Which Treats of a Good Many Matters
 

"Phooh!" said Joel a few mornings after the emptying of the little brown house into the big one, when he and Van were rehearsing for the fiftieth time all the points of the eventful night, "phooh! if I'd been here they wouldn't got away, I guess!"

"What would you have done?" asked Van, bristling up at this reflection on their courage, and squaring up to him. "What would you have done, Joel Pepper?"

"I'd a-pitched right into 'em--like--everything!" said Joel valiantly; "and a-caught 'em! Yes, every single one of the Bunglers!"

"The what?" said Van, bursting into a loud laugh.

"The Bunglers," said Joel with a red face. "That's what you said they were, anyway," he added positively.

"I said Burglars," said Van, doubling up with amusement, while Joel stood, a little sturdy figure, regarding him with anything but a sweet countenance.

"Well anyway, I'd a-caught 'em, so there!" he said, as Van at last showed signs of coming out of his fit of laughter, and got up and wiped his eyes.

"How'd you caught 'em?" asked Van, scornfully surveying the square little country figure before him. "You can't hit any.

"Can't?" said Joel, the black eyes flashing volumes, and coming up in front of Van. "You better believe I can, Van Whitney!"

"Come out in the back yard and try then," said Van hospitably, perfectly delighted at the prospect, and flying alone towards the door. "Come right out and try."

"All right!" said Joel, following sturdily, equally delighted to show his skill.

"There," said Van, taking off his jacket, and ffinging it on the grass, while Joel immediately followed suit with his little homespun one. "Now we can begin perfectly splendid! I won't hit hard," he added patronizingly, as both boys stood ready.

"Hit as hard as you've a-mind to," said Joel, "I'm a-going to."

"Oh, you may," said Van politely, "because you're company. All right--now!"

So at it they went. Before very many minutes were over, Van relinquished all ideas of treating his company with extra consideration, and was only thinking how he could possibly hold his own with the valiant little country lad. Oh, if he could only be called to his lessons--anything that would summon him into the house! Just then a window above their heads was suddenly thrown up, and his mamma's voice in natural surprise and distress called quickly: "Children what are you doing? Oh, Van, how could you!"

Both contestants turned around suddenly. Joel looked up steadily. "We're a-hitting, ma'am; he said I couldn't, and so we came out and--"

"Oh, Vanny," said Mrs. Whitney reproachfully, "to treat a little guest in this way!"

"I wanted to," said Joel cheerfully; "twas great fun. Let's begin again, Van!"

"We mustn't," said Van, readily giving up the charming prospect, and beginning to edge quickly towards the house. "Mamma wouldn't like it you know. He hits splendidly, mamma," he added generously, looking up. "He does really."

"And so does Van," cried Joel, his face glowing at the praise. "We'll come out every day," he added slipping into his jacket, and turning enthusiastically back to Van.

"And perhaps he could have pitched into the Burglars," finished Van, ignoring the invitation, and tumbling into his jacket with alarming speed.

"I know I could!" cried Joel, scampering after him into the house. "If I'd only a-been here!"

"Where's Ben?" said Van, bounding into the hail, and flinging himself down on one of the chairs. "Oh dear, I'm so hot! Say, Joe, where do you s'pose Ben is?"

"I don't know," replied Joel, who didn't even puff.

"I saw him a little while ago with master Percy," said Jane, who was going through the hall.

"There now! and they've gone off somewhere," cried Van in extreme irritation, and starting up quickly. "I know they have. Which way did they go, Jane? And how long ago?"

"Oh, I don't know," replied Jane carelessly, "half an hour maybe; and they didn't go nowhere as I see, at least they were talking at the door, and I was going up-stairs."

"Right here?" cried Van, and stamping with his foot to point out the exact place; "at this door, Jane?"

"Yes, yes," said Jane; "at that very door," and then she went into the dining-room to her work.

"Oh dear me!" cried Van, and flying out on the veranda, he began to peer wildly up and down the drive. "And they've gone to some splendid place, I know, and wouldn't tell us. That's just like Percy!" he added vindictively, "he's always stealing away! don't you see 'em, Joel? oh, do come out and look!"

"'Tisn't any use," said Joel coolly, sitting down on the chair Van had just vacated, and swinging his feet comfortably; "they're miles away if they've been gone half an hour. I'm goin' up-stairs," and he sprang up, and energetically pranced to the stairs.

"They aren't up-stairs!" screamed Van, in scorn, bounding into the hall. "Don't go; I know that they've gone down to the museum!"

"The what?" exclaimed Joel, nearly at the top, peering over the railing. "What's that you said--what is it?"

"A museum," shouted Van, "and it's a perfectly elegant place, Joel Pepper, and Percy knows I like to go; and now he's taken Ben off; and he'll show him all the things! and they'll all be old when I take him--and--and--oh! I hope the snakes will bite him!" he addcd, trying to think of something bad enough.

"Do they have snakes there?" asked Joel, staring.

"Yes, they do," snapped out Van. "They have everything!"

"Well, they shan't bite Ben!" cried Joel in terror. "Oh! do you suppose they will?" and he turned right straight around on the stairs, and looked at Van.

"No," said Van, "they won't bite--what's the matter, Joe?"

"Oh, they may," said Joel, his face working, and screwing both fists into his eyes; at last he burst right out into a torrent of sobs. "Oh, don't let 'em Van--don't!"

"Why, they can't," said Van in an emphatic voice, running up the stairs to Joel's side, frightened to death at his tears.

Then he began to shake his jacket sleeve violently to bring him back to reason, "Wait Joe! oh, do stop! oh, dear, what shall I do! I tell you, they can't bite," he screamed as loud as he could into his ear.

"You said--you--hoped--they--would,"said Joel's voice in smothered tones.

"Well, they won't anyway," said Van decidedly. "Cause they're all stuffed--so there now!"

"Ain't they alive--nor anythin'?" asked Joel, bringing one black eye into sight from behind his chubby hands.

"No," said Van, "they're just as dead as anything, Joel Pepper--been dead years! and there's old crabs there too, old dead crabs--and they're just lovely! Oh, such a lots of eggs as they've got! And there are shells and bugs and stones--and an awful old crocodile, and"---- "Oh, dear!" sighed Joel, perfectly overcome at such a vision, and sitting down on the stairs to think. "Well, mamsie'll know where Ben is," he said, springing up. "And then I tell you Van, we'll just tag 'em!"

"So she will," cried Van. "Why didn't we think of that before? I wanted to think."

"I did," said Joel. "That was where I was goin'."

Without any more ado they rushed into Mrs. Pepper's big, sunny room, there to see, seated at the square table between the two large windows, the two lost ones bending over what seemed to be an object of the greatest importance, for Polly was hanging over Ben's shoulder with intense pride and delight, which she couldn't possibly conceal, and Davie was crowded as near as he could get to Percy's elbow.

Phronsie and little Dick were perched comfortably on the corner of the table, surveying the whole scene in quiet rapture; and Mrs. Pepper with her big mending basket, was ensconced over by the deep window seat just on the other side of the room, underneath Cherry's cage, and looking up between quick energetic stitches, over at the busy group, with the most placid expression on her face.

"Oh!--what you doin'?" cried Joel, flying up to them. "Let us see, do Ben!"

"What is it?" exclaimed Van, squeezing in between Percy and Ben.

"Don't"----began Percy. "There, see, you've knocked his elbow and spoilt it!"

"Oh no, he hasn't," said Ben, putting down his pencil, and taking up a piece of rubber. "There, see it all comes out--as good as ever."

"Isn't it just elegant?" said Percy in the most pleased tone, and wriggling his toes under the table to express his satisfaction,

"Yes," said Van, craning his neck to get a better view of the picture, now nearly completed, "It's perfectly splendid. How'd you do it, Ben?"

"I don't know," replied Ben with a smile, carefully shading in a few last touches. "It just drew itself."

"Tisn't anything to what he can do," said Polly, standing up as tall as she could, and beaming at Ben, "He used to draw most beautiful at home."

"Better than this?" asked Van, with great respect and taking up the picture, after some demur on Percy's part, and examining it critically. "I don't believe it, Polly."

"Phooh; he did!" exclaimed Joel, looking over his shoulder at a wonderful view of a dog in an extremely excited state of mind running down an interminable hill to bark at a locomotive and train of cars whizzing along a curve in the foreground. Lots better'n that! Ben can do anything!" he added, in an utterly convincing way.

"Now give it back," cried Percy, holding out his hand in alarm. "I'm going to ask mamma to have it framed; and then I'm going to hang it right over my bed," he finished, as Van reluctantly gave up the treasure.

"Did you draw all the time in the little brown house?" asked Van, lost in thought. "Howl wish I'd been there!"

"Dear, no!" cried Polly with a little skip, turning away to laugh. "He didn't have hardly any time, and"----"Why not?" asked Percy.

"Cause there was. things to do," said Polly. "But sometimes when it rained, and he couldn't go out and work, and there wasn't anything to do in the house--then we'd have----oh!" and she drew a long breath at the memory, "such a time, you can't think!"

"Didn't you wish it would always rain?" asked Van, still gazing at the picture.

"Dear, no!" began Polly.

"I didn't," broke in Joel, in horror. "I wouldn't a-had it rain for anything!--~only once in a while," he added, as he thought of the good times that Polly had spoken of.

"'Twas nice outdoors," said little Davie, reflectively; "and nice inside, too." And then he glanced over to his mother, who gave him a smile in return. "And 'twas nice always."

"Well," said Van, returning to the picture, "I do wish you'd tell me how to draw, Ben. I can't do anything but flowers," he said in a discouraged way.

"Flowers aren't anything," said Percy, pleasantly. "That's girls' work; but dogs and horses and cars--those are just good!"

"Will you, Ben?" asked Van, looking down into the big blue eyes, so kindly turned up to his.

"Yes, indeed I will," cried Ben, "that is, all I know; 'tisn't much, but everything I can, I'll tell you."

"Then I can learn, can't I?" cried Van joyfully.

"Oh, tell me too, Ben," cried Percy, "will you? I want to learn too."

"And me!" cried Dick, bending forward, nearly upsetting Phronsie as he did so. "Yes, say I may, Ben, do!"

"You're too little," began Percy. But Ben nodded his head at Dick, which caused him to clap his hands and return to his original position, satisfied.

"Well, I guess we're going to, too," said Joel. "Dave an' me; there isn't anybody goin' to learn without us."

"Of course not," said Polly, "Ben wouldn't leave you out, Joey.

Phronsie sat quite still all this time, on the corner of the table, her feet tucked up under her, and her hands clasped in her lap, and never said a word. But Ben looking up, saw the most grieved expression settling on her face, as the large eyes were fixed in wonder on the faces before her.

"And there's my pet," he cried in enthusiasm, and reaching over the table, he caught hold of one of the little fat hands. "Why we couldn't think of getting along without her! She shall learn to draw--she shall!"

"Really, Bensie?" said Phronsie, the sunlight breaking all over the gloomy little visage, and setting the brown eyes to dancing. "Real, true, splendid pictures?"

"Yes, the splendidest," said Ben, "the very splendidest pictures, Phronsie Pepper, you ever saw!"

"Oh!" cried Phronsie; and before any one knew what she was about, she tripped right into the middle of the table, over the papers and everything, and gave a happy little whirl!

"Dear me, Phronsie!" cried Polly catching her up and hugging her; "you mustn't dance on the table."

"I'm going to learn," said Phronsie, coming out of Polly's embrace, "to draw whole pictures, all alone by myself--Ben said so!"

"I know it," said Polly, "and then you shall draw one for mainsie-- you shall!"

"I will," said Phronsie, dreadfully excited; "I'll draw her a cow, and two chickens, Polly, just like Grandma Bascom's!"

"Yes," whispered Polly, "but don't you tell her yet till you get it done, Phronsie."

"I won't," said Phronsie in the loudest of tones--but putting her mouth close to Polly's ear. "And then she'll be so s'prised, Polly! won't she?"

Just then came Jasper's voice at the door. "Can I come in?"

"Oh, do, Jappy," cried Polly, rushing along with Phronsie in her arms to open the door. "We're so glad you've got home!"

"So am I," said Jasper, coming in, his face flushed and his eyes sparkling; "I thought father never would be through downtown, Polly!"

"We're going to learn to draw," said Percy, over by the table, who wouldn't on any account leave his seat by Ben, though he was awfully tired of sitting still so long, for fear somebody else would hop into it. "Ben's going to teach us."

"Yes, he is," put in Van, bounding up to Jasper and pulling at all the buttons on his jacket he could reach, to command attention.

"And us," said Joel, coming up too. "You forgot us, Van."

"The whole of us--every single one in this room," said Van decidedly, "all except Mrs. Pepper."

"Hulloa!" said Jasper, "that is a class! Well, Professor Ben, you've got to teach me then, for I'm coming too."

"You?" said Ben, turning around his chair, and looking at him; "I can't teach you anything, Jappy. You know everything already"-.-

"Let him come, anyway," said Polly, hopping up and down.

"Oh, I'm coming, Professor," laughed Jasper. "Never you fear, Polly; I'll be on hand when the rest of the class comes in!"

"And Van," said Mrs. Pepper, pausing a minute in her work, and smiling over at him in a lull in the chatter--"I think flowers are most beautiful!" and she pointed to a little framed picture on the mantel, of the bunch of buttercups and one huge rose that Van had with infinite patience drawn, and then colored to suit his fancy.

"Do you?" cried Van, perfectly delighted; and leaving the group he rushed up to her side. "Do you really think they're nice, Mrs. Pepper?"

"Of course I do," said Mrs. Pepper briskly, and beaming on him; "I think everything of them, and I shall keep them as long as I live, Van!"

"Well, then," said Van, very much pleased, "I shall paint you ever so many more--just as many as you want!"

"Do!" said Mrs. Pepper, taking up her work again. "And I'll hang them every one up."

"Yes, I will," said Van; "and I'll go right to work on one to-morrow. What you mending our jackets for?" he asked abruptly as a familiar hole caught his attention.

"Because they're torn," said Mrs. Pepper cheerfully, "an' they won't mend themselves."

"Why don't you let Jane?" he persisted. "She always does them."

"Jane's got enough to do," replied Mrs. Pepper, smiling away as hard as she could, "and I haven't, so rm going to look around and pick up something to keep my hands out of mischief as much as Jean, while I'm here."

"Do you ever get into mischief?" asked little Dick, coming up and looking into Mrs. Pepper's face wonderingly. "Why, you're a big woman!"

"Dear me, yes!" said Mrs. Pepper. "The bigger you are, the more mischief you can get into. You'll find that out, Dickey."

"And then do you have to stand in a corner?" asked Dick, determined to find out just what were the consequences, and reverting to his most dreaded punishment.

"No," said Mrs. Pepper laughing. "Corners are for little folks; but when people who know better, do wrong, there aren't any corners they can creep into, or they'd get into them pretty quick!"

"I wish," said little Dick, "you'd let me get into your lap. That would be a nice corner!"

"Do, mamsie," said Polly, coming up, "that's just the way I used to feel; and I'll finish the mending."

So Mrs. Pepper put down her work, and moved the big basket for little Dick to clamber up, when he laid his head contentedly back in her motherly arms with a sigh of happiness. Phronsie regarded him with a very grave expression. At last she drew near: "I'm tired; do, mamsie, take me!"

"So mamsie will," said Mrs. Pepper, opening her anns, when Phronsie immediately crawled up into their protecting shelter, with a happy little crow.

"Oh, now, tell us a story, Mrs. Pepper," cried Van; "please, please do!"

"No, no;" exclaimed Percy, scuttling out of his chair, and coming up, "let's talk of the little brown house. Do tell us what you used to do there--that's best."

"So 'tis!" cried Van; "All the nice times you used to have in it! Wait just a minute, do." And he ran back for a cricket which he placed at Mrs. Pepper's feet; and then sitting down on it, he leaned on her comfortable lap, in order to hear better.

"Wait for me too, till I get a chair," called Percy, starting. "Don't begin till I get there."

"Here, let me, Percy," said Ben; and he drew forward a big easy-chair that the boy was tugging at with all his might.

"Now I'm ready, too," said Polly, setting small finishing stitches quickly with a merry little flourish, and drawing her chair nearer her mother's as she spoke.

"Now begin, please," said Van, "all the nice times you know."

"She couldn't tell all the nice times if she had ten years to tell them in, could she, Polly?" said Jasper.

"Well, in the first place then," said Mrs. Pepper, clearing her throat, "the little brown house had got to be, you know, so we made up our minds to make it just the nicest brown house that ever was!"

"And it was!" declared Jasper, with an emphatic ring to his voice. "The very nicest place in the whole world!"

"Oh dear," broke in Van enviously; "Jappy's always said so. I wish we'd been there, too!"

"We didn't want anybody but Jappy," said Joel not very politely.

"Oh Joey, for shame!" cried Polly.

"Jappy used to bake," cried little Davie; "an' we all made pies; an' then we sat round an' ate 'em, an' then told stories."

"Oh what fun!" cried Percy. "Do tell us!"

So the five little Peppers and Jasper flew off into reminiscences and accounts of the funny doings, and Mrs. Pepp~r joined in heartily till the room got very merry with the glee and enthusiasm called forth; so much so, that nobody heard Mrs. Whitney knock gently at the door, and nobody answering, she was obliged to come in by herself.

"Well, well," she cried, merrily, looking at the swarm of little ones around Mrs. Pepper and the big chair. "You are having a nice time! May I come and listen?"

"Oh, if you will, sister," cried Jasper, springing off from his arm of the chair, while Ben flew from the other side, to hurry and get her a chair.

Percy and Van rushed too, knocking over so many things that they didn't help much; and little Dick poked his head out from Mrs. Pepper's arms when he saw his mamma sitting down to stay and began to scramble down to get into her lap.

"There now," said Mrs. Whitney, smiling over at Mrs. Pepper, who was smiling at her. "You have your baby, and I have mine! Now children, what's it all about? What has Mrs. Pepper been telling you?"

"Oh, the little brown house," cried Dicky, his cheeks all a-flame. "The dearest little house mamma! I wish I could live in one!

"Twouldn't be the same without the Peppers in it," said Jasper. "Not a bit of it!"

"And they had such perfectly elegant times," cried Percy, enviously, drawing up to her side. "Oh, you can't think, mamma!"

"Well now," said his mamma, "do go on, and let me hear some of the nice times."

So away they launched again, and Mrs. Whitney was soon enjoying it as hugely as the children, when a heavy step sounded in the middle of the room, and a voice spoke in such a tone that everybody skipped.

"Well, I should like to know what all this means! I've been all over the house, and not a trace of anybody could I find."

"Oh father!" cried Mrs. Whitney. "Van, dear, get up and get grandpapa a chair."

"No, no!" said the old gentleman, waving him off impatiently. "I'm not going to stay; I must go and lie down. My head is in a bad condition to-day; very bad indeed," he added.

"Oh!" said Phronsie, popping up her head and looking at him. "I must get right down."

"What's the matter, Phronsie?" asked Mrs. Pepper, trying to hold her back.

"Oh, but I must," said Phronsie, energetically wriggling. "My poor sick man wants me, he does." And flying out of her mother's arms, she ran up to Mr. King, and standing on tiptoe, said softly, "I'll rub your head, grandpa dear, poor sick man; yes I wilL"

"And you're the best child," cried the old gentleman, catching her up and marching over to the other side of the room where there was a lounging chair. "There now, you and I, Phronsie, will stay by ourselves. Then my head will feel better."

And he sat down and drew her into his arms.

"Does it ache very bad?" said Phronsie, in a soft little voice. Then reaching up she began to pat and smooth it gently with one little hand, "Very bad, dear grandpa?"

"It won't," said the old gentleman, "if you only keep on taking care of it, little Phronsie."

"Then," said the child, perfectly delighted, "rm going to take all care of you, grandpa, always!"

"So you shall, so you shall!" cried Mr. King, no less delighted than she was. "Mrs. Pepper!"

"Sir?" said Mrs. Pepper, trying to answer, which she couldn't do very well surrounded as she was by the crowd of little chatterers. "Yes, Sir; excuse me what is it, sir?"

"We've got to come to an understanding about this thing," said the old gentleman, "and I can't talk much to-day, because my headache won't allow it.

Here the worried look came into Phronsie's face again, and she began to try to smooth his head with both little hands.

"And so I must say it all in as few words as possible," he continued.

"What is it, sir?" again asked Mrs. Pepper, wonderingly. "Well, the fact is, I've got to have somebody who will keep this house. Now Marian, not a word!" as he saw symptoms of Mrs. Whitney's joining in the conversation. "You've been good; just as good as can be under the circumstances; but Mason will be home in the fall, and then I suppose you'll have to go with him. "Now 1," said the old gentleman, forgetting all about his head, and straightening himself up suddenly in the chair, "am going to get things into shape, so that the house will be kept for all of us; so that we can come or go. And how can I do it better than to have the Peppers--you, Mrs. Pepper, and all your children--come here and live, and"-- "Oh, father!" cried Jasper, rushing up to him; and flinging his arms around his neck, he gave him such a hug as he hadn't received for many a day.

"Goodness, Jasper!" cried his father, feeling of his throat. "How can you express your feelings so violently! And, besides, you interrupt."

"Beg pardon, sir," said Jasper, swallowing his excitement, and trying to control his eagerness.

"Do you say yes, Mrs. Pepper?" queried the old gentleman impatiently. "I must get this thing fixed up to-day. I'm really too ill to be worried ma'am."

"Why sir," stammered Mrs. Pepper, "I don't know what to say. I couldn't think of imposing all my children on you, and"---- "Imposing! Who's talking of imposing!" said Mr. King in a loud key. "I want my house kept; will you live here and keep it? That is the question."

"But sir," began Mrs. Pepper again, "you don't think"---- "I do think; I tell you, ma'am, I do think," snapped the old gentleman. "It's just because I have thought that I've made up my mind. Will you do it Mrs. Pepper?"

"What you goin' to do, mamsie?" asked Joel quickly.

"I don't know as I'm going to do anything yet," said poor Mrs. Pepper, who was almost stunned.

"To come here and live!" cried Jasper, unable to keep still any longer--and springing to the children. "Don't you want to, Joe?"

"To live!" screamed Joel. "Oh whickety, yes! Do ma, do come here and live--do!"

"To live?" echoed Phronsie, over in the old gentleman's lap. "In this be-yew-ti-ful place? Oh, oh!"

"Oh, mamsie!" that was all Polly could say.

And even Ben had his arms around his mother's neck, whispering "Do" into her ear, while little Davie got into her lap and teased her with all his might.

What shall I do! cried the poor woman. Did ever anybody see the like?"

"It's the very best thing you could possibly do," cried the

old gentleman. "Don't you see it's for the children's advantage? They'll get such educations, Mrs. Pepper, as you want for them. And it accommodates me immensely. What obstacle can there be to it?"

"If I was only sure 'twas best?" said Mrs. Pepper doubtfully.

"Oh, dear Mrs. Pepper," said Mrs. Whitney, laying her hand on hers. "Can you doubt it?"

"Then," said Mr. King, getting up, but still holding on to Phronsie, "we'll consider it settled. This is your home, children," he said, waving his hand at the five little Peppers in a bunch. And having thus summarily disposed of the whole business, he marched out with Phronsie on his shoulder.