Five Little Peppers And How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
A Threatened Blow
One day, a few weeks after, Mrs. Pepper and Polly were busy in the kitchen. Phronsie was out in the "orchard," as the one scraggy apple-tree was called by courtesy, singing her rag doll to sleep under its sheltering branches. But "Baby" was cross and wouldn't go to sleep, and Phronsie was on the point of giving up, and returning to the house, when a strain of music made her pause with dolly in her apron. There she stood with her finger in her mouth, in utter astonishment, wondering where the sweet sounds came from.
"Oh, Phronsie!" screamed Polly, from the back door, "where are--oh, here, come quick! it's the beau-ti-fullest!"
"What is it?" eagerly asked the little one, hopping over the stubby grass, leaving poor, discarded "Baby" on its snubby nose where it dropped in her hurry.
"Oh, a monkey!" cried Polly; "do hurry! the sweetest little monkey you ever saw!"
"What is a monkey?" asked Phronsie, skurrying after Polly to the gate where her mother was waiting for them.
"Why, a monkey's--a--monkey," explained Polly, "I don't know any better'n that. Here he is! Isn't he splendid!" and she lifted Phronsie up to the big post where she could see finely.
"O-oh! ow!" screamed little Phronsie, "see him, Polly! just see him!"
A man with an organ was standing in the middle of the road playing away with all his might, and at the end of a long rope was a lively little monkey in a bright red coat and a smart cocked hat. The little creature pulled off his hat, and with one long jump coming on the fence, he made Phronsie a most magnificent bow. Strange to say, the child wasn't in the least frightened, but put out her little fat hand, speaking in gentle tones, "Poor little monkey! come here, poor little monkey!"
Turning up his little wrinkled face, and glancing fearfully at his master, Jocko began to grimace and beg for something to eat. The man pulled the string and struck up a merry tune, and in a minute the monkey spun around and around at such a lively pace, and put in so many queer antics that the little audience were fairly convulsed with laughter.
"I can't pay you," said Mrs. Pepper, wiping her eyes, when at last the man pulled up the strap whistling to Jocko to jump up, "but I'll give you something to eat; and the monkey, too, he shall have something for his pains in amusing my children."
The man looked very cross when she brought him out only brown bread and two cold potatoes.
"Haven't you got nothin' better'n that?"
"It's as good as we have," answered Mrs. Pepper.
The man threw down the bread in the road. But Jocko thankfully ate his share, Polly and Phronsie busily feeding him; and then he turned and snapped up the portion his master had left in the dusty road.
Then they moved on, Mrs. Pepper and Polly going back to their work in the kitchen. A little down the road the man struck up another tune. Phronsie who had started merrily to tell "Baby" all about it, stopped a minute to hear, and--she didn't go back to the orchard!
About two hours after, Polly said merrily:
"I'm going to call Phronsie in, mammy; she must be awfully tired and hungry by this time."
She sang gayly on the way, "I'm coming, Phronsie, coming--why, where!--" peeping under the tree.
"Baby" lay on its face disconsolately on the ground--and the orchard was empty! Phronsie was gone!
"It's no use," said Ben, to the distracted household and such of the neighbors as the news had brought hurriedly to the scene, "to look any more around here--but somebody must go toward Hingham; he'd be likely to go that way."
"No one could tell where he would go," cried Polly, wringing her hands.
"But he'd change, Ben, if he thought folks would think he'd gone there," said Mrs. Pepper.
"We must go all roads," said Ben, firmly; "one must take the stage to Boxville, and I'll take Deacon Brown's wagon on the Hingham road, and somebody else must go to Toad Hollow."
"I'll go in the stage," screamed Joel, who could scarcely see out of his eyes, he had cried so; "I'll find--find her--I know.
"Be spry, then, Joe, and catch it at the corner!"
Everybody soon knew that little Phronsie Pepper had gone off with "a cross organ man and an awful monkey!" and in the course of an hour dozens of people were out on the hot, dusty roads in search.
"What's the matter?" asked a testy old gentleman in the stage, of Joel who, in his anxiety to see both sides of the road at once, bobbed the old gentleman in the face so often as the stage lurched, that at last he knocked his hat over his eyes.
"My sister's gone off with a monkey," explained Joel, bobbing over to the other side, as he thought he caught sight of something pink that he felt sure must be Phronsie's apron. "Stop! stop! there she is!" he roared, and the driver, who had his instructions and was fully in sympathy, pulled up so suddenly that the old gentleman flew over into the opposite seat.
But when they got up to it Joel saw that it was only a bit of pink calico flapping on a clothes-line; so he climbed back and away they rumbled again.
The others were having the same luck. No trace could be found of the child. To Ben, who took the Hingham road, the minutes seemed like hours.
"I won't go back," he muttered, "until I take her. I can't see mother's face!"
But the ten miles were nearly traversed; almost the last hope was gone. Into every thicket and lurking place by the road-side had he peered--but no Phronsie! Deacon Brown's horse began to lag.
"Go on!" said Ben hoarsely; "oh, dear Lord, make me find her!"
The hot sun poured down on the boy's face, and he had no cap. What cared he for that? On and on he went. Suddenly the horse stopped. Ben doubled up the reins to give him a cut, when "Whoa!" he roared so loud that the horse in very astonishment gave a lurch that nearly flung him headlong. But he was over the wheel in a twinkling, and up with a bound to a small thicket of scrubby bushes on a high hill by the road-side. Here lay a little bundle on the ground, and close by it a big, black dog; and over the whole, standing guard, was a boy a little bigger than Ben, with honest gray eyes. And the bundle was Phronsie!
"Don't wake her up," said the boy, warningly, as Ben, with a hungry look in his eyes, leaped up the hill, "she's tired to death!"
"She's my sister!" cried Ben, "our Phronsie!"
"I know it," said the boy kindly; "but I wouldn't wake her up yet if I were you. I'll tell you all about it," and he took Ben's hand which was as cold as ice.