Five Little Peppers Midway by Margaret Sidney
I. Phronsie's Pie
"Jefferson," said Phronsie, with a grave uplifting of her eyebrows, "I think I will go down into the kitchen and bake a pie; a very little pie, Jefferson."
"Bless you, Miss," replied the cook, showing his white teeth in glee, "it is the making of the kitchen when you come it."
"Yes, Jefferson," said Phronsie slowly, "I think I will go down make one. It must be very, very full of plums, you know," looking up at him anxiously, "for Polly dearly loves plums."
"It shall be that plummy," said Jefferson convincingly, "that you'd think you never saw such a one for richness. Oh, my! what a pie that shall be!" exclaimed the cook, shutting up one eye to look through the other in a spasm of delight at an imaginary pie; "so it's for Miss Mary, is it?"
"Yes," said Phronsie, "it is. Oh, Jefferson, I'm so glad you like to have me make one," she clasped her hands in silent rapture, and sat down on the lowest stair to think it over a bit, Jefferson looking at her, forgetful that the under cook was fuming in the deserted domains over his delay to return. At last he said, bowing respectfully, "If you please, Miss, it's about time to begin. Such a pie ain't done without a deal of care, and we'd best have it a-baking as soon as may be."
"Yes," said Phronsie, getting off from her stair, and surrendering her hand to his big black palm, "we ought to go right this very minute. But I must get my apron on;" she stopped and looked down at her red dress.
"Oh! you can take one of my aprons," said the cook, "they're as fine, and big, and white, and I'll just put you in one of 'em and tie you up as snug; you'll come out as clean and sweet when we're through, as you are now, Miss."
"Tie me up?" laughed Phronsie in glee. "Oh! how nice, Jefferson. Do you know I love you very much, Jefferson, you're so very good to me?"
The big fellow drew a long breath. "No, Miss, I'm big and black, and just fit to stay downstairs," he managed to say.
"But I love you better because you are black, Jefferson," insisted Phronsie, "a great deal better. You are not like everybody else, but you are just yourself," clinging to his hand.
"Well, Miss, I ain't just fit for a lily to touch and that's the truth," looking down at his palm that the small white hand grasped closely. "It's clean, Miss," he added with pardonable pride, "but it's awful black."
"I like it better black, Jefferson," said Phronsie again, "really and truly I do, because then it's your very, very own," in a tone that thrilled him much as if a queen had knighted him on the spot.
This important declaration over, the two set forth on their way toward the kitchen, Phronsie clinging to his hand, and chatting merrily over the particular pie in prospect, with varied remarks on pies in general, that by and by would be ventured upon if this present one were a success--and very soon tied up in one of the cook's whitest aprons she was seated with due solemnity at the end of the baking table, the proper utensils and materials in delightful confusion before her, and the lower order of kitchen satellites revolving around her, and Jefferson the lesser sphere.
"Now all go back to your work," said that functionary when he considered the staring and muttered admiration had been indulged in long enough, "and leave us."
"I want you," said his assistant, touching his elbow.
"Clear out," said Jefferson angrily, his face turned quite from Phronsie.
But she caught the tone and immediately laid down the bit of dough she was moulding.
"Do go," she begged, "and come back quickly," smiling up into his face. "See, I'm going to pat and pat and pat, oh! ever so much before you come back."
So Jefferson followed the under cook, the scullery boy went back to cleaning the knives, Susan, the parlor maid who was going through the kitchen with her dustpan and broom, hurried off with a backward glance or two, and Phronsie was left quite alone to hum her way along in her blissful culinary attempt.
"Bless me!" exclaimed a voice close to her small ear, as she was attempting for the fifth time to roll out the paste quite as thin as she had seen Jefferson do, "what is this? Bless my soul! it's Phronsie!"
Phronsie set down the heavy rolling-pin and turned in her chair with a gleeful laugh.
"Dear, dear Grandpapa!" she cried, clasping her floury hands, "oh! I'm so glad you've come to see me make a pie all by myself. It's for Polly, and it's to be full of plums; Jefferson let me make it."
"Jefferson? And where is he, pray?" cried Mr. King irately. "Pretty fellow, to bring you down to these apartments, and then go off and forget you. Jefferson!" he called sharply, "here, where are you?"
"Oh, Grandpapa!" exclaimed Phronsie in dire distress, "I sent him; Jefferson didn't want to go, Grandpapa dear, really and truly, he went because I asked him."
"If you please, sir," began Jefferson, hurrying up, "I only stepped off a bit to the cellar. Bassett sent down a lot of turnips, they ain't first-rate, and"--
"All right," said Mr. King, cutting him short with a wave of his hand, "if Miss Phronsie sent you off, it's all right; I don't want to hear any more elaborate explanations."
"Little Miss hasn't been alone but a few minutes," said Jefferson in a worried way.
"And see," said Phronsie, turning back to her efforts, while one hand grasped the old gentleman's palm, "I've almost got it to look like Jefferson's. Almost, haven't I?" she asked, regarding it anxiously.
"It will be the most beautiful pie," cried Mr. King, a hearty enthusiasm succeeding his irritability, "that ever was baked. I wish you'd make me one sometime, Phronsie."
"Do you?" she cried in a tremor of delight, "and will you really have it on the table, and cut it with Aunt Whitney's big silver knife?"
"That I will," declared Mr. King solemnly.
"Then some day I'll come down here again, Jefferson," cried Phronsie in a transport, "and bake one for my dear Grandpapa. That is, if this one is good. Oh! you do suppose it will be good, don't you?" appealingly at him.
"It shall," said Jefferson stoutly, and seizing the rolling-pin with extreme determination. "You want a bit more butter worked in, here," a dab with skillful fingers, and a little manipulation with the flour, a roll now and then most deftly, and the paste was laid out before Phronsie. "Now, Miss, you can put it in the dish."
"But is isn't my pie," said Phronsie, and, big girl as she felt herself to be, she sat back in her chair, her lower lip quivering.
"Not your pie?" repeated the cook, bringing himself up straight to gaze at her.
"No," said Phronsie, shaking her yellow head gravely, "it isn't my pie now, Jefferson. You put in the things, and rolled it."
"Leave your fingers off from it, can't you?" cried Mr. King sharply. "Goodness! this pie isn't to have a professional touch about it. Get some more flour and stuff, whatever it is you make a pie of, and let her begin again. There, I'll sit down and watch you; then there'll be some chance of having things straight." So he drew up a chair to the side of the table, first calling off Pete, the scullery boy, from his knives to come and wipe it off for him, and Mrs. Tucker who was in kitchen dialect "Tucker," to see that the boy did his work well.
"Lor' bless you, sir," said Tucker, bestowing a final polish with her apron, "'twas like satin before, sir--not a wisp of dust."
"I don't want any observations from you," said the old gentleman, depositing himself in the chair. "There, you can go back to your work, Mrs. Tucker, and you too, Pete. Now I'll see that this pie is to your liking, Phronsie."
But Phronsie still sat back in her chair, thoughtfully surveying Jefferson.
"Grandpapa," she said at last slowly, "I think I'd rather have the first pie, I really would, Grandpapa, may I?" She brought her yellow head forward by a sudden movement, and looked deep into his keen eyes.
"Bless my soul! Rather have the first pie?" repeated the old gentleman in astonishment, "why, I thought you wanted to make one all yourself."
"I think I'd rather do part of it," said Phronsie with great deliberateness, "then Polly'll like it, and eat it, and I'll do yours, Grandpapa dear, just as Jefferson fixed mine, all alone. Please let me." She held him fast with her eyes, and waited for his answer.
"So you shall!" cried Mr. King in great satisfaction, "make mine all alone. This one would better go as it is. Put away the flour and things, Jefferson; Miss Phronsie doesn't want them."
Phronsie gave a relieved little sigh. "And, Jefferson, if you hadn't showed me how, I couldn't ever in all this world make Grandpapa's. Now give me the little plate, do."
"Here 'tis, Miss," said the cook, all his tremor over the blunder he had made, disappearing, since, after all, things were quite satisfactory. And the little plate forthcoming, Phronsie tucked away the paste lovingly in its depths, and began the important work of concocting the mixture with which the pie was to be filled, Mr. King sitting by with the gravity of a statue, even to the deliberate placing of each plum.
"Where's Phronsie?" called a voice above in one of the upper halls.
"Oh! she's coming, Polly is!" cried Phronsie, deserting a plum thrust in endwise in the middle of the pie, to throw her little sticky fingers around Jefferson's neck; "oh! do take off my apron; and let me go. She'll see my pie!"
"Stop!" cried Mr. King, getting up somewhat stiffly to his feet, "I'll take off the apron myself. There, Phronsie, there you are. Whew! how hot you keep your kitchen, Jefferson," and he wiped his face.
"Now we'll run," said Phronsie softly, "and not make a bit of noise, Grandpapa dear, and, Jefferson, please put on my top to the pie, and don't let it burn, and I'll come down very, very soon again, and bake one all alone by myself for Grandpapa."
The old gentleman kept up very well with the soft patter of her feet till they reached the foot of the staircase. "There, there, child," he said, "there's not the least need of hurry now."
"But she will come down," said Phronsie, in gentle haste pulling at his hand, "then if she should see it, Grandpapa!"
"To be sure; that would indeed be dreadful," said Mr. King, getting over the stairs very creditably. "There, here we are now. Whew! it's terribly warm in this house!"
But there was no danger from Polly; she was at this very instant, not being able to find Phronsie, hurrying off toward the library in search of Mrs. Whitney.
"We want to do the very loveliest thing!" she cried, rushing in, her cheeks aflame. "Oh! pray excuse me." She stopped short, blushing scarlet.
"Don't feel badly, Polly dear," said Mrs. Whitney, over in the dim light, where the divan was drawn up in the east window, and she held out her hand and smiled; the other lady whose tete-a-tete was thus summarily disturbed was elderly and very tall and angular. She put up her eyeglass at the intrusion and murmured "Ah?"
"This is Polly Pepper," said Mrs. Whitney, as Polly, feeling unusually awkward and shy, stumbled across the library to get within the kind arms awaiting her.
"One of the children that your kindness received in this house?" said the tall lady, making good use of the eyeglass. The color mounted steadily on Polly's already rosy cheek, at the scrutiny now going on with the greatest freedom.
"One of the dear children who make this house a sunny place for us all." said Mrs. Whitney distinctly.
"Ah? I see. You are extremely good to put it in that way." A low, well- bred laugh followed this speech. Its sound irritated the young girl's ear unspeakably, and the brown eyes flashed, and though there was really no occasion to feel what was not addressed to her, Polly was quite sure she utterly disliked the lady before her.
"My dear Mrs. Chatterton," said Mrs. Whitney in the gentlest of accents, "you do not comprehend; it is not possible for you to understand how very happy we all are here. The house is quite another place, I assure you, from the abode you saw last before you went abroad."
Mrs. Chatterton gave another low, unpleasant laugh, and this time shrugged her shoulders.
"Polly dear," said Mrs. Whitney with a smile, "say good-morning to Mrs. Chatterton, and then run away. I will hear your wonderful plan by and by. I shall be glad to, child," she was guilty of whispering in the small ear.
"Good-morning, Mrs. Chatterton," said Polly slowly, the brown eyes looking steadily into the traveled and somewhat seamed countenance before her.
"Good-morning," and Polly found herself once more across the floor, and safely out in the hall, the door closed between them.
"Who is she?" she cried in an indignant spasm to Jasper, who ran up, and she lifted her eyes brimming over with something quite new to him. He stopped aghast.
"Who?" he cried. "Oh, Polly! what has happened?"
"Mrs. Chatterton. And she looked at me--oh! I can't tell you how she looked; as if I were a bug, or a hateful worm beneath her," cried Polly, quite as much aghast at herself. "It makes me feel horridly, Jasper--you can't think." Oh! that old"--He stopped, pulling himself up with quite an effort. "Has she come back--what brought her, pray tell, so soon?"
"I don't know, I am sure," said Polly, laughing at his face. "I was only in the room a moment, I think, but it seemed an age with that eyeglass, and that hateful little laugh."
"Oh! she always sticks up that thing in her eye," said Jasper coolly, "and she's everlastingly ventilating that laugh on everybody. She thinks it high-bred and elegant, but it makes people want to kill her for it." He looked and spoke annoyed. "To think you fell into her clutches!" he added.
"Well, who is she?" cried Polly, smoothing down her ruffled feathers, when she saw the effect of her news on him. "I should dearly love to know."
"Cousin Algernon's wife," said Jasper briefly.
"And who is he?" cried Polly, again experiencing a shock that this dreadful person was a relative to whom due respect must be shown.
"Oh! a cousin of father's," said Jasper. "He was nice, but he's dead."
"Oh!" said Polly.
"She's been abroad for a good half-dozen years, and why she doesn't stay there when everybody supposed she was going to, astonishes me," said Jasper, after a moment. "Well, it will not be for long, I presume, that we shall have the honor; she'll be easily tired of America, and take herself off again."
"She doesn't stay in this house, does she, Jasper?" cried Polly in a tone of horror.
"No; that is, unless she chooses to, then we can't turn her off. She's a relative, you know."
"Hasn't she any home?" asked Polly, "or any children?"
"Home? Yes, an estate down in Bedford County?-Dunraven Lodge; but it's all shut up, and in the hands of agents who have been trying for the half-dozen years she was abroad, to sell it for her. She may have come back to settle down there again, there's no telling what she will do. In the meantime, I fancy she'll make her headquarters here," he said gloomily.
"Oh, Jasper!" exclaimed Polly, seizing his arm, feeling that here was need of comfort indeed, "how very dreadful! Don't you suppose something will happen to take her away?"
"I don't see what can," said Jasper, prolonging the gloom to feel the comfort it brought. "You see she has nobody who wants her, to step in and relieve us. She has two nephews, but oh! you ought to see them fight!"
"Fight?" repeated Polly aghast.
"Yes; you can't dignify their skirmishes by any other name," said Jasper, in disgust. "So you see our chances for keeping her as long as she condescends to stay are really very good."
Polly clung to his arm in speechless dismay. Meanwhile conversation fast and brisk was going on between the two shut up in the library.
"It is greatly to your discredit, Marian," said Mrs. Chatterton in a high, cold voice, "that you didn't stop all this nonsense on your father's part, before the thing got to such a pass as to install them in this house."
"On the contrary," said Mrs. Whitney with a little laugh, "I did everything I could to further the plan that father wisely made."
"Wisely!" cried Mrs. Chatterton in scorn. "Oh, you silly child! don't you see what it will all tend to?"
"I see that it has made us all very happy for five years," said Mrs. Whitney, preserving her composure, "so I presume the future doesn't hold much to dread on that score."
"The future is all you have to dread," declared Mrs. Chatterton harshly. "The present may be well enough; though I should think existence with that low, underbred family here, would be a"?
"You may pause just where you are, Mrs. Chatterton," said Marian, still with the gentlest of accents, but with a determination that made the other look down at her in astonishment, "not another word shall you utter in that strain, nor will I listen to it." And with fine temper undisturbed in her blue eyes, she regarded her relative.
"Dear me, Marian! I begin to notice your age more now. You shouldn't fly into such rages; they wear on one fearfully; and especially for a stranger too, and against your own people--how can you?"
Mrs. Chatterton drew out a vinaigrette, then a fan from a silken bag, with clasps that she was always glad to reflect were heirlooms. "It's trying, I must confess," she declared, alternately applying the invigorating salts and waving the combination of gauze and sandalwood, "to come home to such a reception. But," and a heavy sigh, "I must bear it."
"You ought to see father," cried Mrs. Whitney, rising. "I must go at once and tell him of your arrival."
"Oh! I don't know that I care about seeing Cousin Horatio yet," said Mrs. Chatterton carelessly. "He will probably fall into one of his rages, and my nerves have been upset quite enough by you. I think I'll go directly to my apartments." She rose also.
"Father must at once be informed of your arrival," repeated Marian quietly. "I'll send him in to see you."
"And I shall go to my apartments," declared Mrs. Chatterton determinedly.
"Hoity-toity!" exclaimed Mr. King's voice, and in he came, with Phronsie, fresh from the kitchen, clinging to his hand.