Five Little Peppers And How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
"Oh, dear," said Polly to herself, the next morning, trying to get a breakfast for the sick ones out of the inevitable mush; "everything's just as bad as it can be! they can't ever eat this; I wish I had an ocean of toast!"
"Toast some of the bread in the pail, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper.
She looked worn and worried; she had been up nearly all night, back and forth from Ben's bed in the loft to restless, fretful little Phronsie in the big four-poster in the bedroom; for Phronsie wouldn't get into the crib. Polly had tried her best to help her, and had rubbed her eyes diligently to keep awake, but she was wholly unaccustomed to it, and her healthy, tired little body succumbed-- and then when she awoke, shame and remorse filled her very heart.
"That isn't nice, ma," she said, glancing at the poor old pail, which she had brought out of the "Provision Room." "Old brown bread! I want to fix 'em something nice."
"Well, you can't, you know," said Mrs. Pepper, with a sigh; "but you've got butter now; that'll be splendid!"
"I know it," said Polly, running to the corner cupboard where the precious morsel in the blue bowl remained; "whatever ~hou1d we do without it, mummy?"
"Do without it!" said Mrs. Pepper; "same's we have done."
"Well, 'twas splendid in Mrs. Henderson to give it to us, anyway," said Polly, longing for just one taste; "seems as if 'twas a year since I was there--oh, ma!" and here Polly took up the thread that had been so rudely snapped; "don't you think, she's got ten of the prettiest--yes, the sweetest little chickens you ever saw! Why can't we have some, mammy?"
"Costs money," replied Mrs. Pepper. "We've got too many in the house to have any outside."
"Oh, dear," said Polly, with a red face that was toasting about as much as the bread she was holding on the point of an old fork; "we never have had anything. There," she added at last; "that's the best I can do; now I'll put the butter on this little blue plate; ain't that cunning, ma?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper, approvingly; "it takes you, Polly." So Polly trotted first to Ben, up the crooked, low stairs to the loft; and while she regaled him with the brown toast and butter, she kept her tongue flying on the subject of the little chicks, and all that she saw on the famous Henderson visit. Poor Ben pretended hard to eat, but ate nothing really; and Polly saw it all, and it cut her to the heart--so she talked faster than ever.
"Now," she said, starting to go back to Phronsie; "Ben Pepper, just as soon as you get well, we'll have some chickens--so there!"
"Guess we sha'n't get 'em very soon," said Ben, despondently, "if I've got to lie here; and, besides, Polly, you know every bit we can save has got to go for the new stove."
"Oh, dear," said Polly, "I forgot that; so it has; seems to me everything's giving out!"
"You can't bake any longer in the old thing," said Ben, turning over and looking at her; "poor girl, I don't see how you've stood it so long."
"And we've been stuffing it," cried Polly merrily, "till 'twon't stuff any more."
"No," said Ben, turning back again, "that's all worn out."
"Well, you must go to sleep," said Polly, "or mammy'll be up here; and Phronsie hasn't had her breakfast either."
Phronsie was wailing away dismally, sitting up in the middle of the old bed. Her face pricked, she said, and she was rubbing it vigorously with both fat little hands, and then crying worse than ever.
"Oh me! oh my!" cried Polly; "how you look, Phronsie!"
"I want my mammy!" cried poor Phronsie.
"Mammy can't come now, Phronsie dear; she's sewing. See what Polly's got for you--butter: isn't that splendid!"
Phronsie stopped for just one moment, and took a mouthful; but the toast was hard and dry, and she cried harder than before.
"Now," said Polly, curling up on the bed beside her, "if you'll stop crying, Phronsie Pepper, I'll tell you about the cunningest, yes, the very cunningest little chickens you ever saw. One was white, and he looked just like this," said Polly, tumbling over on the bed in a heap; "he couldn't stand up straight, he was so fat."
"Did he biteP" asked Phronsie, full of interest.
"No, he didn't bite me," said Polly; "but his mother put a bug in his mouth--just as I'm doing you know," and she broke off a small piece of the toast, put on a generous bit of butter, and held it over Phronsie's mouth.
"Did he swallow it?" asked the child, obediently opening her little red lips.
"Oh, snapped it," answered Polly, "quick as ever he could, I tell you; but 'twasn't good like this, Phronsie."
"Did he have two bugs?" asked Phronsie, eying suspiciously the second morsel of dry toast that Polly was conveying to her mouth.
"Well, he would have had," replied Polly, "if there'd been bugs enough; but there were nine other chicks, Phronsie."
"Poor chickies," said Phronsie, and looked lovingly at the rest of the toast and butter on the plate; and while Polly fed it to her, listened with absorbed interest to all the particulars concerning each and every chick in the Henderson hen-coop.
"Mother," said Polly, towards evening, "I'm going to sit up with Ben to-night; say I may, do, mother."
"Oh no, you can't," replied Mrs. Pepper; "you'll get worn out; and then what shall I do? Joel can hand him his medicine."
"Oh, Joe would tumble to sleep, mammy," said Polly, "the first thing--let me."
"Perhaps Phronsie'll let me go to-night," said Mrs. Pepper, reflectively.
"Oh, no she won't, I know," replied Polly, decisively; "she wants you all the time."
"I will, Polly," said Davie, coming in with an annful of wood, in time to hear the conversation. "I'll give him his medicine, mayn't I, mammy?" and David let down his load, and came over where his mother and Polly sat sewing, to urge his rights.
"I don't know," said his mother, smiling on him. "Can you, do you think?"
"Yes, ma'am!" said Davie, straightening himself up.
When they told Ben, he said he knew a better way than for Davie to watch; he'd have a string tied to Davie's arm, and the end he'd hold in bed, and when 'twas time for medicine, he'd pull the string, and that would wake Davie up!
Polly didn't sleep much more on her shake-down on the floor than if she had watched with Ben; for Phronsie cried and moaned, and wanted a drink of water every two minutes, it seemed to her. As she went back into her nest after one of these travels, Polly thought: "Well, I don't care, if nobody else gets sick; if Ben'll only get well. To-morrow I'm goin' to do mammy's sack she's begun for Mr. Jackson; it's all plain sew-in', just like a bag; and I can do it, I know----" and so she fell into a troubled sleep, only to be awakened by Phronsie's fretful little voice: "I want a drink of water, Polly, I do."
"Don't she drink awfully, mammy?" asked Polly, after one of these excursions out to the kitchen after the necessary draught.
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper; "and she mustn't have any more; 'twill hurt her." But Phronsie fell into a delicious sleep after that, and didn't want any more, luckily.
"Here, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper, the next morning, "take this coat up to Mr. Peterses; and be sure you get the money for it."
"How'll I get it?" asked Joe, who didn't relish the long, hot walk.
"Why, tell 'em we're sick--Ben's sick," added Mrs. Pepper, as the most decisive thing; "and we must have it; and then wait for it."
"Tisn't pleasant up at the Peterses," grumbled Joel, taking the parcel and moving slowly off.
"No, no, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, "you needn't do that," seeing Polly take up some sewing after doing up the room and finishing the semi-weekly bake; "you're all beat out with that tussle over the stove; that sack'll have to go till next week."
"It can't, mammy," said Polly, snipping off a basting thread; "we've got to have the money; how much'll he give you for it?"
"Thirty cents," replied Mrs. Pepper.
"Well," said Poily, "we've got to get all the thirty centses we can, mammy dear; and I know I can do it, truly--try me once," she implored.
"Well." Mrs. Pepper relented, slowly.
"Don't feel bad, mammy dear," comforted Polly, sewing away briskly; "Ben'll get well pretty soon, and then we'll be all right."
"Maybe," said Mrs. Pepper; and went back to Phronsie, who could scarcely let her out of her sight.
Polly stitched away bravely. "Now if I do this good, mammy'll let me do it other times," she said to herself.
Davie, too, worked patiently out of doors, trying to do Ben's chores. The little fellow blundered over things that Ben would have accomplished in half the time, and he had to sit down often on the steps of the little old shed where the tools were kept, to wipe his hot face and rest.
"Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, "hadn't you better stop a little? Dear me! how fast you sew, child!"
Polly gave a delighted little hum at her mother's evident approval.
"I'm going to do 'em all next week, mammy," she said; "then Mr. Atkins won't take 'em away from us, I guess."
Mr. Atkins kept the store, and gave out coats and sacks of coarse linen and homespun to Mrs. Pepper to make; and it was the fear of losing the work that had made the mother's heart sink.
"I don't believe anybody's got such children as I have," she said; and she gave Polly a motherly little pat that the little daughter felt clear to the tips of her toes with a thrill of delight.
About half-past two, long after dinner, Joe came walking in, hungry as a beaver, but flushed and triumphant.
"Why, where have you been all this time?" asked his mother.
"Oh, Joe, you didn't stop to play?" asked Polly, from her perch where she sat sewing, giving him a reproachful glance.
"Stop to play!" retorted Joe, indignantly; "no, I guess I didn't! I've been to Old Peterses."
"Not all this time!" exclaimed Mrs. Pepper.
"Yes, I have too," replied Joel, sturdily marching up to her. "And there's your money, mother;" and he counted out a quarter of a dollar in silver pieces and pennies, which he took from a dingy wad of paper, stowed away in the depths of his pocket.
"Oh, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper, sinking back in her chair and looking at him; "what do you mean?"
Polly put her work in her lap, and waited to hear.
"Where's my dinner, Polly?" asked Joel; "I hope it's a big one.
"Yes, 'tis," said Polly; "you've got lots to-day, it's in the corner of the cupboard, covered up with the plate--so tell on, Joe."
"That's elegant!" said Joel, coming back with the well-filled plate, Ben's and his own share.
"Do tell us, Joey," implored Polly; "mother's waiting."
"Well," said Joel, his mouth half full, "I waited--and he said the coat was all right;--and---and--Mrs. Peters said 'twas all right;--and Mirandy Peters said 'twas all right; but they didn't any of 'em say anythin' about payin', so I didn't think 'twas all right--and--and-- can't I have some more butter, Polly?"
"No," said Polly, sorry to refuse him, he'd been so good about the money; "the butter's got to be saved for Ben and Phronsie."
"Oh," said Joe, "I wish Miss Henderson would send us some more, I do! I think she might!"
"For shame, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper; "she was very good to send this, I think; now what else did you say?" she asked.
"Well," said Joel, taking another mouthful of bread, "so I waited; you told me to, mother, you know--and they all went to work; and they didn't mind me at all, and--there wasn't anything to look at, so I sat--and sat--Polly, can't I have some gingerbread?"
"No," said Polly, "it's all gone; I gave the last piece to Phronsie the day she was taken sick."
"Oh, dear," said Joel, "everything's gone."
"Well, do go on, Joe, do."
"And--then they had dinner; and Mr. Peters said, 'Hasn't that boy gone home yet?' and Mrs. Peters said, 'no'--and he called me in, and asked me why I didn't run along home; and I said, Phronsie was sick, and Ben had the squeezles----"
"The what?" said Polly.
"The squeezles," repeated Joel, irritably; "that's what you said."
"It's measles, Joey," corrected Mrs. Pepper; "never mind, I wouldn't feel bad."
"Well, they all laughed, and laughed, and then I said you told me to wait till I diii get the money."
"Oh, Joe," began Mrs. Pepper, "you shouldn't have told 'em so--what did he say?"
"Well, he laughed, and said I was a smart boy, and he'd see; and Mirandy said, 'do pay him, pa, he must be tired to death'--and don't you think, he went to a big desk in the corner, and took out a box, and 'twas full most of money-- lots! oh! and he gave me mine--and--that's all; and I'm tired to death." And Joel flung himself down on the floor, expanded his legs as only Joel could, and took a comfortable roll.
"So you must be," said Polly, pityingly, "waiting at those Peterses."
"Don't ever want to see any more Feterses," said Joel; never, never, never!
"Oh, dear," thought Polly, as she sewed on into the afternoon, "I wonder what does all my eyes! feels just like sand in 'em;" and she rubbed and rubbed to thread her needle. But she was afraid her mother would see, so she kept at her sewing. Once in awhile the bad feeling would go away, and then she would forget all about it. "There now, who says I can't do it! that's most done," she cried, jumping up, and spinning across the room, to stretch herself a bit, "and to-morrow I'll finish it."
"Well," said Mrs. Pepper, "if you can do that, Polly, you'll be the greatest help I've had yet."
So Polly tucked herself into the old shake-down with a thankful heart that night, hoping for morning.
Alas! when morning did come, Polly could hardly move. The measles! what should she do! A faint hope of driving them off made her tumble out of bed, and stagger across the room to look in the old cracked looking-glass. All hope was gone as the red reflection met her gaze. Polly was on the sick list now!
"I won't be sick," she said; "at any rate, I'll keep around." An awful feeling made her clutch the back of a chair, but she managed somehow to get into her clothes, and go groping blindly into the kitchen. Somehow, Polly couldn't see very well. She tried to set the table, but 'twas no use. "Oh, dear," she thought, "whatever'll mammy do?"
"Hulloa!" said Joel, coming in, "what's the matter, Polly?" Polly started at his sudden entrance, and, wavering a minute, fell over in a heap.
"Oh ma! ma!" screamed Joel, running to the foot of the stairs leading to the loft, where Mrs. Pepper was with Ben; "something's taken Polly! and she fell; and I guess she's in the wood-box!"