Five Little Peppers And How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
But as Joel was smitten down suddenly, so he came up quickly, and his hearty nature asserted itself by rapid strides toward returning health; and one morning he astonished them all by turning over suddenly and exclaiming:
"I want something to eat!"
"Bless the Lord!" cried Mrs. Pepper, "now he's going to live!"
"But he mustn't eat," protested Mrs. Beebe, in great alarm, trotting for the cup of gruel. "Here, you pretty creeter you, here's something nice." And she temptingly held the spoon over Joel's mouth; but with a grimace he turned away.
"Oh, I want something to eat! some gingerbread or some bread and butter."
"Dear me!" ejaculated Mrs. Beebe. "Gingerbread!" Poor Mrs. Pepper saw the hardest part of her trouble now before her, as she realized that the returning appetite must be fed only on strengthening food; for where it was to come from she couldn't tell.
"The Lord only knows where we'll get it," she groaned within herself.
Yes, He knew. A rap at the door, and little David ran down to find the cause.
"Oh, mammy," he said, "Mrs. Henderson sent it--see! see!" And in the greatest excitement he placed in her lap a basket that smelt savory and nice even before it was opened. When it was opened, there lay a little bird delicately roasted, and folded in a clean napkin; also a glass of jelly, crimson and clear.
"Oh, Joey," cried Mrs. Pepper, almost overwhelmed with joy, "see what Mrs. Henderson sent you! now you can eat fit for a king!"
That little bird certainly performed its mission in life; for as Mrs. Beebe said, "It just touched the spot!" and from that very moment Joel improved so rapidly they could hardly believe their eyes.
"Hoh! I haven't been sick!" he cried on the third day, true to his nature. "Mammy, I want to get up."
"Oh, dear, no! you mustn't, Joel," cried Mrs. Pepper in a fright, running up to him as he was preparing to give the bedclothes a lusty kick; "you'll send 'em in."
"Send what in?" asked Joel, looking up at his mother in terror, as the dreadful thought made him pause.
"Why, the measles, Joey; they'll all go in if you get out."
"How they goin' to get in again, I'd like to know?" asked Joel, looking at the little red spots on his hands in incredulity; say, ma!
"Well, they will," said his mother, "as you'll find to your sorrow if you get out of bed."
"Oh, dear," said Joel, beginning to whimper, as he drew into bed again, "when can I get up, mammy!"
"Oh, in a day or two," responded Mrs. Pepper, cheerfully; "you're getting on so finely you'll be as smart as a cricket! Shouldn't you say he might get up in a day or two, Mrs. Beebe?" she appealed to that individual who was knitting away cheerily in the corner.
"Well, if he keeps on as he's begun, I shouldn't know what to think," replied Mrs. Beebe. "It beats all how quick he's picked up. I never see anything like it, I'm sure!"
And as Mrs. Beebe was a great authority in sickness, the old, sunny cheeriness began to creep into the brown house once more, and to bubble over as of yore.
"Seems as if 'twas just good to live," said Mrs. Pepper, thankfully once, when her thoughts were too much for her. "I don't believe I shall ever care how poor we are," she continued, "as long as we're together."
"And that's just what the Lord meant, maybe," replied good Mrs. Beebe, who was preparing to go home.
Joel kept the house in a perfect uproar all through his getting well. Mrs. Pepper observed one day, when he had been more turbulent than usual, that she was "almost worn to a thread."
"Twasn't anything to take care of you, Joe," she added, "when you were real sick, because then I knew where you were; but--well, you won't ever have the measles again, I s'pose, and that's some comfort!"
Little David, who had been nearly stunned by the sickness that had laid aside his almost constant companion, could express his satisfaction and joy in no other way than by running every third minute and begging to do something for him. And Joel, who loved dearly to be waited on, improved every opportunity that offered; which Mrs. Pepper observing, soon put a stop to.
"You'll run his legs off, Joel," at last she said, when he sent David the third time down to the wood-pile for a stick of just the exact thickness, and which the little messenger declared wasn't to be found. "Haven't you any mercy? You've kept him going all day, too," she added, glancing at David's pale face.
"Oh, mammy," panted David, "don't; I love to go. Here Joe, is the best I could find," handing him a nice smooth stick.
"I know you do," said his mother; "but Joe's getting better now, and he must learn to spare you."
"I don't want to spare folks," grumbled Joel, whittling away with energy; "I've been sick--real sick," he added, lifting his chubby face to his mother to impress the fact.
"I know you have," she cried, running to kiss her boy; "but now, Joe, you're most well. To-morrow I'm going to let you go down-stairs; what do you think of that!"
"Hooray!" screamed Joel, throwing away the stick and clapping his hands, forgetting all about his serious illness, "that'll be prime!"
"Aren't you too sick to go, Joey?" asked Mrs. Pepper, mischievously.
"No, I'm not sick," cried Joel, in the greatest alarm, fearful his mother meant to take back the promise; "I've never been sick. Oh, mammy! you know you'll let me go, won't your?"
"I guess so," laughed his mother.
"Come on, Fhron," cried Joel, giving her a whirl.
David, who was too tired for active sport, sat on the floor and watched them frolic in great delight.
"Mammy," said he, edging up to her side as the sport went on, "do you know, I think it's just good--it's--oh, it's so frisky since Joe got well, isn't it, mammy?"
"Yes, indeed," said Mrs. Pepper, giving him a radiant look in return for his; "and when Polly's around again with her two eyes all right--well, I don't know what we shall do, I declare!"
"Boo!" cried a voice, next morning, close to Polly's elbow, unmistakably Joel's.
"Oh, Joel Pepper!" she cried, whirling around, "is that really you!"
"Yes," cried that individual, confidently, "it's I; oh, I say, Polly, I've had fun up-stairs, I tell you what!"
"Poor boy!" said Polly, compassionately.
"I wasn't a poor boy," cried Joel, indignantly; "I had splendid things to eat; oh, my!" and he closed one eye and smacked his lips in the delightful memory.
"I know it," said Polly, "and I'm so glad, Joel."
"I don't suppose I'll ever get so many again," observed Joel, reflectively, after a minute's pause, as one and another of the wondrous delicacies rose before his mind's eye; "not unless I have the measles again--say, Polly, can't I have 'em again?"
"Mercy, no!" cried Polly, in intense alarm, "I hope not."
"Well, I don't," said Joel, "I wish I could have 'em sixty--no--two hundred times, so there!"
"Well, mammy couldn't take care of you," said Ben; "you don't know what you're sayin', Joe."
"Well, then, I wish I could have the things without the measles," said Joel, willing to accommodate; "only folks won't send 'em," he added, in an injured tone.
"Polly's had the hardest time of all," said her mother, affectionately patting the bandage.
"I think so too," put in Ben; "if my eyes were hurt I'd give up.',
"So would I," said David; and Joel, to be in the fashion, cried also, "I know I would;" while little Phronsie squeezed up to Polly's side, "And I, too."
"Would what, Puss?" asked Ben, tossing her up high. "Have good things," cried the child, in delight at understanding the others, "I would really, Ben," she cried, gravely, when they all screamed.
"Well, I hope so," said Ben, tossing her higher yet. "Don't laugh at her, boys," put in Polly; "we're all going to have good times now, Phronsie, now we've got well."
"Yes," laughed the child from her high perch; "we aren't ever goin' to be sick again, ever--any more," she added impressively.
The good times were coming for Polly--coming pretty near, and she didn't know it! All the children were in the secret; for as Mrs. Pepper declared, "They'd have to know it; and if they were let into the secret they'd keep it better."
So they had individually and collectively been intrusted with the precious secret, and charged with the extreme importance of "never letting any one know," and they had been nearly bursting ever since with the wild desire to impart their knowledge.
'Tm afraid I shall tell," said David, running to his mother at last; "oh, mammy, I don't dare stay near Polly, I do want to tell so bad ."
"Oh, no, you won't, David," said his mother encouragingly, "when you know mother don't want you to; and besides, think how Polly'll look when she sees it."
"I know," cried David in the greatest rapture, "I wouldn't tell for all the world! I guess she'll look nice, don't you mother?" and he laughed in glee at the thought.
"Poor child! I guess she will!" and then Mrs. Pepper laughed too, till the little old kitchen rang with delight at the accustomed sound,
The children all had to play "clap in and clap out" in the bedroom while it came; and "stage coach," too--"anything to make a noise," Ben said. And then after they got nicely started in the game, he would be missing to help about the mysterious thing in the kitchen, which was safe since Polly couldn't see him go on account of her bandage. So she didn't suspect in the least. And although the rest were almost dying to be out in the kitchen, they conscientiously stuck to their bargain to keep Polly occupied. Only Joel would open the door and peep once; and then Phronsie behind him began-- "Oh, I see the sto--" but David swooped down on her in a twinkling, and smothered the rest by tickling her.
Once they came very near having the whole thing pop out. "Whatever is that noise in the kitchen?" asked Polly, as they all stopped to take breath after the scuffle of "stage coach." "It sounds just like grating."
"I'll go and see," cried Joel, promptly; and then he flew out where his mother and Ben and two men were at work on a big, black thing in the corner. The old stove, strange to say, was nowhere to be seen! Something else stood in its place, a shiny, black affair, with a generous supply of oven doors, and altogether such a comfortable, home-like look about it, as if it would say--"I'm going to make sunshine in this house!"
"Oh, Joel," cried his mother, turning around on him with very black hands, "you haven't told!"
"No," said Joel, "but she's hearin' the noise, Polly is."
"Hush!" said Ben, to one of the men.
"We can't put it up without some noise," the man replied, "but we'll be as still as we can."
"Isn't it a big one, ma?" asked Joel, in the loudest of stage whispers, that Polly on the other side of the door couldn't have failed to hear if Phronsie hadn't laughed just then.
"Go back, Joe, do," said Ben, "play tag--anything," he implored, "we'll be through in a few minutes."
"It takes forever!" said Joel, disappearing within the bedroom door. Luckily for the secret, Phronsie just then ran a pin sticking up on the arm of the old chair, into her finger; and Polly, while comforting her, forgot to question Joel. And then the mother came in, and though she had ill-concealed hilarity in her voice, she kept chattering and bustling around with Polly's supper to such an extent that there was no chance for a word to be got in.
Next morning it seemed as if the "little brown house," would turn inside out with joy.
"Oh, mammy!" cried Polly, jumping into her anns the first thing, as Dr. Fisher untied the bandage, "my eyes are new! just the same as if I'd just got 'em! Don't they look different?" she asked, earnestly, running to the cracked glass to see for herself.
"No," said Ben, "I hope not; the same brown ones, Polly."
"Well," said Polly, hugging first one and then another, "everybody looks different through them, anyway."
"Oh," cried Joel, "come out into the kitchen, Polly; it's a great deal better out there."
"May I?" asked Polly, who was in such a twitter looking at everything that she didn't know which way to turn.
"Yes," said the doctor, smiling at her.
"Well, then," sang Polly, "come mammy, we'll go first; isn't it just lovely--oh, Mammy!"--and Polly turned so very pale, and looked as if she were going to tumble right over, that Mrs. Pepper grasped her arm in dismay.
"What is it?" she asked, pointing to the corner, while all the children stood round in the greatest excitement.
"Why," cried Phronsie, "it's a stove--don't you know, Polly?" But Polly gave one plunge across the room, and before anybody could think, she was down on her knees with her arms flung right around the big, black thing, and laughing and crying over it, all in the same breath!
And then they all took hold of hands and danced around it like wild little things; while Dr. Fisher stole out silently-- and Mrs. Pepper laughed till she wiped her eyes to see them ' go.
"We aren't ever goin' to have any more burnt bread," sang Polly, all out of breath.
"Nor your back isn't goin' to break any more," panted Ben, with a very red face.
"Hooray!" screamed Joel and David, to fill any pause that might occur, while Phronsie gurgled and laughed at everything just as it came along. And then they all danced and capered again; all but Polly, who was down before the precious stove examining and exploring into ovens and everything that belonged to it.
"Oh, ma," she announced, coming up to Mrs. Pepper, who had been obliged to fly to her sewing again, and exhibiting a very crocky face and a pair of extremely smutty hands, "it's most all ovens, and it's just splendid!"
"I know it," answered her mother, delighted in the joy of her child. "My! how black you are, Polly!"
"Oh, I wish," cried Polly, as the thought struck her, "that Dr. Fisher could see it! Where did he go to, ma?"
"I guess Dr. Fisher has seen it before," said Mrs. Pepper, and then she began to laugh. "You haven't ever asked where the stove came from, Polly."
And to be sure, Polly had been so overwhelmed that if the stove had really dropped from the clouds it would have been small matter of astonishment to her, as long as it had come; that was the main thing!
"Mammy," said Polly, turning around slowly, with the stove-lifter in her hand, "did Dr. Fisher bring that stove?"
"He didn't exactly bring it," answered her mother, "but I guess he knew something about it."
"Oh, he's the splendidest, goodest man!" cried Polly, "that ever breathed! Did he really get us that stove?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper, "he would; I couldn't stop him. I don't know how he found out you wanted one so bad; but he said it must be kept as a surprise when your eyes got well."
"And he saved my eyes!" cried Polly, full of gratitude. "I've got a stove and two new eyes, mammy, just to think!"
"We ought to be good after all our mercies," said Mrs. Pepper thankfully, looking around on her little group. Joel was engaged in the pleasing occupation of seeing how far he could run his head into the biggest oven, and then pulling it out to exhibit its blackness, thus engrossing the others in a perfect hubbub.
"I'm going to bake my doctor some little cakes," declared Polly, when there was comparative quiet.
"Do, Polly," cried Joel, "and then leave one or two over."
"No," said Polly; "we can't have any, because these must be very nice. Mammy, can't I have some white on top, just once?" she pleaded.
"I don't know," dubiously replied Mrs. Pepper; ~eggs are dreadful dear, and--"
"I don't care," said Polly, recklessly; "I must just once for Dr. Fisher."
"I tell you, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, "what you might do; you might make him some little apple tarts--most every one likes them, you know."
"Well," said Polly, with a sigh, "I s'pose they'll have to do; but some time, mammy, I'm going to bake him a big cake, so there!"