Five Little Peppers And How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
Up the stairs of the hotel, two steps at a time, ran a boy with a big, black dog at his heels. "Come on, Prince; soft, now," as they neared a door at the end of the corridors
It opened into a corner room overlooking "the Park," as the small open space in front of the hotel was called. Within the room there was sunshine and comfort, it being the most luxurious one in the house, which the proprietor bad placed at the disposal of thi5 most exacting guest. He didn't look very happy, however--the gentleman who sat in an easy chair by the window; a large, handsome old gentleman, whose whole bearing showed plainly that personal comfort had always been his, and was, therefore, neither a matter of surprise nor thankfulness.
"Where have you been?" he asked, turning around to greet the boy who came in, followed by Prince.
"Oh, such a long story, father!" he cried, flushed; his eyes sparkling as he flung back the dark hair from his forehead. "You can't even guess!"
"Never mind now," said the old gentleman, testily; "your stories are always long; the paper hasn't come--strange, indeed, that one must needs be so annoyed! do ring that bell again.
So the bell was pulled; and a porter popped in his head.
"What is it, sir?"
"The paper," said the old gentleman, irritably; "hasn't it come yet?"
"No, sir," said the man; and then he repeated, "taint in yet, please, sir."
"Very well--you said so once; that's all," waving his hand; then as the door closed, he said to his son, "That pays one for coming to such an out-of-the-way country place as this, away from papers--I never will do it again."
As the old gentleman, against the advice of many friends who knew his dependence on externals, had determined to come to this very place, the boy was not much startled at the decisive words. He stood very quietly, however, until his father finished. Then he said:
"It's too bad, father! supposing I tell you my story? Perhaps you'll enjoy hearing it while you wait--it's really quite newspaperish."
"Well, you might as well tell it now, I suppose," said the old gentleman; "but it is a great shame about that paper! to advertise that morning papers are to be obtained--it's a swindle, Jasper! a complete swindle!" and the old gentleman looked so very irate that the boy exerted himself to soothe him.
"I know," he said; "but they can't help the trains being late."
"They shouldn't have the trains late," said his father, unreasounbly. "There's no necessity for all this prating about 'trains late.' I'm convinced it's because they forgot to send down for the papers till they were all sold."
"I don't believe that's it, father," said the boy, trying to change the subject; "but you don't know how splendid Frince has been, nor"-- "And then such a breakfast!" continued the old gentleman.
"My liver certainly will be in a dreadful state if these things continue!" And he got up, and going to the corner of the room, opened his medicine chest, and taking a box of pills therefrom, he swallowed two, which done, he came back with a somewhat easier expression to his favorite chair.
"He was just splendid, father," began the boy; "he went for him, I tell you!"
"I hope, Jasper, your dog has not been doing anything violent," said the old gentleman. "I must caution you; he'll get you into trouble some day; and then there'll be a heavy bill to pay; he grows more irritable every day."
"Irritable!" cried the boy, flinging his arms around the dog's neck, who was looking up at the old gentleman in high disdain. "He's done the most splendid thing you ever saw! Why, he saved a little girl, father, from a cross old organ-man, and he drove that man--oh! you ought to have seen him run!"
And now that it was over, Jasper put back his head and laughed long and loud as he remembered the rapid transit of the musical pair.
"Well, how do you know she wasn't the man's daughter?" asked his father, determined to find fault someway. "You haven't any business to go around the country setting your dog on people. I shall have an awful bill to pay some day, Jasper--an awful bill!" he continued, getting up and commencing to pace up and down the floor in extreme irritation.
"Father," cried the boy, half laughing, half vexed, springing to his side, and keeping step with him, "we found her brother; he came along when we were by the side of the road. We couldn't go any further, for the poor little thing was all tired out. And don't you think they live over in Badgertown, and"-- "Well," said the old gentleman, pausing in his walk, and taking out his watch to wonder if that paper would ever come, "she had probably followed the organ-man; so it served her right after all."
"Well, but father," and the boy's dark eyes glowed, "she was such a cunning little thing! she wasn't more than four years old; and she had such a pretty little yellow head; and she said so funny--'I want Polly."
"Did she?" said the old gentleman, getting interested in spite of himself; "what then?"
"Why, then, sir," said Jasper, delighted at his success in diverting his thoughts, "Prince and I waited--and waited; and I was just going to bring her here to ask you what we should do, when"-- "Dear me!" said the old gentleman, instinctively starting back as if he actually saw the forlorn little damsel, "you needn't ever bring such people here, Jasper! I don't know what to do with them, I'm sure!"
"Well," said the boy, laughing, "we didn't have to, did we, Prince?" stroking the big head of the dog who was slowly following the two as they paced up and down, but keeping carefully on the side of his master; "for just as we really didn't know what to do, don't you think there was a big wagon came along, drawn by the ricketiest old horse, and a boy in the wagon looking both sides of the road, and into every bush, just as wild as he could be, and before I could think, hardly, he spied us, and if he didn't jump! I thought he'd broken his leg"--
"And I suppose he just abused you for what you had done," observed the old gentleman, petulantly; "that's about all the gratitude there is in this world."
"He didn't seem to see me at all," said the boy. "I thought he'd eat the little girl up."
"Ought to have looked out for her better then," grumbled the old gentleman, determined to find fault with somebody.
"And he's a splendid fellow, I just know," cried Jasper, waxing enthusiastic; "and his name is Pepper."
"Pepper!" repeated his father; "no nice family ever had the name of Pepper!"
"Well, I don't care," and Jasper's laugh was loud and merry; "he's nice anyway,--I know; and the little thing's nice; and I'm going to see them--can't I, father?"
"Dear me!" said his father; "how can you, Jasper? You do have the strangest tastes I ever saw!"
"It's dreadful dull here," pleaded the boy, touching the right string; "you know that yourself, father, and I don't know any boys around here; and Prince and I are so lonely on our walks--do permit me, father!"
The old gentleman, who really cared very little about it, turned away, muttering, "Well, I'm sure I don't care; go where you like," when a knock was heard at the door, and the paper was handed in, which broke up the conversation, and restored good humor.
The next day but one, Ben was out by the wood-pile, trying to break up some kindlings for Polly who was washing up the dishes, and otherwise preparing for the delights of baking day.
"Hulloa!" said a voice bethought he knew.
He turned around to see the merry-faced boy, and the big, black dog who immediately began to wag his tail as if willing to recognize him.
"You see I thought you'd never look round," said the boy with a laugh. "How's the little girl?"
"Oh! you have come, really," cried Ben, springing over the wood-pile with a beaming face. "Polly!"
But Polly was already by the door, with dish-cloth in hand. "This is my sister, Polly," began Ben--and then stopped, not knowing the boy's name.
"I'm Jasper King," said the boy, stepping upon the flat stone by Polly's side; and taking off his cap, he put out his hand. "And this is Prince," he added.
Polly put her hand in his, and received a hearty shake; and then she sprang over the big stove, dish-cloth and all, and just flung her arms around the dog's neck.
"Oh, you splendid fellow, you!" said she. "Don't you know we all think you're as good as gold?"
The dog submitted to the astonishing proceeding as if he liked it, while Jasper, delighted with Polly's appreciation, beamed down on them, and struck up friendship with her on the instant.
"Now, I must call Phronsie," said Polly, getting up, her face as red as a rose.
"Is her name Phronsie?" asked the boy with interest. "No, it's Sophronia," said Polly, "but we call her Phronsie." "What a very funny name," said Jasper, "Sophronia is, for such a little thing--and yours is Polly, is it not?" he asked, turning around suddenly on her.
"Yes," said Polly; "no, not truly Polly; it's Mary, my real name is--but I've always been Polly."
"I like Polly best, too," declared Jasper, "it sounds so nice."
"And his name is Ben," said Polly.
"Ebenezer, you mean," said Ben, correcting her.
"Well, we call him Ben," said Polly; "it don't ever seem as if there was any Ebenezer about it."
"I should think not," laughed Jasper.
"Well, I must get Phronsie," again said Polly, running back into the bedroom, where that small damsel was busily engaged in washing "Baby" in the basin of water that she had with extreme difficulty succeeded in getting down on the floor. She had then, by means of a handful of soft soap, taken from Polly's soap-bowl during the dish-washing, and a bit of old cotton, plastered both herself and "Baby" to a comfortable degree of stickiness.
"Phronsie," said Polly--"dear me! what you doing? the big dog's out there, you know, that scared the naughty organ-man; and the boy"--but before the words were half out, Phronsie had slipped from under her hands, and to Polly's extreme dismay, clattered out into the kitchen.
"Here she is!" cried Jasper, meeting her at the door. The little soapy hands were grasped, and kissing her--"Ugh!" he said, as the soft soap plentifully spread on her face met his mouth.
"Oh, Phronsie! you shouldn't," cried Polly, and then they all burst out into a peal of laughter at Jasper's funny grimaces.
"She's been washing 'Baby," explained Polly, wiping her eyes, and looking at Phronsie who was hanging over Prince in extreme affection. Evidently Prince still regarded her as his especial property.
"Have you got a baby?" asked Jasper. "I thought she was the baby," pointing to Phronsie.
"Oh, I mean her littlest dolly; she always calls her 'Baby," said Polly. "Come, Phronsie, and have your face washed, and a clean apron on."
When Phronsie could be fairly persuaded that Prince would not run away during her absence, she allowed herself to be taken off; and soon re-appeared, her own, dainty little self. Ben, in the meantime, had been initiating Jasper into the mysteries of cutting the wood, the tool-house, and all the surroundings of the "little brown house." They had received a re-inforcement in the advent of Joel and David, who stared delightedly at Phronsie's protector, made friends with the dog, and altogether had had such a thoroughly good time, that Phronsie, coming back, clapped her hands in glee to hear them.
"I wish mammy was home," said Polly, polishing up the last cup carefully.
"Let me put it up," said Jasper, taking it from her, "it goes up here, don't it, with the rest?" reaching up to the upper-shelf of the old cupboard.
"Yes," said Polly.
"Oh, I should think you'd have real good times!" said the boy, enviously. "I haven't a single sister or brother."
"Haven't you?" said Polly, looking at him in extreme pity. "Yes, we do have real fun," she added, answering his questioning look; "the house is just brimful sometimes, even if we are poor."
"We aren't poor," said Joel, who never could bear to be pitied. Then, with a very proud air, he said in a grand way-- "At any rate, we aren't going to be, long, for something's coming!"
"What do you mean, Joey?" asked Ben, while the rest looked equally amazed.
"Our ships," said Joel confidently, as if they were right before their eyes; at which they all screamed!
"See Polly's stove!" cried Phronsie, wishing to entertain in her turn. "Here 'tis," running up to it, and pointing with her fat little finger.
"Yes, I see," cried Jasper, pretending to be greatly surprised; "it's new, isn't it?"
"Yes," said the child; "it's very all new; four yesterdays ago!"
And then Polly stopped in sweeping up and related, with many additions and explanations from the others, the history of the stove, and good Dr. Fisher (upon whom they all dilated at great length), and the dreadful measles, and everything. And Jasper sympathized, and rejoiced with them to their hearts content, and altogether got so very home-like, that they all felt as if they had known him for a year. Ben neglected his work a little, but then visitors didn't come every day to the Peppers; so while Polly worked away at her bread, which she was "going to make like biscuits," she said, the audience gathered in the little old kitchen was in the merriest mood, and enjoyed everything to the fullest extent.
"Do put in another stick, Bensie dear," said Polly; "this bread won't befit for anything!"
"Isn't this fun, though!" cried Jasper, running up to try the oven; "I wish I could ever bake," and he looked longingly at the little brown biscuits waiting their turn out on the table.
"You come out some day," said Polly, sociably, "and we'll all try baking--mammy'd like to have you, I know," feeling sure that nothing would be too much for Mrs. Pepper to do for the protector of little Phronsie.
"I will!" cried Jasper, perfectly delighted. "You can't think how awfully dull it is out in Hingham!"
"Don't you live there?" asked Polly, with a gasp, almost dropping a tin full of little brown lumps of dough she was carrying to the oven.
"Live there!" cried Jasper; and then he burst out into a merry laugh. "No, indeed! I hope not! Why, we're only spending the summer there, father and I, in the hotel."
"Where's your mother?" asked Joel, squeezing in between Jasper and his audience. And then they all felt instinctively that a very wrong question had been asked.
"I haven't any mother," said the boy, in a low voice.
They all stood quite still for a moment; then Polly said, "I wish you'd come out sometime; and you may bake--or anything else," she added; and there was a kinder ring to her voice than ever.
No mother! Polly for her life, couldn't imagine how anybody could feel without a mother, but the very words alone smote her heart; and there was nothing she wouldn't have done to give pleasure to one who had done so much for them.
"I wish you could see our mother," she said, gently. "Why, here she comes now! oh, mamsie, dear," she cried. "Do, Joe, run and take her bundle."
Mrs. Pepper stopped a minute to kiss Phronsie--her baby was dearer than ever to her now. Then her eye fell on Jasper, who stood respectfully waiting and watching her with great interest.
"Is this," she asked, taking it all in at the first glance--the boy with the honest eyes as Ben had described him--and the big, black dog--"is this the boy who saved my little girl?"
"Oh, ma'am," cried Jasper, "1 didn't do much; 'twas Prince."
"I guess you never'll know how much you did do," said Mrs. Pepper. Then looking with a long, keen gaze into the boy's eyes that met her own so frankly and kindly: "I'll trust him," she said to herself; "a boy with those eyes can't help but be good."
"Her eyes are just the same as Polly's," thought Jasper, "just such laughing ones, only Polly's are brown," and he liked her on the spot.
And then, somehow, the hubbub ceased. Polly went on with her work, and the others separated, and Mrs. Pepper and Jasper had a long talk. When the mother's eyes fell on Phronsie playing around on the floor, she gave the boy a grateful smile that he thought was beautiful.
"Well, I declare," said Jasper, at last, looking up at the old clock in the corner by the side of the cupboard, "I'm afraid I'll miss the stage, and then father never'll let me come again. Come, Prince."
"Oh, don't go," cried Phronsie, wailing. "Let doggie stay! Oh, make him stay, mammy!"
"I can't, Phronsie," said Mrs. Pepper, smiling, "if he thinks he ought to go."
"I'll come again," said Jasper, eagerly, "if I may, ma'am."
He looked up at Mrs. Pepper as he stood cap in hand, waiting for the answer.
"I'm sure we should be glad if your father'll be willing," she added; thinking, proudly, "My children are an honor to anybody, I'm sure," as she glanced around on the bright little group she could call her own. "But be sure, Jasper," and she laid her hand on his arm as she looked down into his eyes, "that you father is willing, that's all."
"Oh, yes, ma'am," said the boy; "but he will be, I guess, if he feels well."
"Then come on Thursday," said Polly; "and can't we bake something then, mammy?"
"I'm sure I don't care," laughed Mrs. Pepper; "but you won't find much but brown flour and meal to bake with."
"Well, we can pretend," said Polly; "and we can cut the cakes with the heart-shape, and they'll do for anything.
"Oh, I'll come," laughed Jasper, ready for such lovely fun in the old kitchen; "look out for me on Thursday, Ben!"
So Jasper and Prince took their leave, all the children accompanying them to the gate; and then after seeing him fairly started on a smart run to catch the stage, Prince scampering at his heels, they all began to sing his praises and to wish for Thursday to come.
But Jasper didn't come! Thursday came and went; a beautiful, bright, sunny day, but with no signs of the merry boy whom all had begun to love, nor of the big black dog. The children had made all the needful preparations with much ostentation and bustle, and were in a state of excited happiness, ready for any gale. But the last hope had to be given up, as the old clock ticked away hour after hour. And at last Polly had to put Phronsie to bed, who wouldn't stop crying enough to eat her supper at the dreadful disappointment.
"He couldn't come, I know," said both Ben and Polly, standing staunchly up for their new friend; but Joel and David felt that he had broken his word.
"He promised," said Joel, vindictively.
"I don't believe his father'd let him," said Polly, wiping away a sly tear; "I know Jasper'd come, if he could."
Mrs. Pepper wisely kept her own counsel, simply giving them a kindly caution:
"Don't you go to judging him, children, till you know."
"Well, he promised," said Joel, as a settler.
"Aren't you ashamed, Joel," said his mother, "to talk about any one whose back is turned? Wait till he tells you the reason himself."
Joel hung his head, and then began to tease David in the corner, to make up for his disappointment.
The next morning Ben had to go to the store after some more meal. As he was going out rather dismally, the storekeeper, who was also postmaster, called out, "Oh, halloa, there!"
"What is it?" asked Ben, turning back, thinking perhaps Mr. Atkins hadn't given him the right change.
"Here," said Mr. Atkins, stepping up to the Post-office department, quite smart with its array of boxes and official notices, where Ben had always lingered, wishing there might be sometime a letter for him--or some of them. "You've got a sister Polly, haven't you?"
"Yes," said Ben, wondering what was coming next.
"Well, she's got a letter," said the postmaster, holding up a nice big envelope, looking just like those that Ben had so many times wished for. That magic piece of white paper danced before the boy's eyes for a minute; then he said-- "It can't be for her, Mr. Atkins; why, she's never had one." "Well, she's got one now, sure enough," said Mr. Atkins; "here 'tis, plain enough," and he read what he had no need to study much as it had already passed examination by his own and his wife's faithful eyes: "Miss Polly Pepper, near the Turnpike, Badgertown'--that's her, isn't it?" he added, laying it down before Ben's eyes. "Must be a first time for everything, you know, my boy!" and he laughed long over his own joke; "so take it and run along home." For Ben still stood looking at it, and not offering to stir.
"If you say so," said the boy, as if Mr. Atkins had given him something out of his own pocket; "but I'm afraid 'tisn't for Polly." Then buttoning up the precious letter in his jacket, he spun along home as never before.
"Polly! Polly!" he screamed. "Where is she, mother?"
"I don't know," said Mrs. Pepper, coming out of the bedroom. "Dear me! is anybody hurt, Ben?"
"I don't know," said Ben, in a state to believe anything, "but Polly's got a letter."
"Polly got a letter!" cried Mrs. Pepper; "what do you mean, Ben?"
"I don't know," repeated the boy, still holding out the precious letter; "but Mr. Atkins gave it to me; where is Polly?"
"I know where she is," said Joel; "she's up-stairs." And he flew out in a twinkling, and just as soon reappeared with Polly scampering after him in the wildest excitement.
And then the kitchen was in an uproar as the precious missive was put into Polly's hand; and they all gathered around her, wondering and examining, till Ben thought he would go wild with the delay.
"I wonder where it did come from," said Polly, in the greatest anxiety, examining again the address.
"Where does the postmark say?" asked Mrs. Pepper, looking over her shoulder.
"It's all rubbed out," said Polly, peering at it "you can't see anything."
"Do open it," said Ben, "and then you'll find out."
"But p'raps 'tisn't for me," said Polly, timidly.
"Well, Mr. Atkins says 'tis," said Ben, impatiently; "here, I'll open it for you, Polly."
"No, let her open it for herself, Ben," protested his mother.
"But she won't," said Ben; "do tear it open, Polly."
"No, I'm goin' to get a knife," she said.
"I'll get one," cried Joel, running up to the table drawer; "here's one, Polly."
"Oh, dear," groaned Ben; "you never'll get it open at this rate!"
But at last it was cut; and they all holding their breath, gazed awe-struck, while Polly drew out the mysterious missive.
"What does it say?" gasped Mrs. Pepper.
"Dear Miss Polly," began both Ben and Polly in a breath. "Let Polly read," said Joel, who couldn't hear in the confusion.
"Well, go on Polly," said Ben; "hurry!"
"Dear Miss Polly, I was so sorry I couldn't come on Thursday' "--
"Oh, it's Jasper! it's Jasper!" cried all the children in a breath.
"I told you so!" cried Ben and Polly, perfectly delighted to find their friend vindicated fully--"there! Joey Pepper!"
"Well, I don't care," cried Joe, nothing daunted, "he didn't come, anyway--do go on, Polly."
"I was so sorry I couldn't come' "--began Polly.
"You read that," said Joel.
"I know it," said Polly, "but it's just lovely; 'on Thursday; but my father was sick, and I couldn't leave him. If you don't mind I'll come again--I mean I'll come some other day, if it's just as convenient for you, for I do so want the baking, and the nice time. I forgot to say that I had a cold, to,' (here Jasper had evidently had a struggle in his mind whether there should be two 0's or one, and he had at last decided it, by crossing out one) but my father is willing I should come when I get well. Give my love to all, and especially remember me respectfully to your mother. Your friend,
Jasper Elyot King."
"Oh, lovely! lovely!" cried Polly, flying around with the letter in her hand; "so he is coming!"
Ben was just as wild as she was, for no one knew but Polly just how the new friend had stepped into his heart. Phronsie went to sleep happy, hugging "Baby."
"And don't you think, Baby, dear," she whispered sleepily, and Polly heard her say as she was tucking her in, "that Japser is really comin'; really--and the big, be-you-ti-ful doggie, too!"