Phronsie Pays a Debt of Gratitude
 

"And now I tell you," said Polly, the next day, "let's make Jasper something; can't we, ma?"

"Oh, do! do!" cried all the other children, "let's; but what'll it be, Polly?"

"I don't know about this," interrupted Mrs. Pepper; "I don't see how you could get anything to him if you could make it."

"Oh, we could, mamsie," said Polly, eagerly, running up to her; "for Ben knows; and he says we can do it."

"Oh, well, if Ben and you have had your heads together, I suppose it's all right," laughed Mrs. Pepper, "but I don't see how you can do it."

"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 Phronsie."

"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 cake-bowl.

"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 preparations.