Five Little Peppers And How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
Making Happiness for Mamsie
And so, the minute her mother had departed for the minister's house next morning, and Ben had gone to his day's work, chopping wood for Deacon Blodgett, Polly assembled her force around the old stove, and proceeded to business. She and the children had been up betimes that morning to get through with the work; and now, as they glanced around with a look of pride on the neatly swept floor, the dishes all done, and everything in order, the moment their mother's back was turned they began to implore Polly to huny and begin.
"It's most 'leven o'clock," said Joel, who, having no work to do outside, that day, was prancing around, wild to help along the festivities; "it's most 'leven o'clock, Polly Pepper! you won't have it done."
"Oh, no; 'tisn't either, Joe;" said Polly, with a very flushed face, and her arms full of kindlings, glancing up at the old clock as she spoke; "tisn't but quarter of nine; there, take care, Phronsie! you can't lift off the cover; do help her, Davie."
"No; let me!" cried Joel, springing forward; "it's my turn; Dave got the shingles; it's my turn, Polly."
"So 'tis," said Polly; "I forgot; there," as she flung in the wood, and poked it all up in a nice little heap coaxingly. "It can't help but burn; what a cake we'll have for mamsie!"
"It'll be so big," cried Phronsie, hopping around on one set of toes, "that mamsie won't know what to do, will she, Polly?"
"No, I don't believe she will," said Polly, gayly, stuffing in more wood; "Oh, dear! there goes Ben's putty; it's all come out!"
"So it has," said Joel, going around back of the stove to explore; and then he added cheerfully, "it's bigger'n ever; oh! it's an awful big hole, Polly!"
"Now, whatever shall we do!" said Polly, in great distress; "that hateful old crack! and Ben's clear off to Deacon Blodgett's!"
"I'll run and get him," cried Joel, briskly; "I'll bring him right home in ten minutes."
"Oh, no, you must not, Joe," cried Polly in alarm; "it wouldn't ever be right to take him off from his work; manisie wouldn't like it."
"What will you do, then?" asked Joel, pausing on his way to the door.
"I'm sure I don't know," said Polly, getting down on her knees to examine the crack; "I shall have to stuff it with paper, I s'pose."
"'Twon't stay in," said Joel, scornfully; "don't you know you stuffed it before, last week?"
"I know," said Polly, with a small sigh; and sitting down on the floor, she remained quite still for a minute, with her two black hands thrust out straight before her.
"Can't you fix it?" asked Davie, soberly, coming up; "then we can't have the cake."
"Dear me!" exclaimed Polly, springing up quickly; "don't be afraid; we're going to have that cake! There, you ugly old thing, you!" (this to the stove) "see what you've done!" as two big tears flew out of Phronsie's brown eyes at the direful prospect; and the sorrowful faces of the two boys looked up into Polly's own, for comfort. "I can fix it, I most know; do get some paper, Joe, as quick as you can."
"Don't know where there is any," said Joel, rummaging around; "it's all tore up; 'xcept the almanac; can't I take that?"
"Oh dear, no!" cried Polly; "put it right back, Joe; I guess there's some in the wood-shed."
"There isn't either," said little Davie, quickly; "Joel and I took it to make kites with."
"Oh dear," groaned Polly; "I don't know what we shall do; unless," as a bright thought struck her, "you let me have the kites, boys."
"Can't," said Joel; "they're all flew away; and torn up."
"Well, now, children," said Polly, turning round impressively upon them, the effect of which was heightened by the extremely crocky appearance she had gained in her explorations, "we must have some paper, or something to stop up that old hole with--some way, there!"
"I know," said little Davie, "where we'll get it; it's upstairs;" and without another word he flew out of the room, and in another minute he put into Polly's hand an old leather boottop, one of his most treasured possessions. "You can chip it," he said, "real fine, and then 'twill go in."
"So we can," said Polly; "and you're a real good boy, Davie, to give it; that's a splendid present to help celebrate for mamsic!"
"I'd a-given a boot-top," said Joel, looking grimly at the precious bit of leather which Polly was rapidly stripping into little bits, "if I'd a-hed it; I don't have anything!"
"I know you would, Joey," said Polly, kindly; "there now, you'll stay, I guess!" as with the united efforts of the two boys, cheered on by Phronsie's enthusiastic little crow of delight, the leather was crowded into place, and the fire began to burn.
"Now, boys," said Polly, getting up, and drawing a long breath, "I'm going over to Grandma Bascom's to get her to tell me how to make the cake; and you must stay and keep house."
"I'm going to nail," said Joel; "I've got lots to do."
"All right," said Polly, tying on her hood; "Phronsie'll love to watch you; I won't be gone long," and she was off.
"Grandma Bascom," wasn't really the children's grandmother; only everybody in the village called her so by courtesy. Her cottage was over across the lane, and just a bit around the corner; and Polly flew along and up to the door, fully knowing that now she would be helped out of her difliculty. She didn't stop to knock, as the old lady was so deaf she knew she wouldn't hear her, but opened the door and walked in. Grandma was sweeping up the floor, already as neat as a pin; when she saw Polly coming, she stopped, and leaned on her broom.
"How's your ma?" she asked, when Polly had said "good morning," and then hesitated.
"Oh, mammy's pretty well," shouted Polly into the old lady's ear; "and to-morrow's her birthday!"
"To-morrow'll be a bad day!" said grandma. "Oh, don't never say that. You mustn't borrow trouble, child."
"I didn't," said Polly; "I mean--it's her birthday, grandma!" this last so loud that grandma's cap-border vibrated perceptibly.
"The land's sakes 'tis!" cried Mrs. Bascom, delightedly; "you don't say so!"
"Yes," said Polly, skipping around the old lady, and giving her a small hug; "and we're going to give her a surprise."
"What is the matter with her eyes?" asked grandma, sharply, turning around and facing her; "she's been a-sewin' too stiddy, hain't she?"
"A surprise!" shouted Polly, standing upon tiptoe, to bring her mouth on a level with the old lady's ear; "a cake, grandma, a big one!"
"A cake!" exclaimed grandma, dropping the broom to settle her cap, which Polly in her extreme endeavors to carry on the conversation, had knocked slightly awry; "well, that'll be fine."
"Yes," said Polly, picking up the broom, and ffinging off her hood at the same time; "and, oh! won't you please tell me how to make it, grandma!"
"To be sure; to be sure;" cried the old lady, delighted beyond measure to give advice; "I've got splendid receets; I'll go get 'em right off," and she ambled to the door of the pantry.
"And I'll finish sweeping up," said Polly, which grandma didn't hear; so she took up the broom, and sent it energetically, and merrily flying away to the tune of her own happy thoughts.
"Yes, they're right in here," said grandma, waddling back with an old tin teapot in her hand;--"goodness, child! what a dust you've kicked up! that ain't the way to sweep." And she took the broom out of Polly's hand, who stood quite still in mortification.
"There," she said, drawing it mildly over the few bits she could scrape together, and gently coaxing them into a little heap; "that's the way; and then they don't go all over the room.
"I'm sorry," began poor Polly.
"'Tain't any matter," said Mrs. Bascom kindly, catching sight of Polly's discomfited face; "tain't a mite of matter; you'll sweep better next time; now let's go to the cake;" and putting the broom into the corner, she waddled back again to the table, followed by Polly, and proceeded to turn out the contents of the teapot, in search of just the right "receet."
But the right one didn't seem to appear; not even after the teapot was turned upside down and shaken by both grandma's and Polly's anxious hands. Every other "receet" seemed to tumble out gladly, and stare them in the face--little dingy rolls of yellow paper, with an ancient odor of spice still clinging to them; but all efforts to find this particular one failed utterly.
"Won't some other one do?" asked Polly, in the interval of fruitless searching, when grandma bewailed and lamented, and wondered, "where I could a put it!"
"No, no, child," answered the old lady; "now, where do you s'pose 'tis!" and she clapped both hands to her head, to see if she could possibly remember; "no, no, child," she repeated. "Why, thcy had it down to my niece Mirandy's weddin'--'twas just elegant! light as a feather; and 'twan't rich either," she added; "no eggs, nor"-- "Oh, I couldn't have eggs;" cried Polly, in amazement at the thought of such luxury; "and we've only brown flour, grandma, you know."
"Well, you can make it of brown," said Mrs. Bascom, kindly; "when the raisins is in 'twill look quite nice."
"Oh, we haven't any raisins," answered Polly.
"Haven't any raisins!" echoed grandma, looking at her over her spectacles; "what are you goin' to put in?"
"Oh--cinnamon," said Polly, briskly; "we've got plenty of that, and--it'll be good, I guess, grandma!" she finished, anxiously; "anyway, we must have a cake; there isn't any other way to celebrate mamsie's birthday."
"Well, now," said grandma, bustling around; "I shouldn't be surprised if you had real good luck, Polly. And your ma'll set ever so much by it; now, if we only could find that receet!" and returning to the charge she commenced to fumble among her bits of paper again; "I never shall forget how they eat on it; why, there wasn't a crumb left, Polly!"
"Oh, dear," said Polly, to whom "Mirandy's wedding cake" now became the height of her desires; "if you only can find it! can't I climb up and look on the pantry shelves?"
"Maybe 'tis there," said Mrs. Bascom, slowly; "you might try; sometimes I do put things away, so's to have 'em safe."
So Polly got an old wooden chair, according to direction, and then mounted up on it, with grandma below to direct, she handed down bowl after bowl, interspersed at the right intervals with cracked teacups and handleless pitchers. But at the end of these explorations, "Mirandy's wedding cake" was further off than ever.
"Tain't a mite o' use," at last said the old lady, sinking down in despair, while Polly perched on the top of the chair and looked at her; "I must a-give it away."
"Can't I have the next best one, then?" asked Polly, despairingly, feeling sure that "Mirandy's wedding cake" would have celebrated the day just right; "and I must hurry right home, please," she added, getting down from the chair, and tying on her hood; "or Phronsie won't know what to do."
So another "receet" was looked over, and selected; and with many charges, and bits of advice not to let the oven get too hot, etc., etc., Polly took the precious bit in her hand, and flew over home.
"Now, we've got to--" she began, bounding in merrily, with dancing eyes; but her delight had a sudden stop, as she brought up so suddenly at the sight within, that she couldn't utter another word. Phronsie was crouching, a miserable little heap of woe, in one corner of the mother's big calico-covered rocking-chair, and crying bitterly, while Joel hung over her in the utmost concern.
"What's the matter?" gasped Polly. Flinging the "receet" on the table, she rushed up to the old chair and was down on her knees before it, her arms around the little figure. Phronsie turned, and threw herself into Polly's protecting arms, who gathered her up, and sitting down in the depths of the chair, comforted her as only she could.
"What is it?" she asked of Joel, who was nervously begging Phronsie not to cry; "now, tell me all that's happened."
"I was a-nailing," began Joel; "oh dear! don't cry, Phronsie! do stop her, Polly."
"Go on," said Polly, hoarsely.
"I was a-nailing," began Joel, slowly; "and--and--Davie's gone to get the peppermint," he added, brightening up.
"Tell me, Joe," said Polly, "all that's been going on," and she looked sternly into his face; "or I'll get Davie to," as little Davie came running back, with a bottle of castor oil, which in his flurry he had mistaken for peppermint. This he presented with a flourish to Polly, who was too excited to see it.
"Oh, no!" cried Joel, in intense alarm; "Davie isn't going to! I'll tell, Polly; I will truly."
"Go on, then," said Polly; "tell at once;" (feeling as if somebody didn't tell pretty quick, she should tumble over.)
"Well," said Joel, gathering himself up with a fresh effort, "the old hammer was a-shaking and Phronsie stuck her foot in the way--and--I couldn't help it, Polly--no, I just couldn't, Polly."
Quick as a flash, Polly tore off the little old shoe, and well-worn stocking, and brought to light Phronsie's fat little foot. Tenderly taking hold of the white toes, the boys clustering around in the greatest anxiety, she worked them back and forth, and up and down. "Nothing's broken," she said at last, and drew a long breath.
"It's there," said Phronsie, through a rain of tears; "and it hurts, Polly;" and she began to wiggle the big toe, where around the nail was settling a small black spot.
"Poor little toe," began Polly, cuddling up the suffering foot. Just then, a small and peculiar noise struck her ear; and looking up she saw Joel, with a very distorted face, making violent efforts to keep from bursting out into a loud cry. All his attempts, however, failed; and he flung himself into Polly's lap in a perfect torrent of tears. "I didn't--mean to--Polly," he cried; "'twas the--ugly, old hammer! oh dear!"
"There, there, Joey, dear," said Polly, gathering him up in the other corner of the old chair, close to her side; "don't feel bad; I know you didn't mean to," and she dropped a kiss on his stubby black hair.
When Phronsie saw that anybody else could cry, she stopped immediately, and leaning over Polly, put one little fat hand on Joel's neck. "Don't cry," she said; "does your toe ache?"
At this, Joel screamed louder than ever; and Polly was at her wit's end to know what to do; for the boy's heart was almost broken. That he should have hurt Phronsie! the baby, the pet of the whole house, upon whom all their hearts centered--it was too much. So for the next few moments, Polly had all she could do by way of comforting and consoling him. Just as she had succeeded, the door opened, and Grandma Bascom walked in.
"Settin' down?" said she; "I hope your cake ain't in, Polly," looking anxiously at the stove, "for I've found it;" and she waved a small piece of paper triumphantly towards the rocking-chair as she spoke.
"Do tell her," said Polly to little David, "what's happened; for I can't get up."
So little Davie went up to the old lady, and standing on tiptoe, screamed into her ear all the particulars he could think of, concerning the accident that had just happened.
"Hey?" said grandma, in a perfect bewilderment; "what's he a-sayin', Polly--I can't make it out."
"You'll have to go all over it again, David," said Polly, despairingly; "she didn't hear one word, I don't believe."
So David tried again; this time with better success. And then he got down from his tiptoes, and escorted grandma to Phronsie, in flushed triumph.
"Land alive!" said the old lady, sitting down in the chair which he brought her; "you got pounded, did you?" looking at Phronsie, as she took the little foot in her ample hand.
"Yes'm," said Polly, quickly; "twasn't any one's fault; what'll we do for it, grandma?"
"Wormwood," said the old lady, adjusting her spectacles in extreme deliberation, and then examining the little black and blue spot, which was spreading rapidly, "is the very best thing; and I've got some to home--you run right over," she said, turning round on David, quickly, "an' get it; it's a-hang-in' by the chimbley."
"Let me; let me!" cried Joel, springing out of the old chair, so suddenly that grandma's spectacles nearly dropped off in fright; "oh! I want to do it for Phronsie!"
"Yes, let Joel, please," put in Polly; "he'll find it, grandma." So Joel departed with great speed; and presently returned, with a bunch of dry herbs, which dangled comfortingly by his side, as he came in.
"Now I'll fix it," said Mrs. Bascom, getting up and taking off her shawl; "there's a few raisins for you, Polly; I don't want 'em, and they'll make your cake go better," and she placed a little parcel on the table as she spoke. "Yes, I'll put it to steep; an' after it's put on real strong, and tied up in an old cloth, Phronsie won't know as she's got any toes!" and grandma broke up a generous supply of the herb, and put it into an old tin cup, which she covered up with a saucer, and placed on the stove.
"Oh!" said Polly; "I can't thank you! for the raisins and all--you're so good!"
"They're awful hard," said Joel, investigating into the bundle with Davie, which, however, luckily the old lady didn't hear.
"There, don't try," she said cheerily; "an' I found cousin Mirandy's weddin' cake receet, for--"
"Did you?" cried Polly; "oh! I'm so glad!" feeling as if that were comfort enough for a good deal.
"Yes, 'twas in my Bible," said Mrs. Bascom; "I remember now; I put it there to be ready to give John's folks when they come in; they wanted it; so you'll go all straight now; and I must get home, for I left some meat a-boilin'." So grandma put on her shawl, and waddled off, leaving a great deal of comfort behind her.
"Now, says I," said Polly to Phronsie, when the little foot was snugly tied up in the wet wormwood, "you've got to have one of mamsie's old slippers."
"Oh, ho," laughed Phronsie; "won't that be funny, Polly!"
"I should think it would," laughed Polly, back again, pulling on the big cloth slipper, which Joel produced from the bedroom, the two boys joining uproariously, as the old black thing flapped dismally up and down, and showed strong symptoms of flying off. "We shall have to tie it on."
"It looks like a pudding bag," said Joel, as Polly tied it securely through the middle with a bit of twine; "an old black pudding bag!" he finished.
"Old black pudding bag!" echoed Phronsie, with a merry little crow; and then all of a sudden she grew very sober, and looked intently at the foot thrust out straight before her, as she still sat in the chair.
"What is it, Phronsie?" asked Polly, who was bustling around, making preparations for the cake-making.
"Can I ever wear my new shoes again?" asked the child, gravely, looking dismally at the black bundle before her.
"Oh, yes; my goodness, yes!" cried Polly; "as quick again as ever; you'll be around again as smart as a cricket in a week --see if you aren't!"
"Will it go on?" asked Phronsie, still looking incredulously at the bundle, "and button up?"
"Yes, indeed!" cried Polly, again; "button into every one of the little holes, Phronsie Pepper; just as elegant as ever!"
"Oh!" said Phronsie; and then she gave a sigh of relief, and thought no more of it, because Polly had said that all would be right.