XIV. Mamsie's Wedding
 

"Polly," said Dr. Fisher, coming suddenly out of a corner of the library as she ran around the portiere folds, "you are sure you are willing--are willing it should go on?"

The little man peered at her anxiously through his big glasses, and he looked so exactly as he did on that morning so long ago when Polly's eyes were at their worst, that she could do nothing but gaze speechlessly into his face.

"I see you don't consider it quite best, child," said the little doctor brokenly, "but you are trying with your good heart, to make it so. Don't be afraid; it is not too late to end it all."

"I was thinking," cried Polly with a gasp, "how good you were to me, when you saved my eyes, and how you kept Joel from dying of the measles. Oh! I couldn't speak--but I love you so."

She threw her young arms around him. "Papa Fisher--for you are almost my father now--I am the very, very happiest girl because you are going to live here, and now I can show you just how much I really and truly love you."

The little man beamed at her. Then he took off his spectacles, wiped them, and clapped them into place again. "You see, Polly," he said deliberately, "it was impossible to see your mother and not love her. She has had--well, there, child, I cannot bear to talk about it," and he walked to the window, blew his nose violently on an immense pocket- handkerchief, leaving the words poised in mid-air.

"It was the greatest trial of my life that I couldn't show her then when she was struggling so bravely to keep the wolf from the door, how I felt. But my hands were tied, child," he added, coming back, his usual self again. "Now I can make her, she says, happy, that is, if you children like it. Just think, Polly, she said happy! It's stupendous, but she said so, Polly, she really did!"

He folded his hands and looked at her in astonishment, behind which shone an intense gratification, that lighted up his plain little face till he seemed to grow younger every instant.

"Indeed she did!" repeated Polly like a bird, and laughing merrily. "Oh, Papa Fisher! you ought to hear Mamsie sing. She doesn't know I'm hearing her, but she sings at her work now."

"Does she?" cried the doctor radiantly. "Well, Polly, we must see that she sings every day, after this."

"Yes, let us," cried Polly, clasping his hand; "we will."

"And," proceeded the doctor, "after the wedding is over--I It really dread the wedding, Polly--but after that is over, I do believe we shall all be comfortable together!"

Polly gave a little cry of delight. Then she said, "You needn't dread the wedding one bit, Papa Fisher. There will be only the people that we love, and who love us--Grandpapa promised that."

"But that will make it very big," said Dr. Fisher, with round eyes and a small shiver he could not suppress.

"Oh, no!" said Polly cheerily, "sixty-five friends; that's all we are going to ask; Mamsie and I made out the list last night."

"Sixty-five people!" exclaimed Dr. Fisher in dismay. "Oh! isn't is possible to be married without sixty-five friends to stare at you?"

"Oh! that's not many," said Polly; "sixty-five is the very smallest number that we could manage. We've been over the list ever so many times, and struck out quantities of names. You see, everybody loves Mamsie, and they'll want to see her married."

"I know--I know," assented the doctor, "but that makes one hundred and thirty eyes. Did you ever think of that, Polly?"

Polly burst into such a laugh that Jasper popped in, and after him, Phronsie, and a general hilarity now reigning, the dreaded wedding preparations soon sank away from the doctor's perturbed vision.

But they went on merrily nevertheless. All over the old stone mansion there were hints of the on-coming festivities; and though all signs of it were tucked away from the little doctor on his occasional visits, the smothered excitement flamed afresh immediately his departure became an assured thing. Everybody had the wildest plans for the occasion; it appearing impossible to do enough for the one who had stood at the helm for five long years, and who was to be reigning housekeeper for as much longer as her services were needed.

And Dr. Fisher never knew how perilously near he had been to the verge of brilliant evening festivities, in the midst of which he was to be ushered into matrimony.

For Polly had suddenly waked one morning, to find herself, not "famous," but alive with the sense of being--as her mother had so often expressed it--"Mamsie's little right-hand woman."

"It will be much better to have everything plain," said Polly, communing with herself, as she turned on her pillow. "Mamsie has always been without show, of any kind, and so," but here Polly's heart stood still. Dearly she loved the bright, conspicuous accompaniments to the wedding whereby Mr. King was determined to show his respect for the family under his care. And her soul secretly longed for the five hundred guests named on a list of the old gentleman's drawing up. And the feast and the lights, and the pretty dresses, and the dancing party for the young people to follow. For Mr. King had announced himself as about to usher in the brightest of days for the young Peppers to remember.

"Besides it brings our new physician into notice," he would answer when any faint protest was made. "And we shall all have reason to be immensely proud of him, I tell you!"

"Oh, dear!" cried Polly, burrowing deeper within the pillow folds, "why aren't pleasant things best to do? Why, I wonder!"

Cherry, twittering in the window, chirped something vague and unsatisfactory. Polly brought up her brown head suddenly and laughed.

"Nonsense! our happiness doesn't depend upon a lot of people coming together to help it along. Mamsie's face, whenever Grandpapa plans all this magnificence, is enough to make me feel wretched at the thought of it. Dear Mamsie! she's afraid of ingratitude if she doesn't try to like it. She shall have the little morning wedding with a few people around, and the gray silk gown instead of the lavender one Grandpapa wants her to wear, for Mamsie always knows just what is right."

With that, Polly sprang out of bed, and rushed at her toilet, and after breakfast she quietly captured Mr. King on the edge of some other extravagant plan, and led him into the library.

"Everything is going on finely, Polly," he cried in elation. "Ring for Thomas, child; stay, I'll do it myself. I shall go in an hour to give my orders for the wedding supper."

"Grandpapa," cried Polly, turning quite pale, and laying a quick, detaining hand on his arm, "oh! do wait, dear Grandpapa, I have something to say."

"Well, child," but he still retained his hand on the cord.

"Oh, Grandpapa!" how could she say it! But she must. "Mamsie will be ever so much happier if the wedding might be a quiet one. She really would, Grandpapa."

"No doubt Mrs. Pepper finds it a little hard to adjust her ideas to the large affair," said the old gentleman, considerably disturbed, and by no means relinquishing the bell-cord, "but it is due to you children to have a bright time, and I must see that you all have it. That is my affair," and this time the cord was pulled, and the bell rang a loud, insistent message.

Polly stood still in despair. "Grandpapa," she said distinctly, finding it hard to proceed, with his face before her, "we children do not want the large party; that is I do not."

It was all out at last.

"Stuff and nonsense!" exclaimed Mr. King sharply, for his surprise was too great to allow of composure, "who has been putting this idea into your head? Your mother couldn't have done it, for she promised it should all be as you young people wanted."

"Mamsie never said a word," cried Polly, recovering herself as she saw a chance to make things right for Mother Pepper; "it all came to me, Grandpapa, all alone by myself. Oh! I hate the big display!" she declared with sudden vehemence, astonishing herself with the repulsion that now seized her.

"Hoity toity!" exclaimed Mr. King, "it's not quite the thing, Polly, my child, to express yourself so decidedly, considering your years."

"Grandpapa," cried Polly, with a sudden rush of tears, "forgive me, do; I did not mean to be so naughty. I did not, dear Grandpapa." She looked like Phronsie now, and the old gentleman's heart melted. "But I am quite sure that none of us children would be a bit happy not to have it as Mamsie would like."

"Well, but I am not sure that the others wouldn't like it," said Mr. King persistently.

"Ben wouldn't," said Polly triumphantly, "I know, for he all along shrank from the big party."

"Oh! well, Ben, I suppose, would object somewhat," conceded the old gentleman slowly.

"And Davie," cried Polly eagerly; "Oh, Grandpapa! David would much prefer the morning wedding and the plain things."

"But how about Joel and Phronsie?" interrupted Mr. King, utterly ignoring Davie's claims to be heard. "Ah! Polly, my dear, until you tell me that they will prefer to give up the fine party, you mustn't expect me to pay any attention to what you say. It's due to Phronsie that your mother's wedding is a thing worthy to remember as a fine affair."

"Perhaps Joel and Phronsie will think as we do," said Polly. But her heart said No.

"All right if they do," said Mr. King easily, "but unless you come and tell me it is their own choice, why, I shall just go on with my plans as mapped out," he added obstinately. "Thomas," as that functionary appeared in the doorway, "take the letters to the post at once; you will find them on my writing table."

"All right, sir."

"I'll give you till to-morrow to find out," said Mr. King. "Now come and kiss me, Polly dear. You'll see it's all right after it's over, and be glad I had the sense to keep my mind about it."

Polly put up her lips obediently. But it was a sad little kiss that was set upon his mouth, and it left him feeling like a criminal.

And running out, she met her difficult task without a moment of preparation.

"Halloo, Polly!" whooped Joel, rushing around an angle in the hall, "Grandpapa promised me that I might go out with him, to give the supper orders, and all that kind of nonsense."

Polly's heart stood still.

"Joel," she began, seizing his jacket with trembling fingers, "come up into my room a minute."

"What's up?" cried Joel with curiosity; "some more mysteries? There's nothing but whisperings, and secrets, and no end of jolly understandings, ever since Mamsie commenced to marry Dr. Fisher. Go ahead, I'll come."

"And Phronsie, too," said Polly, seeing the yellow head emerge from the breakfast-room doorway.

"Come on, Phron," sang out Joel, "up in Polly's room--she wants you," and the three hurried off.

"Now, Joel," said Polly, closing the door and facing him desperately, "you are Mamsie's own boy."

"I should think so," said Joel, "I'm not anybody's else. Is that all you brought me up here to say?" thrusting his hands in his pockets and looking at her.

"And you can make her happy, or just as miserable as I can't say what," went on Polly incoherently.

"What in the world are you firing at?" demanded the boy, visions of certain pranks at school unpleasantly before him. "Don't shoot over my head, Polly, but keep somewhere near your mark," he advised irritably.

Phronsie surveyed the two with wide eyes, and a not wholly pleased manner.

"Mamsie does not want a big wedding," declared Polly, going to the heart of the matter, "but dear kind Grandpapa thinks it will please us children, and so he wants to give her one."

"And so it will," cried Joel, "please us children. Whoop la! give us your hand, Phronsie, this is the way we'll dance afterwards at the party."

"I don't want to dance," said Phronsie, standing quite still in the middle of the room. The morning sun shone across her yellow hair, but no light came into the large eyes. "Polly wants something, first; what is it, Joel?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said Joel, poised on a careless foot, and executing a remarkable pas seul. "I don't believe she knows herself. Polly is often queer, you know, Phronsie," he added cheerfully.

"Tell me, Polly, do," whispered Phronsie, going over to her.

"Phronsie," said Polly very slowly, "Mamsie doesn't want a big party in the evening to see her married, but to have a cunning little company of friends come in the morning, and"--

"Ugh!" cried Joel in disgust, coming down suddenly to both feet.

"It will please Mamsie best," went on Polly, with a cold shoulder to Joel. "And I never should be happy in all this world to remember that I helped to make my Mamsie unhappy on her wedding day."

Phronsie shivered, and her voice held a miserable little thrill as she begged, "Oh! make her be married just as she wants to be, Polly, do."

"Now that's what I call mean," cried Joel in a loud, vindictive tone back of Polly, "to work on Phronsie's feelings. You can't make me say I don't want Mamsie to have a wedding splurge, so there, Polly Pepper!"

Polly preserved a dignified silence, and presented her shoulder again to his view.

"You can't make me say it, Polly Pepper!" shouted Joel shrilly.

"Oh, Phronsie!" exclaimed Polly in a rapture, throwing her arms around the child, "Mamsie will be so pleased--you can't think. Let us go and tell her; come!"

"See here!" called Joel, edging up, "why don't you talk to me?"

"I haven't anything to say," Polly condescended to give him, without turning her head. "Come, Phronsie," holding out her hand.

"Wait a minute."

"Well, what is it?" Polly's hand now held Phronsie's, but she paused on the way to the door.

"I guess I can give up things as well as she can, if I know Mamsie wants me to," said Joel, with a deeply injured manner.

"Mamsie doesn't want any of us to give up anything unless we do it as if we were glad to," said Polly. For her life, she couldn't conceal a little scornful note in her voice, and Joel winced miserably.

"I--I wish she wouldn't have the big party," he whined.

"I thought you wanted it," said Polly, turning to him.

"I--I don't. I'd rather Mamsie would be happy. O, dear! don't look at me so."

"I'm not looking at you so," said Polly. "You acted just as if you had your heart set on the party."

"Well, it isn't. I'll--I'll--if you say party to me again!" and he faced her vindictively.

"Joel Pepper!" cried Polly, holding him with her brown eyes, "do you really mean that you are glad to give up that big evening party, and have the little teeny one in the morning?"

"Yes," said Joel, "as true as I live and breathe, I do!"

"Oh! oh! oh!" cried Polly, and seizing his arm, she led off in a dance, so much surpassing his efforts, that Phronsie screamed with delight to see them go. When they could dance no more, Polly, flushed and panting, ran out of the room, leaving the two to find out as best they might, the cause of the strange demeanor.

"Grandpapa," Polly rushing over the stairs, met him coming up to Mrs. Whitney's room, "Joel says it's the little morning wedding--please; and Phronsie too!"

The old gentleman gave no sign of his defeat, beyond a "Humph! and so I'm beaten, after all!"

And Dr. Fisher never knew all this.

Mamsie's wedding-day! At last it came! Was any other ever so bright and beautiful? Phronsie thought not, and thereupon she impeded the preparations by running up to kiss her mother every few moments, until such time as Felicie carried her off to induct her into a white muslin gown. Polly, here, there, and everywhere, was in such a rapture that she seemed to float on wings, while the boys of the household, with the exception of Jasper, lost their heads early in the day, and helplessly succumbed to all demands upon them.

Every flower had to be put in place by the young people. Old Turner for once stood one side. And Polly must put the white satin boxes filled with wedding cake on the little table where one of the waiters would hand them to departing guests. And Phronsie must fasten Mamsie's pearl broach--the gift of the five little Peppers--in her lace collar the very last thing. And Jasper collected the rice and set the basket holding it safely away from Joel's eager fingers till such time as they could shower the bride's carriage. And all the boys were ushers, even little Dick coming up grandly to offer his arm to the tallest guest as it happened.

And old Mr. King gave the bride away! And Dr. Fisher at the last forgot all the one hundred and thirty eyes, and his "I will," rang out like a man's who has secured what he has long wanted. And ever so many of the guests said "What a good father he will make the children," and several attempted to tell the Peppers so. "As if we didn't know it before," said Joel indignantly.

And Alexia and all the other girls of Polly's set were there, and Joel's little blue and white creature came, to his great satisfaction, with her aunt, who was quite intimate in the family; and Pickering Dodge was there of course, and the Alstynes, and hosts of others.

And Mother Pepper in her silver-gray gown and bonnet, by the side of her husband, with Phronsie clinging to one hand, heard nothing but heart- felt wishes for her happiness and that of the five little Peppers.

And there was not so much as the shadow of a skeleton at the wedding breakfast. And Cousin Mason Whitney took charge of the toasts--and everybody felt that just the right things had been said. And then there was a flutter of departure of the bridal party, and in the rattle of the wheels Phronsie piped out bravely as she threw the slipper after the departing coach:

"Mamsie has been taking care of us all these years; now we're going to be good and let her be happy."