A Box For The Pepper Boys
 

"Mamsie, have we been here a whole week in Amsterdam," cried Polly, leaning out of the window to look up and down the canal where the many-coloured boats lay, "beside all those days at Scheveningen? I can't believe it!"

"It doesn't seem possible," Mother Fisher answered musingly, and her hands dropped to her lap, where they lay quietly folded.

"Mamsie,"--Polly suddenly drew in her gaze from the charming old canal and its boats, and sprang to Mrs. Fisher's side,--"do you know, I think it was just the loveliest thing in all the world for Grandpapa to bring dear Mr. and Mrs. Henderson abroad with us? I do, Mamsie."

"Mr. King is always doing good, kind things," said Mrs. Fisher, coming out of her revery, as Polly threw herself down on the floor and laid her head in her mother's lap, just as she used to do at home. "I haven't done this for so long," she said, "and it is so good!"

"That is the only drawback about travel," observed Mother Fisher, her hand passing soothingly over Polly's head, "that there never seems to be time for the little home ways that are so good. Now we must make the time and keep it, Polly."

"Indeed we will," cried Polly, seizing Mamsie's other hand to cuddle it under her chin, "and I'm going to begin right now. It makes me think of the little brown house, Mamsie, whenever you smooth my hair. What good times we used to have there!"

Mrs. Fisher's hand trembled a bit, but the black eyes were as serene as ever. "You used to work pretty hard, Polly," she said.

"Oh, but it was fun!" said Polly, merrily, "only I didn't like the old stove when it acted badly. But then came my new stove. Mamsie, wasn't Papa Fisher splendid? And then he saved my eyes. Just think, Mamsie, I never can love him half enough. I wish I could do something for him," she mourned, just as she did in the old days.

"You do, Polly; you are doing something every day of your life," said her mother, reassuringly. "Never think that you don't do anything. Why, it was only this very morning that your father told me that you were his little helper, and that he depended on you to cheer him up."

"Did he say that?" asked Polly, much gratified, poking up her head to look at her mother. "Oh, I want to be, but I don't know how to help him. Papa Fisher always seems to be doing something for other people, and not to need anybody to do things for him."

"Ah, Polly, when you have lived longer," said Mrs. Fisher, "you will know that those who are doing things always for other people, are the very ones who need cheering up, for they never complain. Your father, in going about as he does, day after day, to the hospitals and everywhere, where he can learn anything that will make him a better doctor, is working very hard indeed, and yet think how cheerful he is when he comes home! And he says you help to keep him so, Polly." She bent over and set a kiss on Polly's red cheek.

"Mamsie," cried Polly, with a glow where the kiss had dropped, "I'm going to try harder than ever to see wherever I can find a time to help Papa-Doctor. And I hope that one will come soon."

"And you'll find just such a time will come; it never fails to when you watch for it," said Mother Fisher, wisely. Just then the door opened, and Phronsie, fresh from the hands of Matilda, who had been changing her gown, came in with Araminta in her arms. When she saw Polly on the floor with her head in Mamsie's lap, she got down by her side and curled up there, too.

"Smooth my hair, do, Mamsie," she begged.

"Mamsie's got her two bothers," said Polly, with a little laugh.

"Mamsie doesn't mind her bothers," said Mrs. Fisher, her other hand going softly over Phronsie's yellow hair, at which Phronsie gave a small sigh of content, and wriggled her toes as they were stretched out straight before her on the carpet, "if only they grow up a little better every day than they were the day before."

"We'll try to, Mamsie," said Polly, "won't we, Pet?" leaning over and kissing her.

"I'll try to," promised Phronsie, with another wriggle of her small toes.

"That's right," said Mother Fisher, smiling approval.

"Mrs. Fisher!" called Grandpapa's voice at the door. Thereupon Polly and Phronsie sprang to their feet, and a lively race ensued to see which should be there the first to open it. The consequence was that both faces met him at once.

"Bless me!" cried old Mr. King, laughing gaily, as the door flew open, and they both rushed into his arms; "so you did like to have your old Grandfather come to see you," he exclaimed, mightily pleased.

"I should think we did!" cried Polly, as they escorted him in, and led him to the seat of honour, a big carved arm-chair, with a faded tapestry covering.

"I should very much like to get into your lap, Grandpapa dear," said Phronsie, surveying him gravely as he sat down and leaned his head against the chair back.

"So you shall," cried Mr. King, lifting her up to his knee, Araminta and all. She perched there in quiet content, while he set forth his business which he had come to talk over with Mother Fisher.

"Now, you know those three boys of yours are the most splendid boys that ever were in all this world, and they are working away at home, studying and all that, Joel and David are, and Ben is pegging away at business." Old Mr. King thought best to go to the heart of the matter at once without any dallying.

Mrs. Fisher's cheek grew a shade paler, but she said not a word as she fastened her black eyes on his face.

"Hem--well, we don't talk much about those boys," observed the old gentleman, "because it makes us all homesick after them, and it's best that they should be there, and that we should be here, so that was settled once for all by our coming."

Still Mrs. Fisher said not a word.

"Well, now, the fact of it is," continued old Mr. King, still keeping to the main point with wonderful directness, "I think the time has come for us to act, which is much better than talking, in my opinion; and I want to do something for those boys."

A pin could have been heard to drop. Polly leaned over his chair and hung on his words, while Mrs. Fisher never took her eyes from his face.

"In short," continued old Mr. King, well pleased with the attention of his audience, "I propose that we send a box of good things of various descriptions to Ben and Joel and David."

A small howl of delight from Polly broke the silence. When she heard that, Phronsie gave a little crow. "Oh, Grandpapa!" exclaimed Polly, "do you really mean it?" and she threw her arms around his neck. Phronsie immediately clambered up and did the same thing.

"That's just as your mother shall decide," said Mr. King, immensely pleased with the way his news was received. "She hasn't said a word yet whether she likes the idea or not."

"It's just because I couldn't speak at first," said Mrs. Fisher, wiping her eyes; and her voice trembled. "But it's the very thing; and oh! thank you, sir, for thinking of it. The boys won't be so homesick for us when they get the box. And it will be the best thing in the world for us to keep busy, so we can't worry about them."

"Mamsie has said 'yes'!" exclaimed Polly, flying off to dance around and around in the middle of the room. "Oh, I wish Jasper was here!" she cried regretfully, breaking short off.

"Go and call him, then,--he's down in the reading room, writing to the boys,-- and bring him up here," said old Mr. King. "No, no, Phronsie, you want to stay and take care of me," as Phronsie showed signs of slipping down from his lap to go too.

"I'll stay and take care of you," said Phronsie, obediently; "just let me lay Araminta down, Grandpapa, on the sofa, and then I'll come back and rub your head."

So she got down and set Araminta up straight against the sofa back, and then came and clambered up again into his lap. By this time Polly and Jasper, racing along the hall, had reached Mother Fisher's room.

"That's regularly splendid, father." Jasper tossed his dark hair back from his forehead, and his eyes sparkled. "Oh, can't we go out right away and begin to buy the presents?"

"I shouldn't think that idea was a half-bad one," said old Mr. King. "What do you say, Mrs. Fisher? If we are going to send the box, why isn't it best to begin the work at once? There's never so good a time as now, in my opinion. I'm sure you agree with me."

On Mother Fisher saying "yes," all three of the young people took hold of hands, and danced around the room in glee. For old Mr. King set Phronsie down, with, "There, go, child, and spin with the others; then all hurry and get your hats on, and we'll be off."

And in less time than it takes to write it, old Mr. King and Mother Fisher and Jasper and Polly and Phronsie all hurried out of the hotel, and began a round of the shops to get the things together for the wonderful box to go home to the boys. And though Polly didn't know it, several other things, that boys wouldn't be supposed to care for in the least, were slyly added to the purchases, when she wasn't looking, to be sent home to the hotel in separate parcels to Mr. King. For Polly was going to have a birthday before very long; though she had quite forgotten it in the excitement over this box for Ben and Joel and David.

"It's just like buying things for Christmas, isn't it, Jasper?" said Polly, as they hung over the show-cases and peered into windows; "only everything is so funny here. Oh, no, Phronsie, that won't do; it's too big," as Phronsie protested that nothing was so nice as a huge Delft plate hanging on the wall. There was a big windmill and several little windmills in the distance along a Dutch canal, and two or three cows in the foreground, and a peasant girl with a basket in her hand. Phronsie stood and gazed at it all the time they were in this particular shop.

"I like that little girl," she said, "and those cows; and they are like Deacon Blodgett's cows at home in Badgertown. And Ben would like it, and Joel, and David." And all Polly could do, she would still say, "I like it, Polly, and I want Grandpapa to send it."

At last Polly turned in despair to Jasper. "Oh, what can we do?" she cried; "she is just as determined as she was when she would send the gingerbread boy to Grandpapa."

"Well, I think we would better not try to get her away from the idea," said Jasper, with a look at the rapt little face. Phronsie was now kneeling on a Flemish oak chair, and studying the Delft plate with absorbed attention.

"No," said Polly, with a sigh, "I suppose it isn't any use to try when she looks like that." Just then old Mr. King, who had been busy in a farther corner with the proprietor of the shop, picking out some small articles that struck his fancy, turned and called Phronsie. She didn't hear him, being too absorbed. And so he laid down the little silver paper-cutter he was looking at, and came over to see what was the matter.

"Well, child," he said, looking over her shoulder. "And so you like that, hey?"

Phronsie drew a long breath. "I do, Grandpapa, like it very much indeed," she said.

"Well, then, I don't see but what you must have it. And it shall hang in your own little room at home, Phronsie."

"But I don't want it for my very own, Grandpapa," said Phronsie; "it must go in the box for Ben and Joel and David."

"Dear me! You think they would like it, Phronsie?" he asked doubtfully, and just on the point of saying, like Polly, "it's too big, child," when he stopped himself and finished up--"and so it pleases you, Phronsie?"

"Yes, it does," said Phronsie, with an emphatic little nod; "I love that nice cow, and that little girl. Grandpapa, I think I should like to live in a windmill."

"Bless me! I think you wouldn't want to live there very long, child. Well, the plate shall go to the boys, and I only hope they will like it," he said to himself, dubiously.

"He is going to send it," Jasper and Polly said to each other, peering round an angle in the shop at the two. "Well, it's a mercy it's got a cow on it instead of a cat," said Jasper. "How Joel would howl if Phronsie sent him the picture of a cat!"

"She would if there were a cat to be found," said Polly; "don't you believe, Jasper, but what she would?"