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Five Little Peppers And How They Grew by Margaret Sidney

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it's all right," laughed Mrs. Pepper, "but I don't see how you can do

"Well, we can, mother, truly," put in Ben. "I'll tell you how, and
you'll say it'll be splendid. You see Deacon Blodgett's goin' 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'll
please Jasper so--do, mammy!"

"And it's real dull there, Jasper says," put in Polly, persuasively;
"and just think, mammy, no brothers and sisters!" 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.

"Well, go on, children," she said; "you may do it; I don't see but
what you can get 'em there well enough; but I'm sure I don't know
what you can make."

"Can't we," said Polly--and she knelt down by her mother's side
and put her face in between the sewing in Mrs. Pepper's lap, and
the eyes bent kindly down on her--"make some little cakes, real
cakes I mean? now don't say no, mammy!" she said, alarmed, for
she saw a "no" slowly coming in the eyes above her, as Mrs.
Pepper began to shake her head.

"But we haven't any white flour, Polly," began her mother. "I
know," said Polly; "but we'll make 'em of brown, it'll do, if you'll
give us some raisins--you know there's some in the bowl, mammy."

"I was saving them for a nest egg," said Mrs. Pepper; meaning at
some future time to indulge in another plum-pudding that the
children so loved.

"Well, do give 'em to us," cried Polly; "do, ma!"

"I want 'em for a plum-pudding sometime," said Mrs. Pepper.

"Ow!"--and Joel with a howl sprung up from the floor where he
had been trying to make a cart for "Baby" out of an old box, and
joined Mrs. Pepper and Polly. "No, don't give 'em away, ma!" he
screamed; "let's have our plum-pudding-- now, Polly Pepper,
you're a-goin' to bake up all our raisins in nasty little cakes--and"--

"Joey!" commanded Mrs. Pepper, "hush! what word did you say!"

"Well," blubbered Joel, wiping his tears away with his grimy little
hand, "Polly's --a-goin'--to give"-- "I should rather you'd never have
a plum-pudding than to say such words," said Mrs. Pepper, sternly,
taking up her work again. "And besides, do you think what Jasper
has done for you?" and her face grew very white around the lips.

"Well, he can have plum-puddings," said Joel, whimpering,
"forever an' ever, if he wants them--and--and"-- "Well, Joey," said
Polly, "there, don't feel bad," and she put her arms around him, and
tried to wipe away the tears that still rolled down his cheeks. "We
won't give 'em if you don't want us to; but Jasper's sick, and there
isn't anything for him to do, and"--here she whispered slyly up into
his ear --"don't you remember how you liked folks to send you
things when you had the measles?"

"Yes, I know," said Joel, beginning to smile through his tears;
"wasn't it fun, Polly?"

"I guess 'twas," laughed Polly back again, pleased at the return of
sunshine. "Well, Jasper'll be just as pleased as you were, 'cause we
love him and want to do somethin' for him, he was so good to

"I will, Polly, I will," cried Joel, completely won over; "do let's
make 'em for him; and put 'em in thick; oh! thick as you can;" 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.

"Now," said Phronsie, coming up to the table and standing on
tip-toe to see Polly measure out the flour, "I'm a-goin' to bake
something for my sick man, lam."

"Oh, no, Phronsie, you can't," began Polly.

"Hey?" asked Joel, with a daub of flour on the tip of his chubby
nose, gained by too much peering into Polly's flour-bag. "What did
she say, Polly?" watching her shake the clouds of flour in the sieve.

"She said she was goin' to bake something for Jasper," said Polly.
"There," as she whisked in the flour, "now that's done."

"No, I didn't say Japser," said Phronsie; "I didn't say Japser," she
repeated, emphatically.

"Why, what did you say, Fet?" asked Polly, astonished, while little
Davie repeated, "What did you say, Phronsie?"

"I said my sick man," said Phronsie, shaking her yellow head;
"poor sick man."

"Who does she mean?" said Polly in despair, stopping a moment
her violent stirring that threatened to overturn the whole

"I guess she means Frince," said Joel. "Can't I stir, Polly?"

"Oh, no," said Polly; "only one person must stir cake."

"Why?" asked Joel; "why, Polly?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Polly, "cause 'tis so; never mind now, Joel.
Do you mean Prince, Phronsie?"

"No, I don't mean Princey," said the child decisively; "I mean my
sick man."

"It's Jasper's father, I guess she means," said Mrs. Pepper over in
the corner; "but what in the world!"

"Yes, yes," cried Phronsie, perfectly delighted at being at last
understood, and hopping on one toe; "my sick man."

"I shall give up!" 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.
"What do you want to bake, Phronsie?" she gasped, holding the
spoon sticking up straight, and staring at the child.

"A gingerbread boy," said the child, promptly; "he'd like that best;
poor, sick man!" and she commenced to climb up to active


"Mamsie, what shall we do?" implored Polly of her mother.

"I don't know," said her mother; "however did that get into her
head, do you suppose?"

"I am sure I can't tell," said Polly, jumping up and beginning to stir
briskly to make up for lost time. "P'r'aps she heard us talking about
Jasper's having to take care of his sick father, and how hard it must
be to he sick away from home."

"Yes," said Phronsie, "but he'll be glad to see my gingerbread boy,
I guess; poor, sick man."

"Oh, Phronsie," cried Polly, in great distress, "you aren't ever going
to make a 'gingerbread boy' to-day! see, we'll put in a cunning little
cake for Mr. King--full of raisins, Phronsie; won't that be lovely!"
and Polly began to fill a little scalloped tin with some of the cake

"N-no," said the child, eying it suspiciously; "that isn't like a
'gingerbread boy,' Polly; he'll like that best."

"Mamsie," said Polly, "we can't let her make a dreadful, horrid
'gingerbread boy' to send Mr. King! he never'll let Jasper come
here again."

"Oh, let her," cried Joel; "she can bake it, and Dave an' I'll eat it,"
and he picked up a raisin that had fallen under the table and began
crunching it with great gusto.

"That wouldn't be fair," said Polly, gloomily. "Do get her off from
it, mammy."

"Phronsie," said Mrs. Pepper, going up back of the child, who sat
patiently in her high chair waiting for Polly to let her begin, "hadn't
you rather wait and give your 'gingerbread boy' to Jasper for his
father, when he comes?"

"Oh, no, no," cried Phronsie, twisting in her chair in great
apprehension, "I want to send it now, I do."

"Well, Polly," said her mother, laughing, "after all it's best, I think,
to let her; it can't do any harm anyway--and instead of Mr. King's
not letting Jasper come, if he's a sensible man that won't make any
difference; and if he isn't, why, then there'd be sure to something
come up sometime to make trouble."

"Well," said Polly, "I suppose she's got to; and perhaps," as a
consoling idea struck her, "perhaps she'll want to eat it up herself
when it's done. Here, Phronsie," giving her a handful of the cake
mixture, which she stiffened with flour to the right thickness,
"there, you can call that a 'gingerbread boy;' see, won't it make a
beautiful one!"

"You needn't think," said Mrs. Pepper, seeing Phronsie's delighted
face, and laughing as she went back to her work, "but what that
gingerbread boy'll go."

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's commendation that she was "growing a better cook
every day." "How glad Jasper'll be, won't he, mamsie?" 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.

"I should choose that one," 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, "there's lots of us inside, you better

"I wouldn't," said Davie, "I'd have that--that's cracked so pretty."

"So 'tis," said Mrs. Pepper; "they're all as light as a feather, Polly."

"But my 'gingerbread boy," cried Phronsie, running eagerly along
with a particularly ugly looking specimen of a cake figure in her
hand, "is the be-yew-tifullest, isn't it, Polly?"

"Oh, dear," groaned Polly, "it looks just awfully, don't it, Ben!"

"Hoh, hoh!" laughed Joel in derision; "his leg is crooked, see
Phronsie--you better let Davie an' me have it."

"No, no," screamed the child in terror; "that's my sick man's
'gingerbread boy,' it W"

"Joe, put it down," said Ben. "Yes, Phronsie, you shall have it;
there, it's all safe;" and he put it carefully into Phronsie's apron,
when she breathed easier.

"And he hasn't but one eye," still laughed Joel, while little Davie
giggled too.

"He did have two," said Polly, "but she punched the other in with
her thumb; don't, boys," she said, aside, "you'll make her feel bad;
do stop laughing. Now, how'll we send the things?"

"Put 'em in a basket," said Ben; "that's nicest."

"But we haven't got any basket," said Polly, "except the potato
basket, and they'd be lost in that."

"Can't we take your work-basket, mamsie?" asked Ben; "they'd
look so nice in that."

"Oh," said Mrs. Pepper, "that wouldn't do; I couldn't spare it, and
besides, it's all broken at the side, Ben; that don't look nice."

"Oh, dear," said Polly, sitting down on one of the hard wooden
chairs to think, "I do wish we had things nice to send to sick
people." And her forehead puckered up in a little hard knot.

"We'll have to do 'em up in a paper, Polly," said Ben; "there isn't
any other way; they'll look nice in anything, 'cause they are nice,"
he added, comfortingly.

"If we only had some flowers," said Polly, "that would set 'em off."

"You're always a-thinkin' of flowers, Polly," said Ben. "I guess the
cakes'll have to go without 'em."

"I suppose they will," said Polly, stifling a little sigh. "Where's the

"I've got a nice piece up-stairs," said Ben, "just right; I'll get it."

"Fut my 'gingerbread boy' on top," cried Phronsie, handing himup.

So Polly packed the little cakes neatly in two rows, and laid the
'gingerbread boy' in a fascinating attitude across the top.

"He looks as if he'd been struck by lightning!" said Ben, viewing
him critically as he came in the door with the paper.

"Be still," said Polly, trying not to laugh; "that's because he baked
so funny; it made his feet stick out."

"Children," said Mrs. Pepper, "how'll Jasper know where the cakes
come from?"

"Why, he'll know it's us," said Polly, "of course; 'cause it'll make
him think of the baking we're going to have when he gets well."

"Well, but you don't say so," said Mrs. Pepper, smiling; "tisn't
polite to send it this way."

"Whatever'll we do, mammy!" said all four children in dismay,
while Phronsie simply stared. "Can't we send 'em at all?"

"Why yes," said their mother; "I hope so, I'm sure, after you've got
'em baked; but you might answer Jasper's letter I should think, and
tell him about 'em, and the 'gingerbread boy'."

"Oh dear," said Polly, ready to fly, "I couldn't mamsie; I never
wrote a letter."

"Well, you never had one before, did your said her mother,
composedly biting her thread. "Never say you can't, Polly, 'cause
you don't know what you can do till you've tried."

"You write, Ben," said Polly, imploringly.

"No," said Ben, "I think the nicest way is for all to say somethin',
then 'twon't be hard for any of us."

"Where's the paper," queried Polly, "coming from, I wonder!"

"Joel," said Mrs. Pepper, "run to the bureau in the bedroom, and
open the top drawer, and get a green box there."

So Joel, quite important at the errand, departed, and presently put
the designated box into his mother's hand.

"There, now I'm going to give you this," 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.

"Now Ben, you get the ink bottle and the pen, and then go to

So Ben reached down from the upper shelf in the cupboard the ink
bottle, and a pen in a black wooden penholder.

"Oh, mamsie," cried Polly, "that's where Phronsie bit it off when
she was a baby, isn't it?" holding up the stubby end where the little
ball had disappeared.

"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper, "and now you're going to write about her
'gingerbread boy' with it--well, time goes, to be sure." 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. "I know I ought to be thankful for that,"
she said to herself, not taking time even to cry over her troubles.
"But oh, the learning! they must have that!"

"Now," said Polly, "how'll we do it Ben?" as they ranged
themselves around the table, on which reposed the cakes; "you

"How do folks begin a letter?" asked Ben in despair, of his mother.

"How did Jasper begin his?" asked Mrs. Pepper back again. "Oh,"
cried Polly, running into the bedroom to get the precious missive.
"Dear Miss Polly'--that's what it says."

"Well," said Mrs. Pepper, "then you'd better say, 'Dear Mister
Jasper'--or you might say, 'Dear Mr. King.'"

"Oh, dear!" cried Polly, "that would be the father then-- s'pose he
should think we wrote to him!" and Polly looked horror-stricken to
the last degree.

"There, there 'tis," said Ben: 'Dear Mister Jasper'--now what'll we

"Why, say about the cakes," replied Polly.

"And the 'gingerbread boy," cried Phronsie. "Oh, tell about him,
Polly, do."

"Yes, yes, Phronsie," said Polly, "we 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."

"All right!" 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.

"There, that's done," he cried at length in great satisfaction,
holding it up for inspection.

"Oh, I do wish," cried Polly in intense admiration, "I could write so
nice and so fast as you can, Ben."

"Read it, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, in pride.

So Polly began: "Dear Mister Jasper we were all dreadfully sorry
that you didn't come and so we baked you some cakes.'--You didn't
say anything about his being sick, Ben."

"I forgot it," said Ben, "but I put it in farther down--you'll see if
you read on."

"Baked you some cakes--that is, Polly did, for this is Ben that's

"You needn't said that, Ben," said Polly, dissatisfied; "we all baked
'em, I'm sure. 'And just as soon as you get well we do want you to
come over and have the baking. We're real sorry you're
sick--boneset's good for colds."

"Oh, Ben!" said Mrs. Pepper, "I guess his father knows what to
give him."

"And oh! the bitter stuff!" cried Polly, with a wry face. "Well, it's
hard work to write," said Ben, yawning. "I'd rather chop wood."

"I wish I knew how," exclaimed Joel, longingly.

"Just you try every day; Ben'll teach you, Joe," said his mother,
eagerly, "and then I'll let you write."

"I will!" cried Joe; "then, Dave, you'll see how I'll write-- I tell

"And I'm goin' to--ma, can't I?" said Davie, unwilling to be

"Yes, you may, be sure," said Mrs. Pepper, delighted; "that'll make
a man of you fast."

"Oh, boys," said Polly, lifting a very red face, "you joggle the table
so I can't do anything."

"I wasn't jogglin'," said Joel; "the old thing tipped. Look!" he
whispered to Davie, "see Pofly, she's writing crooked."

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.

"Let us see," said Ben, taking it up.

"It's after, 'boneset's good for colds,'" said Polly, puckering up her
face again at the thought.

"We most of us knew you were sick--I'm Polly now--because you
didn't come; and we liked your letter telling us so, -- "Oh, Polly!
we weren't glad to hear he was sick!" cried Ben, in horror.

"I didn't say so!" cried Polly, starting up. "Why, Ben Pepper, I
never said so!" and she looked ready to cry.

"It sounds something like it, don't it, mainmy?" said Ben, unwilling
to give her pain, but appealing to Mrs. Pepper.

"You needn't said that, Ben," said Polly, dissatisfied; "we all baked
'em, I'm sure. 'And just as soon as you get well we do want you to
come over and have the baking. We're real sorry you're
sick--boneset's good for colds."

"Oh, Ben!" said Mrs. Pepper, "I guess his father knows what to
give him."

"And oh! the bitter stuff!" cried Polly, with a wry face. "Well, it's
hard work to write," said Ben, yawning. "I'd rather chop wood."

"I wish! knew how," exclaimed Joel, longingly.

"Just you try every day; Ben'll teach you, Joe," said his mother,
eagerly, "and then I'll let you write."

"I will!" cried Joe; "then, Dave, you'll see how I'll write-- I

"And I'm goin' to--ma, can't I?" said Davie, unwilling to be

"Yes, you may, be sure," said Mrs. Pepper, delighted; "that'll make
a man of you fast."

"Oh, boys," said Polly, lifting a very red face, "you joggle the table
so I can't do anything."

"I wasn't jogglin'," said Joel; "the old thing tipped. Look!" he
whispered to Davie, "see Polly, she's writing crooked."

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.

"Let us see," said Ben, taking it up.

"It's after, 'boneset's good for colds,'" said Polly, puckering up her
face again at the thought.

"We most of us knew you were sick--I'm Polly now--because you
didn't come; and we liked your letter telling us so, -- "Oh, Polly!
we weren't glad to hear he was sick!" cried Ben, in horror.

"I didn't say so!" cried Polly, starting up. "Why, Ben Pepper, I
never said so!" and she looked ready to cry.

"It sounds something like it, don't it, manimy?" said Ben, unwilling
to give her pain, but appealing to Mrs. Pepper.

"Polly didn't mean it," said her mother consolingly; "but if I were
you, I'd say something to explain it."

"I can't put anything in now," said poor Polly; "there isn't any room
nor any more paper either--what shall I do! I told you, Ben, I
couldn't write." And Polly looked helplessly from one to the other
for comfort.

"Yes, you can," said Ben; "there, now I'll show you: write it fine,
Polly--you write so big--little bits of letters, like these."

So Polly took the pen again with a sigh. "Now he won't think so, I
guess," she said, much relieved, as Ben began to read again.

"I'll begin yours again," Ben said: "We most of us knew you were
sick because you didn't come, and we liked your letter telling us so
because we'd all felt so badly, and Phronsie cried herself to sleep'--
(that's good, I'm sure.) 'The "gingerbread boy" is for your
father--please excuse it, but Phronsie would make it for him
because he is sick. There isn't any more to write, and besides I
can't write good, and Ben's tired. From all of us.'"

"Why, how's he to know?" cried Ben. "That won't do to sign it."

"Well, let's say from Ben and Polly then," said Polly; "only all the
others want to be in the letter."

"Well, they can't write," said Ben.

"We might sign their names for 'em," suggested Polly.

"Here's mine," said Ben, putting under the "From all of us" a big,
bold "Ben."

"And here's mine," echoed Polly, setting a slightly crooked "Polly"
by its side.

"Now Joe, you better let Ben hold your hand," 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 "J" so that no one could tell what it was. The
children looked at each other in despair.

"Can we ever get it out, mammy?" said Polly, running to Mrs.
Pepper with it.

"I don't know," said her mother. "How could you try it, Joe?"

"I didn't mean to," said Joel, looking very downcast and ashamed.
"The ugly old pen did it!"

"Well," said Polly, "it's got to go; we can't help it." 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

"Now, Dave." Ben held his hand, and "David" went down next to

But when it was Phronsie's turn, she protested that Polly, and no
one else, must hold her hand.

"It's a dreadful hard name to write--Phronsie is," said Polly, as she
guided Phronsie's fat little hand that clung faithfully to the stubby
old pen. "There, it's over now," she cried; "and I'm thankful! I
wouldn't write another for anything!"

"Read it all over now, Ben," cried Mrs. Pepper, "and don't speak,
children, till he gets through."

"Don't it sound elegant!" said Polly, clasping her hands, when he
had finished. "I didn't think we ever could do it so nice, did you,

"No, indeed, I didn't," replied Ben, in a highly ecstatic frame of
mind. "Now--oh! what'll we do for an envelope?" he asked in

"You'll have to do without that," said Mrs. Pepper, "for there isn't
any in the house--but see here, children," she added, as she saw the
sorry faces before her--"you just fold up the letter, and put it inside
the parcel; that'll be just as good."

"Oh dear," said Polly; "but it would have been splendid the other
way, mammy--just like other folks!"

"You must make believe this is like other folks," said Mrs. Pepper,
cheerily, "when you can't do any other way."

"Yes," said Ben, "that's so, Polly; tie 'em up quick's you can, and
I'll take 'em over to Deacon Blodgett's, for he's goin' to start early
in the morning."

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.

"He never'll untie it, Polly," said Ben; "that's just like a girl's

"Why didn't you tie it then?" said Polly; "I'm sure it's as good as a
boy's knots, and they always muss up a parcel so." 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, "here goes for the direction.

"Deary, yes!" said Polly. "I forgot all about that; I thought 'twas

"How'd you s'pose he'd get it?" asked Ben, coolly beginning the

"I don't know," replied Polly, looking over his shoulder; "s'pose
anybody else had eaten 'em up, Ben!" And she turned pale at the
very thought.

"There," said Ben, at last, after a good many flourishes, "now 'ti.s
done! you can't think of another thing to do to it, Polly!"

"Mamsie, see!" cried Polly, running with it to Mrs. Pepper, "isn't
that fine! 'Mr. Jasper E. King, at the Hotel Hingham."

"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper, admiringly, to the content of all the
children, "I should think it was!"

"Let me take it in my hand," screamed Joel, reaching eagerly up
for the tempting brown parcel.

"Be careful then, Joe," 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's.

The next day Ben came running in from his work at the deacon's.

"Oh, Polly, you had 'em!" he screamed, all out of breath. "You had

"Had what?" asked Polly in astonishment. "Oh, Bensie, what do
you mean?"

"Your flowers," he panted. "You sent some flowers to Jasper."

"Flowers to Jasper!" repeated Polly, afraid Ben had gone out of his

"Yes," said Ben; "I'll 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' up the woodshed, as she told me, all of a sudden
she said, as she stood in the door looking on, 'Oh, Ben, Mis'
Blodgett took some posies along with your parcel.' 'What?' said I; I
didn't know as I'd heard straight. 'Posies, I said,' says Betsey;
'beautiful 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't have
some flowers, and she knew the Pepper children were crazy about
'em, so she twisted 'em in the string around the parcel, and there
they stood up and looked fine, I tell you, as they drove away.' So,

"Bensie Pepper!" cried Polly, taking hold of his jacket, and
spinning him round, "I told you so! I told you so!"

"I know you did," said Ben, as she gave him a parting whirl, "an' I
wish you'd say so about other things, Polly, if you can get 'em so


"Oh Ben," cried Jasper, overtaking him by a smart run as he was
turning in at the little brown gate one morning three days after, "do

"Halloa!" 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.

"Yes, here I am," said Jasper. "And how I've run; that fellow on the
stage was awful slow in getting here--oh, you're so good," he said
and his eyes, brimful of gladness, beamed on Ben. "The cakes
were just prime, and 'twas great fun to get your letter."

"Did you like it?" asked Ben, the color up all over his brown face--
"Like it!" cried Jasper. "Why 'twas just splendid; and the cakes
were royal! Isn't Polly smart though, to bake like that!" he added

"I guess she is," said Ben, drawing himself up to his very tallest
dimensions. "She knows how to do everything, Jasper King!"

"I should think she did," responded the boy quickly. "I wish she
was my sister," he finished longingly.

"Well, I don't," quickly replied Ben, "for then she wouldn't be
mine; and I couldn't think of being without Polly! Was your father
angry about--about--'the gingerbread boy'?" he asked timidly,
trembling for an answer.

"Oh dear," cried Jasper, tumbling over on the grass, "don't, don't! I
shan't be good for anything if you make me laugh! oh! wasn't it
funny;" and he rolled over and over, shaking with glee.

"Yes," said Ben, immensely relieved to find that no offence had
been taken. "But 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'd let you come again"-- "Twas just lovely in
Phronsie," said the boy, sitting up

and wiping his eyes, "but oh it was so funny! you ought to have
seen my father, Ben Pepper."

"Oh, then he was angry," cried Ben.

"No indeed he wasn't!" said Jasper; "don't you think it! do you
know it dod him lots of good, for he'd been feeling real badly that
morning, he hadn't eaten any breakfast, and when he saw that
gingerbread boy"--here Jasper rolled over again with a peal of
laughter--"and 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's coming to see the little
girl that baked it for him before we go home."

Ben nearly tumbled over by the side of Jasper at these words--
"Coming to see us!" he gasped,

"Yes," said Jasper, who had scarcely got over his own
astoruishment about it, for if the roof had suddenly whisked off on
to the church steeple, he couldn't have been more amazed than
when he heard his father say cheerily: "Well, Jasper my boy, I
guess I shall have to drive over and see your little girl, since she's
been polite enough to bake me this," pointing to the wild-looking
"gingerbread boy."

"Come in and tell 'em about it," cried Ben, radiantly, picking up his
potatoes and salt. "It's all right, Polly!" he said in a jubilant voice,
"for here's Jasper, and he'll tell you so himself."

"Hush!" said Jasper warningly, "don't let Phronsie hear; well, here's
my pet now," and after bobbing lovingly to the others, with eyes
beaming over with fun, he caught up the little girl who was
screaming--"Oh, here's Japser! and my beyew-ti-ful doggie!"

"Now Phronsie," he cried, "give me a kiss; you haven't any soft
soap to-day, have you? no; that's a good, nice one, now; your
'gingerbread boy' was just splendid!"

"Did he eat it?" asked the child in grave delight.

"Well--no--he hasn't eaten it yet," said Jasper, smiling on the
others; "he's keeping it to look at, Phronsie."

"I should think so!" groaned Polly.

"Never mind, Polly," Ben whispered; "Jasper's been a-tellin' me
about it; his father liked it--he did truly."

"Oh!" said Polly, "I'm so glad!"

"He had eyes," said Phronsie, going back to the charms of the
"gingerbread boy."

"I know it," said Jasper admiringly; "so lie did."

"Rather deep sunk, one of 'em was," muttered Ben.

"And I'll bake you one, Japser," said the child as he put her down;
"I will very truly--some day."

"Will you," smiled Jasper; "well then," 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, "and" said Jasper, "your parcel walked
in, all dressed up in flowers!"

"They weren't our flowers," said Polly, honestly. "Mrs. Blodgett
put 'em on."

"Well she couldn't have, if you hadn't sent the parcel," 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.

"Oh, didn't you give him one?" cried Polly at this. "Good old

"Yes I did," said Jasper, "the biggest one of all."

"The one I guess," interrupted Joel, "with the big raisin on top."

Polly spoke up quickly to save any more remarks on Joel's part.
"Now tell us about your father--and the 'gingerbread boy.

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.

"Never mind," said Polly, trying to get her breath, just as Jasper
was relating how Mr. King set up the "gingerbread boy" on his
writing table before him, while he leaned back in his chair for a
hearty laugh.

"And to make it funnier still," said Jasper "don't 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 'gingerbread boy,' and there it stuck!"

"Oh!" they all screamed, "if we could only have seen it."

"What was it?" asked Phronsie, pulling Polly's sleeve to make her

So Jasper took her in his lap, and told how funny the "gingerbread
boy" 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's
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' 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.

"You could cook a Thanksgiving dinner in this stove, just as easy
as not," 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. "Just as easy as not," be repeated with emphasis,
slamming the door, to give point to his remarks.

"No, you couldn't either," said Ben at the table with equal decision;
"not a bit of it, Jasper King!"

"Why, Ben Pepper?" asked Jasper, "that oven's big enough! I
should like to know why not?"

"'Cause there isn't anything to cook," said Ben coolly, cutting out a
piece of dough for a jumble; "we don't keep Thanksgiving."

"Not keep Thanksgiving!" said Jasper, standing quite still; "never
had a Thanksgiving! well, I declare," and then he stopped again.

"Yes," answered Ben; "we had one once; 'twas last year-- but that
wasn't much."

"Well then," said Jasper, leaning over the table, "I'll tell you what I
should think you'd do--try Christmas."

"Oh, that's always worse," said Polly, setting down her rolling-pin
to think--which immediately rolled away by itself off from the

"We never had a Christmas," said little Davie reflectively; "what
are they like, Jasper?"

Jasper sat quite still, and didn't reply to this question for a moment
or two.

To be among children who didn't like Thanksgiving, and who
"never had seen a Christmas," and "didn't know what it was like,"
was a new revelation to him.

"They hang up stockings," 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.

"Oh!" said little Phronsie in horror, "are their feet in 'em, Polly?"

"No dear," said Polly; while Jasper instead of laughing, only
stared. Something requiring a deal of thought was passing through
the boy's mind just then. "They shall have a Christmas!" he
muttered, "I know father'll let me." 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.

"Oh! the house is burning?" cried Polly. "Oh get a pail of water!"

"Tisn't either," said Jasper, snuffing wisely; "oh! I know-- I forgot
all about it--I do beg your pardon." 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.

"I'm no end sorry I made such a mess of it," he said, "I meant it for

"Tisn't any matter," said Polly kindly.

"And now do you go on," cried Joel and David both in the same
breath, "all about the Tree, you know."

"Yes, yes," said the others; "if you're not tired, Jasper."

"Oh, no," cried their accommodating friend, "I love to tell about it;
only wait--let's help Polly clear up first."

So after all traces of the frolic had been tidied up, and made nice
for the mother's 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!

"How did you ever live through it, Jasper King," said Polly,
drawing the first long breath she had dared to indulge in. "Such an
elegant time!"

Jasper laughed. "I hope I'll live through plenty more of them," he
said merrily. "We're going to sister Marian's again, father and I; we
always spend our Christmas there, you know, and she's to have all
the cousins, and I don't know how many more; and a tree--but the
best of all, there's going to be a German carol sung by choir boys--I
shall like that best of all."

"What are choir boys?" asked Polly who was intensely fond of

"In some of the churches," explained Jasper, "the choir is all boys;
and they do chant, and sing anthems perfectly beautifully, Polly!"

"Do you play on the piano, and sing?" asked Polly, looking at him
in awe.

"Yes," said the boy simply; "I've played ever since I was a little
fellow, no bigger'n Phronsie."

"Oh, Jasper!" cried Polly, clasping her hands, her cheeks all
aflame--"do you mean to say you do really and truly play on the

"Why yes," said the boy, looking into her flashing eyes. "Polly's
always crazy about music," explained Ben; "she'll drum on the
table, and anywhere, to make believe it's a piano."

"There's Dr. Fisher going by," 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. "I wish he'd stop."

"Is he the one that cured your measles--and Polly's eyes?" asked
Jasper running to the window. "I want to see him."

"Well there he is," cried Ben, as the doctor put his head out of the
gig and bowed and smiled to the little group in the window.

"He's just lovely," cried Polly, "oh! I wish you knew him."

"If father's sick again," said Jasper, "we'll have him--he looks nice,
anyway--for father don't like the doctor over in Hingham--do you
know perhaps we'll come again next summer; wouldn't that be

"Oh!" cried the children rapturously; "do come, Jasper, do!"

"Well, maybe," said Jasper, "if father likes it and sister Marian and
her family will come with us; they do some summers. You'd like
little Dick, I know," turning to Phronsie. "And I guess all of you'd
like all of them," he added, looking at the group of interested
listeners. "They wanted to come this year awfully; they said--'Oh
grandpapa, do let us go with you and Jappy, and"----

"What!" said the children.

"Oh," said Jasper with a laugh, "they call me Jappy--its easier to
say than Jasper; ever so many people do for short. You may if you
want to," he said looking around on them all.

"How funny!" laughed Polly, "But I don't know as it is any worse
than Polly or Ben."

"Or Phronsie," said Jappy. "Don't you like Jappy?" 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.

"Is that the same as Japser?" she asked gravely.

"Yes, the very same," 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

"Oh dear!" 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, "here comes Mr. King I do believe; we never looked worse'n
we do to-day!"

"I don't care," said Polly, flying out of the bedroom. "Jappy's with
him, mamma, and it'll be nice I guess. At any rate, Phronsie's clean
as a pink," she thought to herself looking at the little maiden, busy
with "baby" to whom she was teaching deportment in the corner.
But there was no time to "fix up;" 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.

"Is this little Miss Pepper?" he asked pompously of Polly, who
answered his rap on the door. Now whether she was little "Miss
Pepper" she never had stopped to consider.

"I don't know sir; I'm Polly." 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.

"Is your mother in?" 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--"Humph!" but he looked at his
son, and something shone in his eye just for a moment.

Phronsie had retreated with "baby" 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, "Well, where is my
little girl that baked me a cake so kindly?"

Then Phronsie, forgetting all else but her "poor sick man," who
also was "Jasper's father," 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, "Poor, sick man, was
my boy good?"

After that there was no more gravity and ceremony. In a moment,
Phronsie was perched upon old Mr. King's 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.

"We go to-morrow," he said, rising, and looking at his watch.
"Why, is it possible that we have been here an hour! there, my
little girl, will you give me a kiss?" and he bent his handsome old
head down to the childish face upturned to his confidingly.

"Don't go," said the child, as she put up her little lips in grave
confidence. "I do like you--I do!"

"Oh, Phronsie," began Mrs. Pepper.

"Don't reprove her, madam," said the old gentleman, who liked it
immensely. "Yes, we go to-morrow," 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.

"I received a telegram this morning, that I must be in the city on
Thursday. And besides, madam," he said, addressing Mrs. Pepper,
"I 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."

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.

"Well, I'll write," cried Jasper, not liking to look at Polly just then,
as he was sure he shouldn't want anyone to look at him, if he felt
like crying. "And you must answer 'em all."

"Oh, we will! we will!" they cried. "And Jappy, do come next
summer," said Joel.

"If father'll only say yes, we will, I tell you!" he responded eagerly.

"Come, my boy," 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's eyes, something made him draw it out
again hastily, as empty as he put it in. "No, 'twouldn't do," he said
to himself; "she isn't the kind of woman to whom one could offer

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


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's 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

"Now, mammy," 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, "we don't want a Thanksgiving--truly we don't. But
may we try for a Christmas--just a little one," they added, timidly,
"for the children?" Ben and Polly always called the three younger
ones of the flock "the children."

To their utter surprise, Mrs. Pepper looked mildly assenting, and
presently she said-- "Well, I don't see why you can't try; 'twon't do
any harm, I'm sure."

You see Mrs. Pepper had received a letter from Jasper, which at
present she didn't feel called upon to say anything about.

"Now," said Polly, drawing a long breath, as she and Ben stole
away into a corner to "talk over" and lay plans, "what does it

"Never mind," said Ben; "as long as she's given us leave I don't
care what it is."

"I neither," said Polly, with the delicious feeling as if the whole
world were before them where to choose; "it'll be just gorgeous,

"What's that?" 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.

"Oh, it's something Jappy said one day; and I asked him, and he
says it's fine, and lovely, and all that," answered Polly, delighted
that she knew something she could really tell Ben.

"Then why not say fine?" commented Ben, practically, with a little
upward lift of his nose.

"Oh, I'd know, I'm sure," laughed Polly. "Let's think what'll we do
for Christmas--how many weeks are there, anyway, Ben?" And she
began to count on her fingers.

"That's no way," said Ben, "I'm going to get the Almanac." So he
went to the old clock where hanging up by its side, was a "Farmer's

"Now, we'll know," 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.

"Dear me!" said Polly. "It's most a year, isn't it, Ben?"

"'Twon't be much time for us," said Ben, who thought of the many
hours to be devoted to hard work that would run away with the
time. "We'd better begin right away, Polly."

"Well, all right," 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. "But first, Ben, what let's do?"

"Would you rather hang up their stockings?" asked Ben, as if he
had unlimited means at his disposal; "or have a tree?"

"Why," said Polly, with wide open eyes at the two magnificent
ideas, "we haven't got anything to put in the stockings when we
hang 'em, Ben."

"That's just it," said Ben. "Now, wouldn't it be better to have a tree,
Polly? I can get that easy in the woods, you know."

"Well," interrupted Polly, eagerly, "we haven't got anything to hang
on that, either, Ben. You know Jappy said folks hang all sorts of
presents on the branches. So I don't see," she continued,
impatiently, "as that's any good. We can't do anything, Ben Pepper,
so there! there isn't anything to do anything with," and with a
flounce Polly sat down on the old wooden stool, and folding her
hands looked at Ben in a most despairing way.

"I know," said Ben, "we haven't got much."

"We haven't got anything," said Polly, still looking at him. "Why,
we've got a tree," replied Ben, hopefully. "Well, what's a tree,"
retorted Polly, scornfully. "Anybody can go out and look at a tree

"Well, now, I tell you, Polly," said Ben, sitting down on the floor
beside her, and speaking very slowly and decisively, "we've got to
do something 'cause we've begun; and we might make a tree real

"How?" asked Polly, ashamed of her ill-humor, but not in the least
seeing how anything could be made of a tree. "How, Ben Pepper?"

"Well," said Ben, pleasantly, "we'd set it up in the corner--"

"Oh, no, not in the corner," cried Polly, whose spirits began to rise
a little as she saw Ben so hopeful. "Put it in the middle of the
room, do!"

"I don't care where you put it," said Ben, smiling, happy that
Polly's usual cheerful energy had returned, "but I thought.--'twill be
a little one, you know, and I thought 'twould look better in the

"What else?" asked Polly, eager to see how Ben would dress the

"Well," said Ben, "you know the Henderson boys gave me a lot of
corn last week."

"I don't see as that helps much," said Polly, still incredulous. "Do
you mean hang the cobs on the branches, Ben? That would be just

"I should think likely," laughed Ben. "No, indeed, Polly Pepper!
but if we should pop a lot, oh! a bushel, and then we should string
'em, we could wind it all in and out among the branches, and--"

"Why, wouldn't that be pretty?" cried Polly, "real pretty-- and we
can do that, I'm sure."

"Yes," continued Ben; "and then, don't you know, there's some
little candle ends in that box in the Provision Room, maybe
mammy'd give us them."

"I don't believe but she would," cried Polly; "twould be just like
Jappy's if she would! Let's ask her now--this very same minute!"

And they scampered hurriedly to Mrs. Pepper, who to their
extreme astonishment, after all, said "yes," and smiled
encouragingly on the plan.

"Isn't mammy good?" said Polly, with loving gratitude, as they
seated themselves again.

"Now we're all right," exclaimed Ben, "and I tell you we can make
the tree look perfectly splendid, Polly Pepper!"

"And I'll tell you another thing, Ben," Polly said, "oh! something
elegant! You must get ever so many hickory nuts; and you know
those bits of bright paper I've got in the bureau drawer? Well, we
can paste them on to the nuts and hang 'em on for the balls Jappy
tells of."

"Potty," cried Ben, "it'll be such a tree as never was, won't it?"

"Yes; but dear me," cried Polly, springing up, "the children are
coming! Wasn't it good, grandma wanted 'em to come over this
afternoon, so's we could talk! Now hush!" as the door opened to
admit the noisy little troop.

"If you think of any new plan," whispered Ben, behind his hand,
while Mrs. Pepper engaged their attention, "you'll have to come
out into the wood-shed to talk after this."

"I know it," whispered Polly back again; "oh! we've got just heaps
of things to think of, Bensie!"

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.

"Let's go behind the wood-pile," she said to Ben, in desperation;
"he can't hear there, if we whisper real soft."

"Yes, he will," said Ben, who knew Joers hearing faculties much
better. "We'll have to wait till they're a-bed."

So after that, when nightfall first began to make its appearance,
Polly would hint mildly about bedtime.

"You hustle us so!" said Joel, after he had been sent off to bed for
two or three nights unusually early.

"Oh, Joey, it's good for you to get to bed," said Polly, coaxingly;
"it'll make you grow, you know, real fast,"

"Well, I don't grow a-bed," grumbled Joel, who thought something
was in the wind. "You and Ben are going to talk, I know, and wink
your eyes, as soon as we're gone."

"Well, go along, Joe, that's a good boy," said Polly, laughing, "and
you'll know some day."

"What'll you give me?" asked Joel, seeing a bargain, his foot on the
lowest stair leading to the loft, "say, Polly?"

"Oh, I haven't got much to give," she said, cheerily; "but I'll tell
you what, Joey--I'll tell you a story every day that you go to bed,"

"Will you?" cried Joe, hopping back into the room. "Begin now,
Polly, begin now!"

"Why, you haven't been to bed yet," said Polly, "so I can't till

"Yes, I have--you've made us go for three--no, I guess fourteen
nights," said Joel, indignantly.

"Well, you were made to go," laughed Polly. "I said if you'd go
good, you know; so run along, Joe, and I'll tell you a nice one

"It's got to be long," 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's 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.

"I'll make Seraphina a bonnet," said Mrs. Pepper, "for there's that
old bonnet-string in the bag, you know, Polly, that'll make it

"Oh, do, mother," cried Polly, "she's been wanting a new one

"And I'm going to knit some mittens for Joel and David,"
continued Mrs. Pepper; "cause I can get the yarn cheap now. I saw
some down at the store yesterday I could have at half price."

"I don't believe anybody'll have as good a Christmas as we shall,"
cried Polly, pasting on a bit of trimming to the gayest doll's dress;
"no, not even Jappy."

An odd little smile played around Mrs. Pepper's 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.

"I'll find the key, children," she said, "I think I know where 'tis, and
then we can keep them out."

"Well, but it looks so," said Polly, demurring at the prospect.

"Oh, no, Polly," said her mother; "at any rate it's clean."

"Polly," said Ben, "we can put evergreen around, you know,

"So we can," said Polly, brightly; "oh, Ben, you do think of the best
things; we couldn't have had them in the kitchen."

"And don't let's hang the presents on the tree," continued Ben; "let's
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't--that he did so wish they
could, but, says he, 'Don't tell mammy, 'cause that'll make her feel

"The little dears!" said Mrs. Pepper, impulsively; "they shall have
their stockings, too."

"And we'll make the tree pretty enough," said Polly,
enthusiastically; "we shan't want the presents to hang on; we've got
so many things. And then we'll have hickory nuts to eat; and
perhaps mammy'll let us make some molasses candy the day
before," she said, with a sly look at her mother.

"You may," said Mrs. Pepper, smiling.

"Oh, goody!" they both cried, hugging each other ecstatically.

"And we'll have a frolic in the Provision Room afterwards,"
finished Polly; "oh! ooh!"

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!

"It's better'n a Christmas," they told their mother, "to get ready for

"It's too bad you can't hang up your stockings," said Mrs. Pepper,
looking keenly at their flushed faces and bright eyes; "you've never
himg'em up."

"That isn't any matter, mamsie," they both said, cheerily; "it's a
great deal better to have the children have a nice time--oh, won't it
be elegant! p'r'aps we'll have ours next year!"

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.

"You put yours up the other side, Dave," he advised.

"There isn't any nail," cried David, investigating.

"I'll drive one," 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.

"Phronsie's a-goin' in the middle," he said, with a nail in his mouth.

"Yes, I'm a-goin' to hang up my stockin'," cried the child, hopping
from one toe to the other.

"Run get it, Phronsie," said Joel, "and I'll hang it up for you.

"Why, it's two days before Christmas yet," said Polly, laughing;
"how they'll look hanging there so long."

"I don't care," said Joel, giving a last thump to the nail; "we're
a-goin' to be ready. Oh, dear! I wish 'twas to-night!"

"Can't Seraphina hang up her stocking?" asked Phronsie, coming
up to Polly's side; "and Baby, too?"

"Oh, let her have part of yours," said Potty, "that'll be best--
Seraphina and Baby, and you have one stocking together."

"Oh, yes," cried Phronsie, easily pleased; "that'll be best." 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.

"I guess he can," he said, coming back in a sooty state, looking
very much excited and delighted.

"Will he be black like Joey?" asked Phronsie, pointing to his grimy

"No," said Polly; "he don't ever get black."

"Why?" they all asked; and then, over and over, they wanted the
delightful mystery explained.

"We never'll get through this day," said Polly in despair, as the last
one arrived. "I wish 'twas to-night, for we're all ready,"

"Santy's coming! Santy's coming!" sang Phronsie, as the bright
afternoon sunlight went down over the fresh, crisp snow, "for it's
night now."

"Yes, Santa is coming!" sang Polly; and "Santa Claus is acoming,"
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.

"I'm glad mine is red," said Phronsie, at last, stopping in the wild
jig, and going up to see if it was all safe, "cause then Santy'll know
it's mine, won't he, Polly?"

"Yes, dear," cried Polly, catching her up. "Oh, Phronsie! you are
going to have a Christmas!"

"Well, I wish," said Joel, "I had my name on mine! I know Dave'll
get some of my things."

"Oh, no, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper, "Santa Claus is smart; he'll know
yours is in the left-hand corner."

"Will he?" asked Joel, still a little fearful.

"Oh, yes, indeed," said Mrs. Pepper, confidently. "I never knew
him to make a mistake."

"Now," 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, "you must every one fly off to bed as
quick as ever can be."

"Will Santa Claus come faster then?" asked Joel.

"Yes," said Ben, "just twice as fast."

"I'm going, then," said Joel; "but I ain't going to sleep, 'cause I
mean to hear him come over the roof; then I'm going to get up, for
I do so want a squint at the reindeer!"

"I am, too," cried Davie, excitedly. "Oh, do come, Joe!" and he
began to mount the stairs.

"Good night," said Phronsie, going up to the centre of the
chimney-piece, where the little red stocking dangled limpsily, "lift
me up, Polly, do."

"What you want to do?" asked Polly, running and giving her a
jump. "What you goin' to do, Phronsie?"

"I want to kiss it good night," said the child, with eyes big with
anticipation and happiness, hugging the well worn toe of the little
old stocking affectionately. "I wish I had something to give Santa,
Polly, I do!" she cried, as she held her fast in her arms.

"Never mind, Pet," said Potty, nearly smothering her with kisses;
"if you're a good girl, Phronsie, that pleases Santa the most of

"Does it?" cried Phronsie, delighted beyond measure, as Polly
carried her into the bedroom, "then I'll be good always,

I will!"


In the middle of the night Polly woke up with a start.

"What in the world!" 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's 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

"What are you doing?" gasped Polly, holding on to a chair.

The two little night-gowns turned around at this.

"Why, I thought it was morning," said Joel, "and I wanted my
stocking. Oh!" as he felt the toe, which was generously stuffed,
"give it to me, Polly Pepper, and I'll run right back to bed again!"

"Dear me!" said Polly; "and you, too, Phronsie! Why, it's the
middle of the night! Did I ever!" and she had to pinch her mouth
together tight to keep from bursting out into a loud laugh. "Oh,
dear, I shall laugh! don't look so scared, Phronsie, there won't
anything hurt you." 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's saying the dire words "in the
middle of the night," scuttled over to her protecting side like a
frightened rabbit.

"It never'll be morning," said Joel taking up first one cold toe and
then the other; "you might let us have 'em now, Polly,

"No," said Polly sobering down; "you can't have yours till Davie
wakes up, too. Scamper off to bed, Joey, dear, and forget all about
'em--and it'll be morning before you know it."

"Oh, I'd rather go to bed," said Phronsie, trying to tuck up her feet
in the little flannel night-gown, which was rather short, "but I don't
know the way back, Polly. Take me, Polly, do," and she put up her
arms to be carried.

"Oh, I ain't a-goin' back alone, either," whimpered Joel, coming up
to Polly, too.

"Why, you came down alone, didn't you?" whispered Polly, with a
little laugh.

"Yes, but I thought 'twas morning," said Joel, his teeth chattering
with something beside the cold.

"Well, you must think of the morning that's coming," said Polly,
cheerily. "I'll tell you--you wait till I put Phronsie into the crib, and
then I'll come back and go half-way up the stairs with you."

"I won't never come down till it's mornin' again," said Joel,
bouncing along the stairs, when Polly was ready to go with him, at
a great rate.

"Better not," laughed Polly, softly. "Be careful and not wake Davie
nor Ben."

'Tm in," announced Joel, in a loud whisper; and Polly could hear
him snuggle down among the warm bedclothes. "Call us when 'tis
mornin', Polly."

"Yes," said Polly, "I will; go to sleep."

Phronsie had forgotten stockings and everything else on Polly's
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--
"MErmy CHRISTMAS! oh, Ben! and Joel! and Davie!"

"Oh!--oh!--oo-h!" and then the sounds that answered her, as with
smothered whoops of expectation they one and all flew into their

Quick as a flash Joel and Davie were down and dancing around the

"Mammy! mammy!" screamed Phronsie, hugging her stocking,
which Ben lifted her up to unhook from the big nail, "Santy did
come, he did!" and then she spun around in the middle of the floor,
not stopping to look in it.

"Well, open it, Phronsie," called Davie, deep in the exploring of
his own; "oh! isn't that a splendid wind-mill, Joe?"

"Yes," 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.

"Oh, Joey," cried Polly, laughingly, "molasses candy for

"That's prime!" cried Joel, swallowing the last morsel. "Now rm
going to see what's this--oh, Dave, see here! see here!" he cried in
intense excitement, pulling out a nice little parcel which, unrolled,
proved to be a bright pair of stout mittens. "See if you've got
some--look quick!"

"Yes, I have," said David, picking up a parcel about as big. "No,
that's molasses candy."

"Just the same as I had," said Joel; "do look for the mittens. P'r'aps
Santa Claus thought you had some--oh, dear!"

"Here they are!" screamed Davie. "I have got some, Joe, just
exactly like yours! See, Joe!"

"Goody!" said Joel, immensely relieved; for now he could quite
enjoy his to see a pair on Davie's hands, also. "Look at Phron," he
cried, "she hasn't got only half of her things out!"

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's 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's 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.

"Oh, dear," said Joel, at last, shaking his stocking; "I've got all
there is. I wish there were forty Christmases coming!"

"I haven't!" screamed Davie; "there's some thing in the toe."

"It's an apple, I guess," said Joel; "turn it up, Dave."

"'Tisn't an apple," exclaimed Davie, "tisn't round--it's long and thin;
here 'tis." 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.

"I don't know as you'll want any breakfast," at last said

Mrs. Pepper, when she had got Phronsie a little sobered down.

"I do, I do!" cried Joel.

"Dear me! after your candy?" said Polly.

"That's all gone," said Joel, tooting around the table on his whistle.
"What are we going to have for breakfast?"

"Same as ever," said his mother; "it can't be Christmas all the

"I wish 'twas," said little Davie; "forever and ever!"

"Forever an' ever," echoed little Phronsie, flying up, her cheeks
like two pinks, and Seraphina in her arms with her bonnet on
upside down.

"Dear, dear," 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. "Suppose they should find it out now--I declare I
should feel most awfully. Isn't it elegant?" 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. "Oh, Ben, did you lock the

"Yes," he said. "That's a mouse," 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. "'Tis elegant," he said, turning
around in admiration, and taldng in the tree which, as Polly said,
was quite "gorgeous," and the evergreen branches twisted up on
the beams and rafters, and all the other festive arrangements.
"Even Jappy's isn't better, I don't believe!"

"I wish Jappy was here," said Polly with a small sigh.

"Well, he isn't," said Ben; "come, we must go back into the
kitchen, or all the children will be out here. Look your last, Polly;
'twon't do to come again till it's time to light up."

"Mammy says she'd rather do the lighting up," said Polly. "Had
she?" said Ben, in surprise; "oh, I suppose she's afraid we'll set
somethin' a-fire. Well, then, we shan't come in till we have it."

"I can't bear to go," said Polly, turning reluctantly away; "it's most
beautiful--oh, Ben," and she faced him for the five-hundredth time
with the question, "is your Santa Claus dress all safe?"

"Yes," said Ben, "I'll warrant they won't find that in one hurry!
Such a time as we've had to make it!"

"I know it," laughed Polly; "don't that cotton wool look just like
bits of fur, Ben?"

"Yes," said Ben, "and when the flour's shaken over me it'll be
Santa himself"

"We've got to put back the hair into mamsie's cushion the first
thing to-morrow," whispered Polly anxiously, "and we mustn't
forget it, Bensie."

"I want to keep the wig awfully," said Ben. "You did make that just
magnificent, Polly!"

"If you could see yourself," giggled Polly; "did you put it in the
straw bed? and are you sure you pulled the ticking over it smooth?"

"Yes, sir," replied Ben, "sure's my name's Ben Pepper! if you'll
only keep them from seeing me when I'm in it till we're
ready--that's all I ask."

"Well," said Polly a little relieved, "but I hope Joe won't look."

"Come on! they're a-comin'!" whispered Ben; "quick!"

"Polly!" rang a voice dangerously near; so near that Polly, speeding
over the stairs to intercept it, nearly fell on her nose.

"Where you been?" asked one.

"Let's have a concert," put in Ben; Polly was so out of breath that
she couldn't speak. "Come, now, each take a whistle, and we'll
march round and round and see which can make the biggest

In the rattle and laughter which this procession made all mystery
was forgotten, and the two conspirators began to breathe freer.

Five o'clock! 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.

"Do, Polly, do," begged Joel. "It's Christmas, and 'twon't come
again for a year."

"I can't," said Polly, in such a twitter that she could hardly stand
still, and for the first time in her life refusing, "I can't think of a

"I will then," said Ben; "we must do something," he whispored to

"Tell it good," said Joel, settling himself.

So for an hour the small tyrants kept their entertainers well

"Isn't it growing awful dark?" said Davie, rousing himself at last,
as Ben paused to take breath.

Polly pinched Ben.

"Mammy's a-goin' to let us know," he whispered in reply. "We
must keep on a little longer."

"Don't stop," said Joel, lifting his head where he sat on the floor.
"What you whisperin' for, Polly?"

"I'm not," said Polly, glad to think she hadn't spoken.

"Well, do go on, Ben," said Joel, lying down again.

"Polly'll have to finish it," said Ben; "I've got to go upstairs now."

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. "Children," 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. "What's the matter, mammy?"

"You may all come into the Provision Room," said she.

"What for?" shouted Joel, in amazement; while the others jumped
to their feet, and stood staring.

Polly flew around like a general, arranging her forces. "Let's march
there," said she; "Phronsie, you take hold of Davie's hand, and go

"I'm goin' first," announced Joel, squeezing up past Polly. "No, you
mustn't, Joe," said Polly decidedly; "Phronsie and David are the

"They're always the youngest," said Joel, falling back with Polly to
the rear.

"Forward! MARCH!" sang Polly. "Follow mamsie!"

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,
"On! OH!"

Mrs. Pepper was flying around delightedly, and saying, "Please to
come right in," and "How do you do?"

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, "There--aren't you surprised?"

"It's Fairyland!" cried little Davie, out of his wits with joy; "Oh!
aren't we in Fairyland, ma?"

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, "Hush! Santa Claus is coming!"

A rattle at the little old window made everybody look there, just as
a great snow-white head popped up over the sill.

"Oh!" screamed Joel, "'tis Santy!"

"He's a-comin' in!" 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, "this jolly Old Saint"--but first fly up to Mrs.
Pepper, and say--"Oh, mammy how did you do it?"

"It's Ben!" screamed Phronsie; but the little Old Saint didn't 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!

"Order!" said Parson Henderson in his deepest tones; and then he
put into Santa Claus' hands a letter, which he requested him to
read. And the jolly Old Saint, although he was very old, didn't need
any spectacles, but piped out in Ben's loudest tones:

"Dear Friends--A Merry Christmas to you all! And that you'll have
a good time, and enjoy it all as much as I've enjoyed my good
times at your house, is the wish of your friend,


"Hurrah for Jappy!" cried Santa Claus, pulling his beard; and
"Hurrah for Jasper!" 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!

"Do your duty now, Santa Claus!" 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's
hands. The card on it said: "For Miss Polly Pepper, to give her
music everyday in the year."

"Mammy," said Polly; and then she did the queerest thing of the
whole! she just burst into tears! "I never thought I should have a
bird for my very own!"

"Hulloa!" said Santa Claus, "I've got something myself!"

"Santa Claus' clothes are too old," 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's shoulders;
and a work-basket tumbled on Polly's head; and tops and balls and
fishing poles, sent Joel and David into a corner with howls of

But the climax was reached when a large wax doll in a very gay
pink silk dress, was put into Phronsie's hands, and Dr. Fisher,
stooping down, read in loud tones: "FOR PHRONSIE, FROM

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's plain hand--"I hope we'll both read
this next summer." And turning over to the title-page, she saw "A
Complete Manual of Cookery."

"The best is to come," said Mrs. Henderson in her gentle way.
When there was a lull in the gale, she took Polly's 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

"Why didn't we know?" cried the children at last, when everybody
was tying on their hoods, and getting their hats to leave the festive
scene, "how could you keep it secret, mammy?"

"They all went to Mrs. Henderson's," said Mrs. Pepper; "Jasper
wrote me, and asked where to send 'em, and Mrs. Henderson was
so kind as to say that they might come there. And we brought 'em
over last evening, when you were all abed. I couldn't have done it,"
she said, bowing to the Parson and his wife, "if 'twasn't for their
kindness--never, in all this world!"

"And I'm sure," said the minister, looking around on the bright
group, "if we can help along a bit of happiness like this, it is a
blessed thing!"

And here Joel had the last word. "You said 'twan't goin' to be
Christmas always, mammy. I say," looking around on the overflow
of treasures and the happy faces--"it'll be just forever!"


After that they couldn't 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's diligent
study of Jasper's 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!

"We can't do it, mammy," 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. "No, not if we tried a thousand years!"

"I'm a-goin'," said Joel, who was busy as a bee with his new tools
that the tree had shaken down for him, "to make Jappy the
splendidest box you ever saw, Polly! I guess that'll thank him!"

"Do," cried Polly; "he'd be so pleased, Joey."

"And I," said Phronsie, over in the corner with her children, "I'm
goin' to see my poor sick man sometime, Polly, lam!"

"Oh, dear!" cried Polly, whirling around, and looking at her mother
in dismay. "She'll be goin' to-morrow! Oh, no, Phronsie, you can't;
he lives miles and miles away--oh, ever so far!"

"Does he live as far as the moon?" asked little Phronsie, carefully
laying Seraphina down, and looking up at Polly, anxiously.

"Oh, I don't know," said Polly, giving Cherry a piece of bread, and
laughing to see how cunning he looked. "Oh, no, of course not, but
it's an awful long ways, Phronsie."

"I don't care," said Phronsie, determinedly, giving the new doll a
loving little pat, "I'm goin' sometime, Polly, to thank my poor sick
man, yes, I am!"

"You'll see him next summer, Phronsie," sang Polly skipping
around the kitchen, "and Jappy's sister Marian, the lovely lady, and
all the boys. Won't that be nice?" and Polly stopped to pat the
yellow head bending in motherly attentions over her array of dolls.

"Ye-es," said Phronsie, slowly; "the whole of 'em, Polly?"

"Yes, indeed!" said Polly, gayly; "the whole of 'em, Phronsie!

"Hooray!" shouted the two boys, while Phronsie only gave a long
sigh, and clasped her hands.

"Better not be looking for summer," said Mrs. Pepper, "until you
do your duty by the winter; then you can enjoy it," and she took a
fresh needleful of thread.

"Mamsie's right," said Ben, smiling over at her. And he threw
down his book and jumped for his cap. "Now for a good chop!" he
cried, and snatching a kiss from Phronsie, he rushed out of the
door to his work, whistling as he went.

"Warn't Mr. Henderson good, ma," asked Polly, watching his

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