Five Little Peppers and their Friends by Margaret Sidney
IV. Miss Taylor's Working Bee
Looking both sides of the road, not daring to think what she would say if she really did see Clem, Polly sped on. But not a glimpse of the tall girl's figure met her eyes, and at last she turned in at a gateway and ran up the little path to the door. Mrs. Forsythe saw her through the window that opened on the piazza.
"Why, Polly Pepper," she cried, "what a pity that Clem didn't find you! She went over to your house."
"Oh, I know, I know," panted Polly, with scarlet cheeks.
"Don't try to talk," said Mrs. Forsythe, "you are all out of breath. Come in, Polly."
"Oh, I can't. I mean I would like to see Clem," mumbled Polly, with an awful dread, now that she was on the point of finding her, of what she should say. It was all she could do to keep from running down the piazza steps and fleeing home as fast as she had come.
"Why, Clem isn't at home," said Mrs. Forsythe, in a puzzled way; "you know I told you she had gone over to your house. She wanted you to go down-town with her, to buy some materials to take over to Miss Mary's this afternoon and begin something new for the fair."
"Oh!" said Polly, in a faint voice, and hanging to the piazza railing.
"You see, she was all tired out over that sofa-pillow. I told her it was quite too ambitious a piece to do, and she was so discouraged I gave her some more money, and advised her to get something fresh. She had almost made up her mind to give up working for the fair altogether."
"Oh, dear me!" gasped Polly, quite overcome.
"Yes." Mrs. Forsythe leaned comfortably against the door-casing. It was such a comfort to tell her worries to Polly Pepper. "Clem said all the other girls were making such pretty things, and it was no use for her to try. She can't get up new ideas quickly, you know, and she was ashamed not to take in something nice, and so she said she didn't mean to do anything. I couldn't bear to have her give it up, for she ought to keep with you girls." Mrs. Forsythe's face fell into anxious lines. "She gets unhappy by herself, with no young people in the house and only my mother and me to brighten her up. So I talked with her a long while this morning, and at last got her to be willing to try again. Well, it's all right now, for she's started to find you, and go down-town to buy the things," and Mrs Forsythe smiled happily.
Polly sank to the piazza steps and buried her face in her hands.
"Why, my dear, are you ill?" Clem's mother deserted the door-casing and came quickly out. "Let me get you something."
"Oh, no, no!" Polly sprang to her feet and hurried down the steps. "I must go home," she said hoarsely; and not pausing to think, only to get to Mamsie, she sped away on the wings of the wind, not stopping until she had turned in at the little green wicket-gate where she wouldn't be likely to meet any one.
"Oh, dear, dear!"--and she hurried across the grass--"supposing Mamsie isn't at home! She was going out for Auntie. What shall I do?"
In her despair she raced over the greensward and plunged into the Wistaria arbor--to stand face to face with Clem!
Polly was too far gone in distress to say anything. Clem jerked up her head from the table, and raised a defiant pair of cheeks, wet and miserable. "Oh, dear, dear!" was all Polly could get out. But she stumbled in and put her arms around her neck, and down went the two heads together.
"I'm awfully sorry," blubbered Clem. "Oh, dear! I forgot my handkerchief."
"Take mine." Polly put a wet little wad into her hand. "Oh, Clem, if you don't let me go down-town with you and buy that handkerchief case!"
"Let you!" cried Clem. "You won't want to go with me, Polly. But I'm not going to work a handkerchief case."
"Oh, yes, you are," declared Polly positively. "If you don't, Clem Forsythe!"
"It was mean in me to choose it," said Clem, beginning to sniffle again, now that she had a handkerchief.
"Oh, no, no!" said Polly in alarm. "Now I know you won't forgive me when you say such things. For it was all my fault; I was stingy mean to want to keep it to myself."
"You aren't ever mean, Polly Pepper!" Clem hugged her so tightly by the neck that the neat little ruffle Mamsie sewed in that very morning was quite crushed. When she saw that, Clem was in worse distress than ever.
"See here! Why, Clem Forsythe!" Polly Pepper flew up to her feet so suddenly, that Clem started in amazement, and stared at her as well as she could with her eyes full of tears.
"Why, can't you see? Haven't we been two goosies--geese, I mean--not to think of it before!"
"What?" asked Clem helplessly.
"Why, you might make a violet glove case," said Polly, in a burst. Then she began to dance around the arbor. "Oh, Clem, how perfectly lovely!"
"I don't see," began Clem dismally, "and I don't know how to make a glove case."
"Why, make it just like my handkerchief case, only long," flung Polly over her shoulder, as she danced away.
"But I don't want to copy yours," protested Clem, "for it really would be mean."
"But this would make a set, yours and mine," said Polly breathlessly, and coming up to shake the downcast shoulders, "don't you see? Oh, you goosie! and I've been another, not to think of it before. And oh, such a set! Why, it would sell for a lot of money. And I'll ask Jasper to draw you the same kind of bunch of violets on your glove case, and we'll go right down-town, now. I can make Phronsie's bag when I get home. Come on!"
When Clem once had the idea in her mind, she got off from the bench, and Phronsie, watching anxiously from Polly's window for her return, saw the two girls hurrying across the lawn, their arms around each other and talking busily. And it wasn't but a moment or two, and she was flying over the grass to meet them. Polly had explained that the little ribbon bag was to be made just as soon as the materials for the new glove case were bought. Polly had run up for her hat, and to get her little purse, for she just remembered that her green silk for the violet stems was nearly out, and Phronsie had said good-bye and gone back to the house on happy feet, to tell Clorinda and watch at the window till Polly should come again.
And just after luncheon, for they must start early in order to have a good long afternoon at Miss Mary's, Polly and Phronsie set forth, the new little bag hanging from Phronsie's arm. Jasper went with them as far as the corner, where he turned off to go to Jack Rutherford's, for the boys were to meet there to write letters for the post office. They had promised to be there bright and early.
"Oh, Jasper, it was so good of you to draw that dear bunch of violets for Clem," said Polly for about the fiftieth time; "it was too sweet for anything."
"Too sweet for anything," hummed Phronsie, all her eyes on her bag, dangling as she walked.
"Take care, you came near falling on your nose, Phronsie." Jasper put out a warning hand.
"I think it's so nice there's a pink stripe in it, Polly," said Phronsie, patting her bag affectionately.
"Yes, isn't it, Pet!" cried Polly, glad she hadn't snipped up that very ribbon for little sachet bags. "And the green stripe, too, is pretty, Phronsie."
"It's pretty," cooed Phronsie, "and my cushion-pin is inside, Japser," she announced.
"Is it really?" said Jasper.
"Yes, it is really and truly, Japser, and I'm going to work on it," she added, with a very important air.
"You don't say so, Pet!" he cried. "Why, you are going to a working bee just the same as the big girls, aren't you?"
"I'm very big," said Phronsie, stepping so high she nearly fell into a mud- puddle. Whereat Jasper picked her up, bag and all, and marched off, laughing, not to set her down till they reached the corner.
"Well, good-bye. Take care now, Phronsie," and he gave her a kiss. "Good-bye, Polly, and good luck to your bee."
"And I do hope you'll have splendid success with the letters, Jasper," Polly craned her neck around the corner to say, the last thing. Then she took Phronsie's hand and hurried along to meet a throng of girls, all bound for Miss Mary's.
There on the big stone steps was Mr. Hamilton Dyce.
"I heard there was to be a bee here this afternoon," he said, looking down at them all with a smile, "so I thought I'd come."
"I'm coming," announced Phronsie, breaking away from Polly and holding up her bag; and she began to mount the steps.
"So I perceive," said Mr. Dyce, running down to meet her. "Well, Phronsie, I must tell you I came partly to see you."
"And I've got a cushion-pin inside," said Phronsie confidingly, as she toiled up.
"Have you, though?" cried Mr. Dyce. "Take care, don't go so fast. Let some of these girls race ahead of us; we'll take our time. How d'ye, Polly, and Alexia, and all the rest of you?"
"But I must hurry," said Phronsie, with a very pink face, as the bevy rushed by, "for I'm going to work on my cushion-pin."
"So you must. Well, then, here goes!" Mr. Dyce swung her up to his shoulder and went, two steps at a time, in through the crowd of girls, so that he arrived there first when the door was opened. There in the hall stood Miss Mary Taylor, as pretty as a pink.
"I heard there was to be a bee here this afternoon, and I've brought Phronsie; that's my welcome," he announced.
"See, I've got a bag," announced Phronsie from her perch, and holding it forth.
So the bag was admired, and the girls trooped in, going up into Miss Mary's pretty room to take off their things. And presently the big library, with the music-room adjoining, was filled with the gay young people, and the bustle and chatter began at once.
"I should think you'd be driven wild by them all wanting you at the same minute." Mr. Dyce, having that desire at this identical time, naturally felt a bit impatient, as Miss Mary went about inspecting the work, helping to pick out a stitch here and to set a new one there, admiring everyone's special bit of prettiness, and tossing a smile and a gay word in every chance moment between.
"Oh, no," said Miss Mary, with a little laugh, "they're most of them my Sunday- school scholars, you know."
"That's all the more reason that you ought not to be bothered with them week days," observed Mr. Dyce. "Now why can't you sit down here and amuse me?" He pushed up an easy-chair into a cosy-corner, then drew up an ottoman, on which he sat down.
"Oh, look at that Mr. Dyce," said Clem, quite in a flow of spirits, as she threaded her needle with a strand of violet silk; "he's going to keep Miss Mary off there all to himself. What did make him come this afternoon?"
"Well, he isn't going to have Miss Mary!" cried Alexia Rhys, twitching her pink worsted with an impatient hand. "Horrors! Now I've gone and gotten that into a precious snarl. The very idea! She's our Sunday-school teacher. Oh, Miss Mary!" she called suddenly.
Miss Taylor, just sitting down in the easy-chair, turned. "What is it, Alexia?"- -while Mr. Dyce frowned. At which Alexia laughed over at him.
"Please show me about my work," she begged.
"You little tyrant!" called Mr. Dyce, as Miss Mary went over.
"Do I slip one stitch and then knit two?" asked Alexia innocently. Polly, next to her on a cricket, opened wide eyes.
"Yes," said Miss Mary, "just the same as you have been knitting all along, Alexia."
"Well, I couldn't think of anything else to ask," said Alexia coolly. Then she laid hold of Miss Mary's pretty, gray gown.
"Oh, don't go back to him," she implored. "Do stay with us girls, we're all your Sunday-school class--that is, most of us. Please stay with us, Miss Mary."
Miss Mary cast an imploring glance over at the gentleman, which he seemed to see, although apparently he wasn't looking.
"Phronsie, you and I will have to move over, I think"; for by this time he had her in his lap; and so he bundled her across the room unceremoniously.
"Oh, I've lost my needle!" cried Phronsie, peering out from his arms in great distress.
"Dear me!" exclaimed Mr. Dyce; so he set her down and dropped to all-fours to peer about for the shining little implement, Phronsie getting down on her knees to assist the search.
Alexia, seeing the trouble, deserted her knitting, and flew out of her chair to help look for it.
"You little tyrant!" exclaimed Mr. Dyce, as she added herself to the group, "to call Miss Mary over there! I should think it was quite bad enough to have you Sundays, Alexia."
"Miss Mary thinks a great deal of me," said Alexia composedly. "Dear me, what a plaguey little thing that needle is! Never mind, Phronsie, don't feel badly. I guess--oh, here it is, and sticking straight up."
"And all this would never have happened but for your calling Miss Mary away," observed Mr. Dyce, getting up straight again. "What a little nuisance you are, Alexia!" All of which she had heard from him so many times before that it failed to disturb her, so she went back to her seat in high spirits, Phronsie hopping over like a small rabbit to a little cricket at Polly's feet. At this there was a bustle among the girls.
"Sit next to me, Miss Mary," begged Silvia Horne, sweeping a chair clear.
"No, no," cried Amy Garrett, "she's coming here!"
"I call that nice," exclaimed Alexia decidedly, "when I asked her to come across the room! I'm going to sit next to her of course."
"You'd much better have stayed with me," laughed Mr. Hamilton Dyce, "since there'll be one long fight over you. Better come back."
But Miss Mary, protesting that the girls needed her, finally settled it by getting her chair into the middle of the group, which she made into a circle.
"There, now, we're all comfy together," she announced. "Now, Mr. Dyce, you must read us something."
"Oh, tell us a story," put in Alexia, who didn't relish listening to reading.
"Oh, yes, a story, a story," they one and all took it up. Even Phronsie laid down her big needle which she was patiently dragging back and forth, with a very long piece of red worsted following its trail across the face of her "cushion- pin" in a way to suit her own design, to beg for the story.
"Oh, Phronsie!" exclaimed Polly, for the first time catching sight of this, "you can't work with such a long thread. Let me cut off some of it, do."
"Oh, no, no," protested Phronsie, edging off in alarm.
"Why, it'll get all knotted up," said Polly, in concern; "you better let me take off a little--just a little, teenty bit, Phronsie."
"No, no," declared Phronsie decidedly, "I must hurry and get my cushion-pin done."
"She thinks she'll get it done faster with a great, long thread," giggled one of the girls over in the corner. Mr. Dyce turning to fix her with a stare, she subsided, ducking behind her neighbor's back.
"Phronsie, I must buy that cushion-pin at the fair," he announced. "I want such an one very much indeed."
Phronsie got off from the little cricket where he had placed her, and went straight over to him, to lay her hand with the "cushion-pin" in it on his knee. "Then I will sell it to you," she said gravely, "and the poor children can go into the country." Then she went back to her seat and took up her work once more.
Some of the girls laughed, but Alexia frowned furiously at them; and Mr. Dyce and Miss Mary apparently seeing no amusement in it, they all began to beg for the story again, till the clamor bade fair to stop the needles from doing their work.
"I guess you'll have to," Miss Mary smiled over at him from the center of the circle, while the color deepened on her cheek.
"I want a story told to me first," he said coolly, leaning back in his chair. "What is all this bee for, and this fair? I know just a hint about that, but let me have the whole story from beginning to end. Now then, some one tell me. I am very anxious to hear."
"You tell, Polly," cried Alexia, and "Let Polly Pepper tell, can't she, Miss Mary?" begged all the girls, every one saying the same thing. So Miss Mary said yes, and Polly laid down her violet handkerchief case in her lap, although she hated to stop working, and began:
"You see, Miss Mary said one day in Sunday-school----"
"Oh, Polly, not that!" said Miss Taylor, in dismay.
"Go on, Polly, and tell every word," said Mr. Hamilton Dyce. "I'm to be told the whole story; from the very beginning, now mind. You said, 'One day in Sunday- school.' Now go on."
"Yes," said Polly, her cheeks like a rose for fear her dear Miss Mary might not like it, "Miss Mary said we ought to be doing things, not always talking about them and learning how to be good; and she said there were so many poor children who were waiting for us to help them. And----"
"Polly, you don't need to tell that. He wants to know about the fair," Miss Taylor broke in suddenly.
"Oh, dear!" said poor Polly, blushing rosier than ever and moving her cricket so that she need not see Miss Mary's face, while Mr. Dyce, protesting that he was not to be cheated out of a single word of the narration, made her go back and tell over the last thing she said. This was so much worse that Miss Mary decided she would let the story go on at all hazards, so she leaned back in her chair resignedly, while Polly went on:
"Well, and so we said, 'Yes, Miss Mary, we'd like to' and what could we do, for we didn't know how to help poor children."
"And I said I didn't want to," broke in Alexia suddenly.
"But you did, Alexia!" cried Polly, whirling around on her cricket to regard her affectionately. "Oh, Mr. Dyce, she did help"--looking over at him anxiously.
"Oh, yes, I see," nodded that gentleman, "and she's working on some fandango for the fair just as hard as you other girls."
"Oh, this horrible old shawl!" said Alexia, regarding the worsted folds dangling from her needle with anything but favor. "Well, I didn't want it, and nobody will buy it, I know, but the other girls were all going to do things, so I had to."
"Well, go on, Polly," said Mr. Dyce, with a laugh. So Polly, quite satisfied that he really understood how Alexia was helping along the work for the poor children the same as the others, hurried on with the story.
"Well, so then Miss Mary proposed that we hold a fair, and Grandpapa said we might have it on his grounds; and Auntie Whitney said why not have a garden party, and sell tickets, for perhaps some people wouldn't care to buy things and----"
"And I'm going to put my cushion-pin on the table," piped Phronsie suddenly, her checks all aglow with excitement, and dropping her needle again.
"So you shall," cried Mr. Dyce, "only you must have a little card saying 'Sold' on it; for I am surely going to buy that pincushion, Phronsie."
And then Polly flew back to her work again, and Mr. Dyce told such a very funny story about some monkeys who were going to give a party in the woods to all the other animals, that Phronsie forgot all about her needle, and ran over to clamber up into his lap.
And then, oh, the needles flew; and Clem's green stems began to grow, and a tiny bud showed itself, and then a full-blown violet. And Alexia's pink shawl took ever so many rows, and all the work seemed to flourish like magic. And at last, Miss Mary looked up at the clock.
"Time to put up work, girls," she cried gayly. And then wasn't there a great bustle, every one trying to see which would get hers into her bag first! And then, oh, such a stretching of tired arms and feet!
"Oh, dear me! the prickles are all running up and down my legs," exclaimed Alexia.
"Hush, well, so are mine," declared Clem. "Oh, dear me--ow! I haven't sat still for so long--ever, I guess."
"Nor I," laughed another girl.
"Come." Miss Mary was telling Mr. Dyce to lead the way to the dining-room. So they all fell into line, and, when there, they forgot tired legs and arms in the delights of the little feast set out.
Miss Mary sat down by the small table and poured chocolate for them, a white- capped maid at her chair, Mr. Hamilton Dyce on the other side as grand helper. Then the girls settled down in pretty groups on the broad window-seats, and on the high-backed chairs, and gave themselves up to the supreme content of the hour.
And then Miss Mary proposed that they should wind up the afternoon with a dance, which was received with a shout of delight. So she led the way to the drawing- room and sat down before the grand piano.
"Can't one of you girls play?" asked Mr. Dyce, at that.
"Oh, no, no," said Miss Mary, "the girls must dance." So, without waiting for any words, she struck into a two-step.
"Oh, I'll play, I'll play." Polly Pepper ran out from the midst of the group.
"Polly, come back, you are going to dance with me," cried Alexia.
"No, you're always getting her first. She's going to dance with me," announced Clem.
Polly was already over at the piano, trying to be heard, but Miss Mary only laughed and shook her head.
"No use, Polly," said Mr. Dyce, and he put his arm around her, and away they went down the length of the drawing-room.
"Well, at least you haven't got this first dance," said Alexia.
"Nor you, either," retorted Clem. "So come on, let's dance together," and away they went, too.
And at last, when it was time to go home, Mr. Hamilton Dyce, who had absented himself after that first dance, drove up with a flourish to the door in his runabout.
"I've come for Phronsie Pepper," he said.
So Phronsie, half asleep, had her hat tied on, and kissed Miss Mary, and Polly lifted her up and guided her foot over the step, Mr. Dyce, the reins in one hand, helping her with the other.
"Good-bye," he called, his eyes on no one but Miss Mary.
"Oh, my bag, my bag!" cried Phronsie, in a wail of distress, and leaning forward suddenly.
"Take care, child; where are you going?" Mr. Dyce put forth a restraining hand and held her closely.
"My bag!" Phronsie looked back, the tears racing over her round cheeks.
"I'll bring it home," called Polly from the steps, where she was back among the knot of girls.
"My bag!" Phronsie continued to wail.
"Dear me!" cried Polly, "she must have it now." So she ran into the house to get it, where Phronsie had left it on her little cricket, Mr. Dyce meanwhile saying, "There, there, child, you shall have it," while he turned the little mare sharply about.
"We can't ever find the needle," said Alexia, rushing after Polly into the library, and getting down on her knees to prowl over the floor. "Misery me!"-- with a jump--"I've found it already, sticking straight into me!"
So Phronsie's "cushion-pin" was thrust into the gay little pink-and-green- striped workbag, and Polly danced out with it and handed it up to her. Mr. Dyce cracked the whip, and this time they were fairly off.