver watch. He was a little thin man, and the
watch was immense. Polly for her life couldn't keep her eyes off
from it; if Ben could only have one so fine!
"Polly," whispered Mrs. Pepper, "run and get my purse; it's in the
top bureau drawer."
"Yes'm," said Polly, taking her eyes off, by a violent wrench, from
the fascinating watch; and she ran quickly and got the little old
stocking-leg, where the hard earnings that staid long enough to be
put anywhere, always found refuge. She put it into her mother's
lap, and watched while Mrs. Pepper counted out slowly one dollar
in small pieces.
"Here sir," said Mrs. Pepper, holding them out towards the doctor;
"and thank you for coming."
"Hey!" said the little man, spinning round; "that dollar's the
Mrs. Pepper looked bewildered, and still sat holding it out. "And
the Lord has given it to you to take care of these children with; see
that you do it." And without another word he was gone.
"Wasn't he good, mammy?" asked Polly, after the first surprise was
"I'm sure he was," said Mrs. Pepper. "Well, tie it up again, Polly,
tie it up tight; we shall want it, I'm sure," sighing at her little sick
"Mayn't I take Phronsie, ma?" asked Polly.
"No, no," said Phronsie. She had got mammy, and she meant to
improve the privilege.
"What is 'measles' anyway, mammy?" asked Polly, sitting down on
the floor at their feet.
"Oh, 'tis something children always have," replied Mrs. Pepper;
"but I'm sure I hoped it wouldn't come just yet."
"I sha'n't have it," said Polly, decisively; "I know I sha'n't! nor
Ben--nor Joe--nor--nor Davie--I guess," she added, hesitatingly,
for Davie was the delicate one of the family; at least not nearly so
strong as the others.
Mrs. Pepper looked at her anxiously; but Polly seemed as bright
and healthy as ever, as she jumped up and ran to put the kettle on
"What'll the boys say, I wonder!" she thought to herself, feeling
quite important that they really had sickness in the house. As long
as Phronsie wasn't dangerous, it seemed quite like rich folks; and
she forgot the toil, and the grind of poverty. She looked out from
time to time as she passed the window, but no boys came.
"I'll put her in bed, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, in a whisper, as
Phronsie closed her eyes and breathed regularly.
"And then will you have your dinner, ma?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper, "I don't care--if the boys come."
"The boys'll never come," said Polly, impatiently; "I don't
believe--why! here they are now!"
"Oh, dear," said Joel, coming in crossly, "I'm so hungry--oh--
butter! where'd you get it? I thought we never should get here!"
"I thought so too," said Polly. "Hush! why, where's Ben?"
"He's just back," began Joel, commencing to eat, "and Davie;
something is the matter with Ben--he says he feels funny."
"Something the matter with Ben!" repeated Polly. She dropped the
cup she held, which broke in a dozen pieces.
"Oh, whocky!" cried Joel; "see what you've done, Polly Pepper!"
But Polly didn't hear; over the big, flat door-stone she sped, and
met Ben with little David, coming in the gate. His face was just
like Phronsie's! And with a cold, heavy feeling at her heart, Polly
realized that this was no play.
"Oh, Ben!" she cried, ffinging her arms around his neck, and
bursting into tears; "don't! please--I wish you wouldn't; Phronsie's
got 'em, and that's enough!"
"Got what?" asked Ben, while Davie's eyes grew to their widest
"Oh, measles!" cried Polly, bursting out afresh; "the hate-fullest,
horridest measles! and now you're taken!"
"Oh no, I'm not," responded Ben, cheerfully, who knew what
measles were; "wipe up, Polly; I'm all right; only my head aches,
and my eyes feel funny."
But Polly, only half-reassured, controlled her sobs; and the
sorrowful trio repaired to mother.
"Oh, dear!" ejaculated Mrs. Pepper, sinking in a chair in dismay, at
sight of Ben's red face; "whatever'll we do now!"
The prop and stay of her life would be taken away if Ben should be
laid aside. No more stray half or quarter dollars would come to
help her out when she didn't know where to turn.
Polly cleared off the deserted table--for once Joel had all the bread
and butter he wanted. Ben took some of Phronsie's medicine, and
crawled up into the loft, to bed; and quiet settled down on the little
"Polly," whispered Ben, as she tucked him in, "it'll be hard
buckling-to now, for you, but I guess you'll do it."
"Oh, dear," said Polly to herself, the next morning, trying to get a
breakfast for the sick ones out of the inevitable mush; "everything's
just as bad as it can be! they can't ever eat this; I wish I had an
ocean of toast!"
"Toast some of the bread in the pail, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper.
She looked worn and worried; she had been up nearly all night,
back and forth from Ben's bed in the loft to restless, fretful little
Phronsie in the big four-poster in the bedroom; for Phronsie
wouldn't get into the crib. Polly had tried her best to help her, and
had rubbed her eyes diligently to keep awake, but she was wholly
unaccustomed to it, and her healthy, tired little body succumbed--
and then when she awoke, shame and remorse filled her very heart.
"That isn't nice, ma," she said, glancing at the poor old pail, which
she had brought out of the "Provision Room." "Old brown bread! I
want to fix 'em something nice."
"Well, you can't, you know," said Mrs. Pepper, with a sigh; "but
you've got butter now; that'll be splendid!"
"I know it," said Polly, running to the corner cupboard where the
precious morsel in the blue bowl remained; "whatever ~hou1d we
do without it, mummy?"
"Do without it!" said Mrs. Pepper; "same's we have done."
"Well, 'twas splendid in Mrs. Henderson to give it to us, anyway,"
said Polly, longing for just one taste; "seems as if 'twas a year since
I was there--oh, ma!" and here Polly took up the thread that had
been so rudely snapped; "don't you think, she's got ten of the
prettiest--yes, the sweetest little chickens you ever saw! Why can't
we have some, mammy?"
"Costs money," replied Mrs. Pepper. "We've got too many in the
house to have any outside."
"Oh, dear," said Polly, with a red face that was toasting about as
much as the bread she was holding on the point of an old fork; "we
never have had anything. There," she added at last; "that's the best
I can do; now I'll put the butter on this little blue plate; ain't that
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper, approvingly; "it takes you, Polly." So
Polly trotted first to Ben, up the crooked, low stairs to the loft; and
while she regaled him with the brown toast and butter, she kept her
tongue flying on the subject of the little chicks, and all that she
saw on the famous Henderson visit. Poor Ben pretended hard to
eat, but ate nothing really; and Polly saw it all, and it cut her to the
heart--so she talked faster than ever.
"Now," she said, starting to go back to Phronsie; "Ben Pepper, just
as soon as you get well, we'll have some chickens--so there!"
"Guess we sha'n't get 'em very soon," said Ben, despondently, "if
I've got to lie here; and, besides, Polly, you know every bit we can
save has got to go for the new stove."
"Oh, dear," said Polly, "I forgot that; so it has; seems to me
everything's giving out!"
"You can't bake any longer in the old thing," said Ben, turning over
and looking at her; "poor girl, I don't see how you've stood it so
"And we've been stuffing it," cried Polly merrily, "till 'twon't stuff
"No," said Ben, turning back again, "that's all worn out."
"Well, you must go to sleep," said Polly, "or mammy'll be up here;
and Phronsie hasn't had her breakfast either."
Phronsie was wailing away dismally, sitting up in the middle of the
old bed. Her face pricked, she said, and she was rubbing it
vigorously with both fat little hands, and then crying worse than
"Oh me! oh my!" cried Polly; "how you look, Phronsie!"
"I want my mammy!" cried poor Phronsie.
"Mammy can't come now, Phronsie dear; she's sewing. See what
Polly's got for you--butter: isn't that splendid!"
Phronsie stopped for just one moment, and took a mouthful; but
the toast was hard and dry, and she cried harder than before.
"Now," said Polly, curling up on the bed beside her, "if you'll stop
crying, Phronsie Pepper, I'll tell you about the cunningest, yes, the
very cunningest little chickens you ever saw. One was white, and
he looked just like this," said Polly, tumbling over on the bed in a
heap; "he couldn't stand up straight, he was so fat."
"Did he biteP" asked Phronsie, full of interest.
"No, he didn't bite me," said Polly; "but his mother put a bug in his
mouth--just as I'm doing you know," and she broke off a small
piece of the toast, put on a generous bit of butter, and held it over
"Did he swallow it?" asked the child, obediently opening her little
"Oh, snapped it," answered Polly, "quick as ever he could, I tell
you; but 'twasn't good like this, Phronsie."
"Did he have two bugs?" asked Phronsie, eying suspiciously the
second morsel of dry toast that Polly was conveying to her mouth.
"Well, he would have had," replied Polly, "if there'd been bugs
enough; but there were nine other chicks, Phronsie."
"Poor chickies," said Phronsie, and looked lovingly at the rest of
the toast and butter on the plate; and while Polly fed it to her,
listened with absorbed interest to all the particulars concerning
each and every chick in the Henderson hen-coop.
"Mother," said Polly, towards evening, "I'm going to sit up with
Ben to-night; say I may, do, mother."
"Oh no, you can't," replied Mrs. Pepper; "you'll get worn out; and
then what shall I do? Joel can hand him his medicine."
"Oh, Joe would tumble to sleep, mammy," said Polly, "the first
"Perhaps Phronsie'll let me go to-night," said Mrs. Pepper,
"Oh, no she won't, I know," replied Polly, decisively; "she wants
you all the time."
"I will, Polly," said Davie, coming in with an annful of wood, in
time to hear the conversation. "I'll give him his medicine, mayn't I,
mammy?" and David let down his load, and came over where his
mother and Polly sat sewing, to urge his rights.
"I don't know," said his mother, smiling on him. "Can you, do you
"Yes, ma'am!" said Davie, straightening himself up.
When they told Ben, he said he knew a better way than for Davie
to watch; he'd have a string tied to Davie's arm, and the end he'd
hold in bed, and when 'twas time for medicine, he'd pull the string,
and that would wake Davie up!
Polly didn't sleep much more on her shake-down on the floor than
if she had watched with Ben; for Phronsie cried and moaned, and
wanted a drink of water every two minutes, it seemed to her. As
she went back into her nest after one of these travels, Polly
thought: "Well, I don't care, if nobody else gets sick; if Ben'll only
get well. To-morrow I'm goin' to do mammy's sack she's begun for
Mr. Jackson; it's all plain sew-in', just like a bag; and I can do it, I
know----" and so she fell into a troubled sleep, only to be
awakened by Phronsie's fretful little voice: "I want a drink of
water, Polly, I do."
"Don't she drink awfully, mammy?" asked Polly, after one of these
excursions out to the kitchen after the necessary draught.
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper; "and she mustn't have any more; 'twill
hurt her." But Phronsie fell into a delicious sleep after that, and
didn't want any more, luckily.
"Here, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper, the next morning, "take this coat up
to Mr. Peterses; and be sure you get the money for it."
"How'll I get it?" asked Joe, who didn't relish the long, hot walk.
"Why, tell 'em we're sick--Ben's sick," added Mrs. Pepper, as the
most decisive thing; "and we must have it; and then wait for it."
"Tisn't pleasant up at the Peterses," grumbled Joel, taking the
parcel and moving slowly off.
"No, no, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, "you needn't do that," seeing
Polly take up some sewing after doing up the room and finishing
the semi-weekly bake; "you're all beat out with that tussle over the
stove; that sack'll have to go till next week."
"It can't, mammy," said Polly, snipping off a basting thread; "we've
got to have the money; how much'll he give you for it?"
"Thirty cents," replied Mrs. Pepper.
"Well," said Poily, "we've got to get all the thirty centses we can,
mammy dear; and I know I can do it, truly--try me once," she
"Well." Mrs. Pepper relented, slowly.
"Don't feel bad, mammy dear," comforted Polly, sewing away
briskly; "Ben'll get well pretty soon, and then we'll be all right."
"Maybe," said Mrs. Pepper; and went back to Phronsie, who could
scarcely let her out of her sight.
Polly stitched away bravely. "Now if I do this good, mammy'll let
me do it other times," she said to herself.
Davie, too, worked patiently out of doors, trying to do Ben's
chores. The little fellow blundered over things that Ben would
have accomplished in half the time, and he had to sit down often
on the steps of the little old shed where the tools were kept, to
wipe his hot face and rest.
"Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, "hadn't you better stop a little? Dear me!
how fast you sew, child!"
Polly gave a delighted little hum at her mother's evident approval.
"I'm going to do 'em all next week, mammy," she said; "then Mr.
Atkins won't take 'em away from us, I guess."
Mr. Atkins kept the store, and gave out coats and sacks of coarse
linen and homespun to Mrs. Pepper to make; and it was the fear of
losing the work that had made the mother's heart sink.
"I don't believe anybody's got such children as I have," she said;
and she gave Polly a motherly little pat that the little daughter felt
clear to the tips of her toes with a thrill of delight.
About half-past two, long after dinner, Joe came walking in,
hungry as a beaver, but flushed and triumphant.
"Why, where have you been all this time?" asked his mother.
"Oh, Joe, you didn't stop to play?" asked Polly, from her perch
where she sat sewing, giving him a reproachful glance.
"Stop to play!" retorted Joe, indignantly; "no, I guess I didn't! I've
been to Old Peterses."
"Not all this time!" exclaimed Mrs. Pepper.
"Yes, I have too," replied Joel, sturdily marching up to her. "And
there's your money, mother;" and he counted out a quarter of a
dollar in silver pieces and pennies, which he took from a dingy
wad of paper, stowed away in the depths of his pocket.
"Oh, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper, sinking back in her chair and looking
at him; "what do you mean?"
Polly put her work in her lap, and waited to hear.
"Where's my dinner, Polly?" asked Joel; "I hope it's a big one.
"Yes, 'tis," said Polly; "you've got lots to-day, it's in the corner of
the cupboard, covered up with the plate--so tell on, Joe."
"That's elegant!" said Joel, coming back with the well-filled plate,
Ben's and his own share.
"Do tell us, Joey," implored Polly; "mother's waiting."
"Well," said Joel, his mouth half full, "I waited--and he said the
coat was all right;--and---and--Mrs. Peters said 'twas all right;--and
Mirandy Peters said 'twas all right; but they didn't any of 'em say
anythin' about payin', so I didn't think 'twas all right--and--and--
can't I have some more butter, Polly?"
"No," said Polly, sorry to refuse him, he'd been so good about the
money; "the butter's got to be saved for Ben and Phronsie."
"Oh," said Joe, "I wish Miss Henderson would send us some more,
I do! I think she might!"
"For shame, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper; "she was very good to send
this, I think; now what else did you say?" she asked.
"Well," said Joel, taking another mouthful of bread, "so I waited;
you told me to, mother, you know--and they all went to work; and
they didn't mind me at all, and--there wasn't anything to look at, so
I sat--and sat--Polly, can't I have some gingerbread?"
"No," said Polly, "it's all gone; I gave the last piece to Phronsie the
day she was taken sick."
"Oh, dear," said Joel, "everything's gone."
"Well, do go on, Joe, do."
"And--then they had dinner; and Mr. Peters said, 'Hasn't that boy
gone home yet?' and Mrs. Peters said, 'no'--and he called me in,
and asked me why I didn't run along home; and I said, Phronsie
was sick, and Ben had the squeezles----"
"The what?" said Polly.
"The squeezles," repeated Joel, irritably; "that's what you said."
"It's measles, Joey," corrected Mrs. Pepper; "never mind, I
wouldn't feel bad."
"Well, they all laughed, and laughed, and then I said you told me
to wait till I diii get the money."
"Oh, Joe," began Mrs. Pepper, "you shouldn't have told 'em
so--what did he say?"
"Well, he laughed, and said I was a smart boy, and he'd see; and
Mirandy said, 'do pay him, pa, he must be tired to death'--and don't
you think, he went to a big desk in the corner, and took out a box,
and 'twas full most of money-- lots! oh! and he gave me
mine--and--that's all; and I'm tired to death." And Joel flung
himself down on the floor, expanded his legs as only Joel could,
and took a comfortable roll.
"So you must be," said Polly, pityingly, "waiting at those Peterses."
"Don't ever want to see any more Feterses," said Joel; never, never,
"Oh, dear," thought Polly, as she sewed on into the afternoon, "I
wonder what does all my eyes! feels just like sand in 'em;" and she
rubbed and rubbed to thread her needle. But she was afraid her
mother would see, so she kept at her sewing. Once in awhile the
bad feeling would go away, and then she would forget all about it.
"There now, who says I can't do it! that's most done," she cried,
jumping up, and spinning across the room, to stretch herself a bit,
"and to-morrow I'll finish it."
"Well," said Mrs. Pepper, "if you can do that, Polly, you'll be the
greatest help I've had yet."
So Polly tucked herself into the old shake-down with a thankful
heart that night, hoping for morning.
Alas! when morning did come, Polly could hardly move. The
measles! what should she do! A faint hope of driving them off
made her tumble out of bed, and stagger across the room to look in
the old cracked looking-glass. All hope was gone as the red
reflection met her gaze. Polly was on the sick list now!
"I won't be sick," she said; "at any rate, I'll keep around." An awful
feeling made her clutch the back of a chair, but she managed
somehow to get into her clothes, and go groping blindly into the
kitchen. Somehow, Polly couldn't see very well. She tried to set the
table, but 'twas no use. "Oh, dear," she thought, "whatever'll
"Hulloa!" said Joel, coming in, "what's the matter, Polly?" Polly
started at his sudden entrance, and, wavering a minute, fell over in
"Oh ma! ma!" screamed Joel, running to the foot of the stairs
leading to the loft, where Mrs. Pepper was with Ben; "something's
taken Polly! and she fell; and I guess she's in the wood-box!"
HARD DAYS FOR POLLY
"Ma," said David, coming softly into the bedroom, where poor
Polly lay on the bed with Phronsie, her eyes bandaged with a soft
old handkerchief, "I'll set the table."
"There isn't any table to set," said Mrs. Pepper, sadly; "there isn't
anybody to eat anything, Davie; you and Joel can get something
out of the cupboard."
"Can we get whatever we've a mind to, ma?" cried Joel, who
followed Davie, rubbing his face with a towel after his morning
"Yes," replied his mother, absently.
"Come on, Dave!" cried Joel; "we'll have a breakfast!"
"We mustn't," said little Davie, doubtfully, "eat the whole, Joey."
But that individual already had his head in the cupboard, which
soon engrossed them both.
Dr. Fisher was called in the middle of the morning to see what was
the matter with Polly's eyes. The little man looked at her keenly
over his spectacles; then he said, "When were you taken?"
"This morning," answered Polly, her eyes smarting.
"Didn't you feel badly before?" questioned the doctor. Polly
thought back; and then she remembered that she had felt very
badly; that when she was baking over the old stove the day before
her back had ached dreadfully; and that, somehow, when she sat
down to sew, it didn't stop; only her eyes had bothered her so; she
didn't mind her back so much.
"I thought so," said the doctor, when Polly answered. "And those
eyes of yours have been used too much; what has she been doing,
ma'am?" He turned around sharply on Mrs. Pepper as he asked
"Sewing," said Mrs. Pepper, "and everything; Polly does
"Humphl" said the doctor; "well, she won't again in one spell; her
eyes are very bad."
At this a whoop, small but terrible to hear, came from the middle
of the bed; and Phronsie sat bolt upright. Everybody started; while
Phronsie broke out, "Don't make my Polly sick! oh! please don't!"
"Hey!" said the doctor; and he looked kindly at the small object
with a very red face in the middle of the bed. Then he added,
gently, "We're going to make Polly well, little girl; so that she can
"Will you, really?" asked the child, doubtfully.
"Yes," said the doctor; "we'll try hard; and you mustn't cry; 'cause
then Polly'll cry, and that will make her eyes very bad; very bad
indeed," he repeated, impressively.
"I won't cry," said Phronsie; "no, not one bit." And she wiped off
the last tear with her fat little hand, and watched to see what next
was to be done.
And Polly was left, very rebellious indeed, in the big bed, with a
cooling lotion on the poor eyes, that somehow didn't cool them one
"If 'twas anythin' but my eyes, mammy, I could stand it," she
bewailed, flouncing over and over in her impatience; "and who'll
do all the work now?"
"Don't think of the work, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper.
"I can't do anything but think," said poor Polly.
Just at that moment a queer noise out in the kitchen was heard.
"Do go out, mother, and see what 'tis," said Polly.
"I've come," said a cracked voice, close up by the bedroom door,
followed by a big black cap, which could belong to no other than
Grandma Bascom, "to set by you a spell; what's the matter?" she
asked, and stopped, amazed to see Polly in bed.
"Oh, Polly's taken," screamed Mrs. Pepper in her ear.