A Letter to Jasper
 

"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 mixture.

"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 believe!"

"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 paper?"

"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 work."

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 begin."

"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 say?"

"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 writing."

"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 you!"

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

"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 tellyou!"

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

"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 things.

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

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, Ben?"

"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 dismay.

"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 knots!"

"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 done."

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

"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 'em!"

"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 wits.

"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, Polly!"

"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 easy."