Hard Days for Polly
 

"Ma," said David, coming softly into the bedroom, where poor Polly lay on the bed with Phronsie, her eyes bandaged with a soft old handkerchief, "I'll set the table."

"There isn't any table to set," said Mrs. Pepper, sadly; "there isn't anybody to eat anything, Davie; you and Joel can get something out of the cupboard."

"Can we get whatever we've a mind to, ma?" cried Joel, who followed Davie, rubbing his face with a towel after his morning ablutions.

"Yes," replied his mother, absently.

"Come on, Dave!" cried Joel; "we'll have a breakfast!"

"We mustn't," said little Davie, doubtfully, "eat the whole, Joey."

But that individual already had his head in the cupboard, which soon engrossed them both.

Dr. Fisher was called in the middle of the morning to see what was the matter with Polly's eyes. The little man looked at her keenly over his spectacles; then he said, "When were you taken?"

"This morning," answered Polly, her eyes smarting.

"Didn't you feel badly before?" questioned the doctor. Polly thought back; and then she remembered that she had felt very badly; that when she was baking over the old stove the day before her back had ached dreadfully; and that, somehow, when she sat down to sew, it didn't stop; only her eyes had bothered her so; she didn't mind her back so much.

"I thought so," said the doctor, when Polly answered. "And those eyes of yours have been used too much; what has she been doing, ma'am?" He turned around sharply on Mrs. Pepper as he asked this.

"Sewing," said Mrs. Pepper, "and everything; Polly does everything, sir."

"Humphl" said the doctor; "well, she won't again in one spell; her eyes are very bad."

At this a whoop, small but terrible to hear, came from the middle of the bed; and Phronsie sat bolt upright. Everybody started; while Phronsie broke out, "Don't make my Polly sick! oh! please don't!"

"Hey!" said the doctor; and he looked kindly at the small object with a very red face in the middle of the bed. Then he added, gently, "We're going to make Polly well, little girl; so that she can see splendidly."

"Will you, really?" asked the child, doubtfully.

"Yes," said the doctor; "we'll try hard; and you mustn't cry; 'cause then Polly'll cry, and that will make her eyes very bad; very bad indeed," he repeated, impressively.

"I won't cry," said Phronsie; "no, not one bit." And she wiped off the last tear with her fat little hand, and watched to see what next was to be done.

And Polly was left, very rebellious indeed, in the big bed, with a cooling lotion on the poor eyes, that somehow didn't cool them one bit.

"If 'twas anythin' but my eyes, mammy, I could stand it," she bewailed, flouncing over and over in her impatience; "and who'll do all the work now?"

"Don't think of the work, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper.

"I can't do anything but think," said poor Polly.

Just at that moment a queer noise out in the kitchen was heard.

"Do go out, mother, and see what 'tis," said Polly.

"I've come," said a cracked voice, close up by the bedroom door, followed by a big black cap, which could belong to no other than Grandma Bascom, "to set by you a spell; what's the matter?" she asked, and stopped, amazed to see Polly in bed.

"Oh, Polly's taken," screamed Mrs. Pepper in her ear.

"Taken!" repeated the old lady, "what is it--a fit?"

"No," said Mrs. Pepper; "the same as Ben's got; and Phronsie; the measles."

"The measles, has she?" said grandma; "well, that's bad; and Ben's away, you say."

"No, he isn't either," screamed Mrs. Pepper, "he's got them, too!"

"Got two what?" asked grandma.

"Measles! he's got the measles too," repeated Mrs. Pepper, loud as she could; so loud that the old lady's cap trembled at the noise.

"Oh! the dreadful!" said grandma; "and this girl too?" laying her hand on Phronsie's head.

"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper, feeling it a little relief to tell over her miseries; "all three of them!"

"I haven't," said Joel, coming in in hopes that grandma had a stray peppermint or two in her pocket, as she sometimes did; "and I'm not going to, either."

"Oh, dear," groaned his mother; "that's what Polly said; and she's got 'em bad. It's her eyes," she screamed to grandma, who looked inquiringly.

"Her eyes, is it?" asked Mrs. Bascom; "well, I've got a receet that cousin Samanthy's folks had when John's children had 'em; and I'll run right along home and get it," and she started to go.

"No, you needn't," screamed Mrs. Pepper; "thank you, Mrs. Bascom; but Dr. Fisher's been here; and he put something on Polly's eyes; and he said it mustn't be touched."

"Hey?" said the old lady; so Mrs. Pepper had to go all over it again, till at last she made her understand that Polly's eyes were taken care of, and they must wait for time to do the rest.

"You come along of me," whispered grandma, when at last her call was done, to Joel who stood by the door. "I've got some peppermints to home; I forgot to bring 'em."

"Yes'm," said Joel, brightening up.

"Where you going, Joe?" asked Mrs. Pepper, seeing him move off with Mrs. Bascom; "I may want you."

"Oh, I've got to go over to grandma's," said Joel briskly; "she wants me."

"Well, don't be gone long then," replied his mother.

"There," said grandma, going into her "keeping-room" to an old-fashioned chest of drawers; opening one, she took therefrom a paper, from which she shook out before Joe's delighted eyes some red and white peppermint drops. "There now, you take these home; you may have some, but be sure you give the most to the sick ones; and Polly--let Polly have the biggest."

"She won't take 'em," said Joel, wishing he had the measles. "Well, you try her," said grandma; "run along now." But it was useless to tell Joel that, for he was half-way home already. He carried out grandma's wishes, and distributed conscientiously the precious drops. But when he came to Polly, she didn't answer; and looking at her in surprise he saw two big tears rolling out under the bandage and wetting the pillow.

"I don't want 'em, Joe," said Polly, when he made her understand that "twas peppermints, real peppermints;" "you may have 'em."

"Try one, Polly; they're real good," said Joel, who had an undefined wish to comfort; "there, open your mouth."

So Polly opened her mouth, and Joel put one in with satisfaction.

"Isn't it good?" he asked, watching her crunch it.

"Yes," said Polly, "real good; where'd you get 'em?"

"Over to Grandma Bascom's," said Joel; "she gave me lots for all of us; have another, Polly?"

"No," said Polly, "not yet; you put two on my pillow where I can reach 'em; and then you keep the rest, Joel."

"I'll put three," said Joel, counting out one red and two white ones, and laying them on the pillow; "there!"

"And I want another, Joey, I do," said Phronsie from the other side of the bed.

"Well, you may have one," said Joel; "a red one, Phronsie; yes, you may have two. Now come on, Dave; we'll have the rest out by the wood-pile."

How they ever got through that day, I don't know. But late in the afternoon carriage wheels were heard; and then they stopped right at the Peppers' little brown gate.

"Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, running to the bedroom door, "it's Mrs. Henderson!"

"Is it?" said Polly, from the darkened room, "oh! I'm so glad! is Miss Jerushy with her?" she asked, fearfully.

"No," said Mrs. Pepper, going back to ascertain; "why, it's the parson himself! Deary! how we look!"

"Never mind, mammy," called back Polly, longing to spring out of bed and fix up a bit.

"I'm sorry to hear the children are sick," said Mrs. Henderson, coming in, in her sweet, gentle way.

"We didn't know it," said the minister, "until this morning--can we see them?"

"Oh yes, sir," said Mrs. Pepper; "Ben's upstairs; and Polly and Phronsie are in here."

"Poor little things!" said Mrs. Henderson, compassionately; "hadn't you better," turning to the minister, "go up and see Ben first, while I will visit the little girls?"

So the minister mounted the crooked stairs; and Mrs. Henderson went straight up to Polly's side; and the first thing Polly knew, a cool, gentle hand was laid on her hot head, and a voice said, "I've come to see my little chicken now I"

"Oh, ma'am," said Polly, bursting into a sob, "I don't care about my eyes--only maminy--" and she broke right down.

"I know," said the minister's wife, soothingly; "but it's for you to bear patiently, Polly--what do you suppose the chicks were doing when I came away?" And Mrs. Henderson, while she held Polly's hand, smiled and nodded encouragingly to Phronsie, who was staring at her from the other side of the bed.

"I don't know, ma'am," said Polly; "please tell us."

"Well, they were all fighting over a grasshopper--yes, ten of them."

"Which one got it?" asked Polly in intense interest; "oh! I hope the white one did!"

"Well, he looked as much like winning as any of them," said the lady, laughing.

"Bless her!" thought Mrs. Pepper to herself out in the kitchen, finishing the sack Polly had left; "she's a parson's wife, I say!"

And then the minister came down from Ben's room, and went into the bedroom; and Mrs. Henderson went up-stairs into the loft.

"So," he said kindly, as after patting Phronsie's head he came over and sat down by Polly, "this is the little girl who came to see me when I was sick."

"Oh, sir," said Polly, "I'm so glad you wasn't!"

"Well, when I come again," said Mr. Henderson, rising after a merry chat, "I see I shall have to slip a book into my pocket, and read for those poor eyes."

"Oh, thank you!" cried Polly; and then she stopped and blushed.

"Well, what is it?" asked the minister, encouragingly.

"Ben loves to hear reading," said Polly.

"Does he? well, by that time, my little girl, I guess Ben will be down-stairs; he's all right, Polly; don't you worry about him--and I'll sit in the kitchen, by the bedroom door, and you can hear nicely."

So the Hendersons went away. But somehow, before they went, a good many things found their way out of the old-fashioned chaise into the Peppers' little kitchen.

But Polly's eyes didn't get any better, with all the care; and the lines of worry on Mrs. Pepper's face grew deeper and deeper. At last, she just confronted Dr. Fisher in the kitchen, one day after his visit to Polly, and boldly asked him if they ever could be cured. "I know she's--and there isn't any use keeping it from me," said the poor woman--"she's going to be stone-blind!"

"My good woman"--Dr. Fisher's voice was very gentle; and he took the hard, brown hand in his own--"your little girl will not be blind; I tell you the truth; but it will take some time to make her eyes quite strong--time, and rest. She has strained them in some way, but she will come out of it."

"Praise the Lord!" cried Mrs. Pepper, throwing her apron over her head; and then she sobbed on, "and thank you, sir--I can't ever thank you--for--for--if Polly was blind, we might as well give up!"

The next day, Phronsie, who had the doctor's permission to sit up, only she was to be kept from taking cold, scampered around in stocking-feet in search of her shoes, which she hadn't seen since she was first taken sick.

"Oh, I want on my very best shoes," she cried; "can't I, mammy?"

"Oh, no, Phronsie; you must keep them nice," remonstrated her mother; "you can't wear 'em every-day, you know."

"'Tisn't every-day," said Phronsie, slowly; it's only one day."

"Well, and then you'll want 'em on again tomorrow," said her mother.

"Oh, no, I won't!" cried Phronsie; "never, no more to-morrow, if I can have 'em to-day; please, mammy dear!"

Mrs. Pepper went to the lowest drawer in the high bureau, and took therefrom a small parcel done up in white tissue paper. Slowly unrolling this before the delighted eyes of the child, who stood patiently waiting, she disclosed the precious red-topped shoes which Phronsie immediately clasped to her bosom.

"My own, very own shoes! whole mine!" she cried, and trudged out into the kitchen to put them on herself.

"Hulloa!" cried Dr. Fisher, coming in about a quarter of an hour later to find her tugging laboriously at the buttons-- "new shoes! I declare!"

"My own!" cried Phronsie, sticking out one foot for inspection, where every button was in the wrong button-hole, "and they've got red tops, too!"

"So they have," said the doctor, getting down on the floor beside her; "beautiful red tops, aren't they?"

"Be-yew-ti-ful," sang the child delightedly.

"Does Polly have new shoes every day?" asked the doctor in a iow voice, pretending to examine the other foot.

Phronsie opened her eyes very wide at this.

"Oh, no, she don't have anything, Polly don't."

"And what does Polly want most of all--do you know? see if you can tell me." And the doctor put on the most alluring expression that he could muster.

"Oh, I know!" cried Phronsie, with a very wise look. "There now," cried the doctor, "you're the girl for me! to think you know! so, what is it?"

Phronsie got up very gravely, and with one shoe half on, she leaned over and whispered in the doctor's ear:

"A stove!"

"A what?" said the doctor, looking at her, and then at the old, black thing in the corner, that looked as if it were ashamed of itself; "why, she's got one."

"Oh," said the child, "it won't burn; and sometimes Polly cries, she does, when she's all alone--and I see her."

"Now," said the doctor, very sympathetically, "that's too bad; that is! and then what does she do?"

"Oh, Ben stuffs it up," said the child, laughing; "and so does Polly too, with paper; and then it all tumbles out quick; oh! just as quick!" And Phronsie shook her yellow head at the dismal remembrance.

"Do you suppose," said the doctor, getting up, "that you know of any smart little girl around here, about four years old and that knows how to button on her own red-topped shoes, that would like to go to ride to-morrow morning in my carriage with me?

"Oh, I do!" cried Phronsie, hopping on one toe; "it's me!"

"Very well, then," said Dr. Fisher, going to the bedroom door, "we'll lookout for to-morrow, then."

To poor Polly, lying in the darkened room, or sitting up in the big rocking-chair--for Polly wasn't really very sick in other respects, the disease having all gone into the merry brown eyes--the time seemed interminable. Not to do anything! The very idea at any time would have filled her active, wide-awake little body with horror; and now, here she was!

"Oh, dear, I can't bear it!" she said, when she knew by the noise in the kitchen that everybody was out there; so nobody heard, except a fat, old black spider in the corner, and he didn't tell anyone!

"I know it's a week," she said, "since dinnertime! If Ben were only well, to talk to me."

"Oh, I say, Polly," screamed Joel at that moment running in, "Ben's a-comin' down the stairs!"

"Stop, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper; "you shouldn't have told; he wanted to surprise Polly."

"Oh, is he!" cried Polly, clasping her hands in rapture; "mainmy, can't! take off this horrid bandage, and see him?"

"Dear me, no!" said Mrs. Pepper, springing forward; "not for the world, Polly! Dr. Fisher'd have our ears off!"

"Well, I can hear, any way," said Polly, resigning herself to the remaining comfort; "here he is! oh, Ben!"

"There," said Ben, grasping Polly, bandage and all; "now we're all right; and! say, Polly, you're a brick!"

"Mammy told me not to say that the other day," said Joel, with a very virtuous air.

"Can't help it," said Ben, who was a little wild over Polly, and besides, he had been sick himself, and had borne a good deal too.

"Now," said Mrs. Pepper, after the first excitement was over, "you're so comfortable together, and Phronsie don't want me now, I'll go to the store; I must get some more work if Mr. Atkins'll give it to me."

"I'll be all right now, mammy, that Ben's here," cried Polly, settling back into her chair, with Phronsie on the stool at her feet.

"I'm goin' to tell her stories, ma," cried Ben, "so you needn't worry about us."

"Isn't it funny, Ben," said Polly, as the gate clicked after the mother, "to be sitting still, and telling stories in the daytime?"

"Rather funny!" replied Ben.

"Well, do go on," said Joel, as usual, rolling on the floor, in a dreadful hurry for the story to begin. Little David looked up quietly, as he sat on Ben's other side, his hands clasped tight together, just as eager, though he said nothing.

"Well; once upon a time," began Ben delightfully, and launched into one of the stories that the children thought perfectly lovely.

"Oh, Bensie," cried Polly, entranced, as they listened with bated breath, "however do you think of such nice things!"

"I've had time enough to think, the last week," said Ben, laughing, "to last a life-time!"

"Do go on," put in Joel, impatient at the delay.

"Don't hurry him so," said Polly, reprovingly; "he isn't strong."

"Ben," said David, drawing a long breath, his eyes very big--."did he really see a bear?"

"No," said Ben; "oh! where was I?"

"Why, you said Tommy heard a noise," said Polly, "and he thought it was a bear."

"Oh, yes," said Ben; "I remember; 'twasn't a--"

"Oh, make it a bear, Ben!" cried Joel, terribly disappointed; "don't let it be not a bear."

"Why, I can't," said Ben; "twouldn't sound true."

"Never mind, make it sound true," insisted Joel; "you can make anything true."

"Very well," said Ben, laughing; "I suppose I must."

"Make it two bears, Ben," begged little Phronsie.

"Oh, no, Phronsie, that's too much," cried Joel; "that'll spoil it; but make it a big bear, do Ben, and have him bite him somewhere, and most kill him."

"Oh, Joel!" cried Polly, while David's eyes got bigger than ever.

So Ben drew upon his powers as story-teller, to suit his exacting audience, and was making his bear work havoc upon poor Tommy in a way captivating to all, even Joel, when---- "Well, I declare," sounded Mrs. Pepper's cheery voice coming in upon them, "if this isn't comfortable!"

"Oh, mammy!" cried Phronsie, jumping out of Polly's arms, whither she had taken refuge during the thrilling tale, and running to her mother who gathered her baby up, "we've had a bear! a real, live bear, we have! Ben made him!"

"Have you!" said Mrs. Pepper, taking off her shawl, and laying her parcel of work down on the table, "now, that's nice!"

"Oh, mammy!" cried Polly, "it does seem so good to be all together again!"

"And I thank the Lord!" said Mrs. Pepper, looking down on her happy little group; and the tears were in her eyes-- "and children, we ought to be very good and please Him, for He's been so good to us."