The Two Birthdays In Old Holland
 

And Polly never knew about a certain shelf in Grandpapa's closet, nor how full it was getting, when Jasper ran every now and then to add the gifts as fast as the different members of the party picked up pretty things in the shops for the coming birthday--now very near. And she actually forgot all about the birthday itself; all her mind being set on the Henderson box, so soon to sail off over the sea.

And Mother Fisher would look over at her absorbed face, and smile, to watch her in the shops, picking out things for the Henderson boys; and old Mr. King would send many a keen glance at her, and Jasper had hard work not to exclaim, "Oh, Polly, father has got you a--" And then he'd pull himself up, and rush off into some great plan to buy Peletiah Henderson something that a Badgertown boy ought to have. And Phronsie was carefully guarded on all sides these days, lest she should let out the great secret, for, of course, she ought to be in the very centre of all these preparations to celebrate Polly's birthday in Old Amsterdam, so she knew everything just as soon as it was planned. But sometimes, with all this care, the whole thing nearly popped out.

"Mr. King!" It was Mother Fisher who called after him, and her voice didn't sound like hers, for it had an excited little ring. "Oh, are you going out?" for she didn't see that he held his hat in his hand till he turned in the corridor.

"I can wait just as well if it's anything you want, Mrs. Fisher," he said gladly, controlling his surprise at her unusual manner. "I was only about to run down to the Kalver-straat for a little matter I just thought of for the birthday. Can I do anything for you?" he begged.

"Yes, it's just that," said Mrs. Fisher, hurriedly; "it's about the birthday--I must speak quickly--I've just found out,--" she glanced up and down the corridor as if fully expecting to see Polly dash around a corner,--"that Adela Gray's birthday is to-morrow--"

"The dickens! You don't say so!" exploded Mr. King. "Well, now, I call that very clever on your part to have found it out. Very clever indeed, Mrs. Fisher," he repeated, beaming at her. "And just in time, for it would have been a dreadful thing, indeed, to have had that poor little girl left out, and her birthday too! Dear me!"

"It would, indeed," said Mrs. Fisher, heartily, with a shiver at the mere thought.

"And we might as well have had no celebration in such a case, for Polly wouldn't have enjoyed a single bit of it--not an atom!" declared old Mr. King, bringing his walking stick heavily down on the floor.

"What is it--oh, Grandpapa, what is it?" and Polly came hurrying along the corridor, and Jasper after her.

"Here she comes!" exclaimed Grandpapa, in a fright. "Glad you told me--Hush --O dear me--I'll take care of the gifts."

"And I'm to do the rest--just the same--Doctor Fisher and I. Remember!" It was all Mrs. Fisher had time to utter. Even then, Polly caught the last words in the flurry.

"Oh, what is it, Mamsie--Is anything the matter with Papa-Doctor?" And her brown eyes filled with alarm at her mother's unusual manner.

"Polly," Mrs. Fisher looked into the brown eyes with a steady glance, and all the hurry was gone out of her voice, "your father is all right. And now, run away, you and Jasper." She looked over Polly's shoulder at him as she spoke. "No, not another word, child." And away Mrs. Fisher hurried, while old Mr. King slipped off in the opposite direction.

"How funnily they act," said Polly, looking first after one and then another, with a puzzled face. "What can it be, Jasper?"

"Oh, well, I suppose they are in a hurry," said Jasper, as carelessly as he could. "Never mind, Polly, everything is all right. Oh, I say, let's fix our stamp books."

"But I was going to ask Grandpapa to go out with us, and now he's gone by himself," and Polly's face grew more puzzled than ever.

"Polly," said Jasper, desperately, "I really think we ought to fix our stamp books. I really do," and he took her hand. "My stamps are all in heaps in the envelopes, and in a mess generally. Come, let's begin now--do." And he led her back down the corridor.

"I suppose so," said Polly, with a reluctant little sigh, as they went off.

And that afternoon, there was another narrow escape, when it seemed as if the secret really must pop out. Polly, rushing along to the reading room opposite the big dining room, saw Mother Fisher in consultation with the head waiter, and he was saying "cake," and then he stopped suddenly, and Mrs. Fisher turned and saw her. And Mamsie came across the hall, and into the reading room, and sat there a bit, while Polly tossed off a letter to Alexia Rhys, that had been worrying her for days. And there was a funny little smile tucked away in the corners of Mother Fisher's mouth, and Polly thought that things were getting queerer than ever.

"I am glad you are writing that letter," said Mrs. Fisher, with an approving smile that chased the funny little one all around the strongly curved mouth, "for Alexia will feel badly not to hear often from you, Polly."

"I know it," said Polly, wrinkling her brows, "and I didn't mean to let this wait so long," scribbling away as fast as she could.

"Take care, Polly," warned her mother; "a carelessly written letter is no compliment, and it gets you in a bad way. Don't hurry so, child," as Polly's pen went scratching across the paper at a fearful rate.

"But there are so many letters to write to all the girls," said Polly, stopping a minute to look at her mother, "and I've only just got all the letters in my steamer mail-bag answered. I must write to Cathie and Philena, and Amy Garrett too, to-day, Mamsie," she added, in distress.

"Polly," said Mother Fisher, looking into the flushed face, "I tell you what would be the best way for you to do. All the letters in your mail-bag are answered, you said?"

"Yes, indeed," declared Polly. "Oh, Mamsie, you didn't think I could put those off?" she asked reproachfully.

"No, Polly, I really didn't," Mrs. Fisher made haste to assure her. "Well, now, mother will tell you what will be the best way for you to do. Write as good a letter as you can to Alexia, and tell her to send it around to all the girls, for a kind of a bulletin, and--"

"Oh, Mamsie Fisher," cried Polly, not stopping to hear the rest, but deserting the writing table to run and throw her arms around her mother's neck, "you're the bestest, dearest mother in all this world --oh--oh! Now I sha'n't have but one letter to write! How fine!"

"And you must write that one letter very nicely, Polly, and take ever so much pains with it," said Mother Fisher, her black eyes shining at the happy solution; "and that is much better than to hurry off a good many slovenly ones. Besides, it is not well to take your time and strength for too much letter writing, for there are the boys, and Mrs. Whitney and--"

"Grandma Bascom and dear Mrs. Beebe," finished Polly. "Oh, I couldn't ever forget them, Mamsie, in all this world." She stopped cuddling Mother Fisher's neck, to peer into the black eyes.

"No, you mustn't ever forget them," repeated Mrs. Fisher, emphatically, "in all this world, Polly. Well, get to work now over your one letter that's to be a bulletin!"

"I shall tear this one up," declared Polly, running back to get into her chair again. "O dear me, what a horrible old scrawl," she cried, with a very red face. "I didn't know it did look so bad" And she tore it clear across the page, and then snipped it into very little bits.

"That's the result of hurry," observed Mother Fisher, wisely, "and I would begin all over again, Polly."

So Polly took a fresh sheet and set to work; and Mrs. Fisher, seeing her so busily occupied, soon stole out. And there was the head waiter waiting for her in the dining room, and Polly never heard a word they said, although "cake" was mentioned a great many times, and several other things too.

But the next morning Polly Pepper woke up to the fact that it was her birthday. For there was Mamsie leaning over her pillow, the first thing she saw the minute her eyes were opened. And Phronsie was sitting on the end of the bed with her hands folded in her lap.

When she saw Polly's eyes open, she gave a little crow and darted forward. "Oh, I thought you never would wake up, Polly," she said, throwing her arms around Polly's neck.

"Yes, this child has been sitting there a whole hour, Polly." Mother Fisher gave a merry little laugh, and then she began to drop kisses on Polly's rosy cheek-- ever so many of them.

Polly's dewy eyes opened wide.

"It's your birthday, don't you know!" exclaimed Phronsie, trying to drop as many kisses and as fast, on Polly's other cheek, and to talk at the same time.

"Mamsie Fisher!" cried Polly, springing up straight in the middle of the bed, nearly knocking Phronsie over. "Why, so it is. Oh, how could I forget--and sleep over. And I'm fifteen!"

"You're fifteen," repeated Mother Fisher, setting the last little kiss on Polly's cheek,--"and it's the best thing you could possibly do, to sleep over, child. Now, then, Phronsie, let us help her to get dressed."

Wasn't there a merry time, though, for the next half-hour, till Polly had had her bath, and was arrayed, Mother Fisher and Phronsie here, there, and everywhere, helping to tie and to hook Polly's clothes --Phronsie bringing her little silver button-hook that Auntie Whitney gave her, declaring that she should button Polly's boots.

"Oh, no, child," protested Polly. "I'll button them myself," flying off for the boots.

But Phronsie piped out, hurrying after her, "I have them, Polly," and, sure enough, there they were, one under each arm; "do let me, Polly--do, please!" she begged.

"I would, Polly," advised Mrs. Fisher, "for Phronsie really has set her heart on doing it."

So Polly sat down in the low chair, and put out her foot, feeling very queer indeed, and as if she ought to be doing up Phronsie's boots instead. And Phronsie curled up on the floor, and patiently drew every one of the buttons into place, and buttoned them fast. And then on with the other boot.

"There, now, I did do them all by myself," she announced, getting up from the floor, and smoothing down her gown with much importance. "I did truly, Polly."

"So you did, Pet," cried Polly, sticking out both feet to look at them. "You buttoned every single one of those buttons up splendidly, Phronsie Pepper. Now my toes will be just as happy all day; oh, you can't think how happy they'll be." And she seized her, half smothering her with kisses.

"Will they?" cried Phronsie, coming out of the embrace to peer up into Polly's face, in a transport. "Will your toes really and truly be happy, Polly?"

"They'll be so happy," declared Polly, with a little wriggle of each foot, "that they'll want to sing, only they can't," and she burst out into a little laugh.

"Put on your blue dress, Polly," said Mother Fisher, coming out of the closet to hurry operations a bit.

"Oh, Mamsie," begged Phronsie, "mayn't Polly wear her white one? Do, Mamsie, please!" She ran up to her mother pleadingly.

"Polly will wear a white gown to-night," said Mother Fisher, her eyes shining, and the same funny little smile hiding in the corners of her mouth; "but this morning she would better put on her blue gingham."

"Yes, that's best," said Polly, reassuringly, running off to get it out of the big bureau drawer. "It's all done up spick and span," drawing it out. "Mamsie, don't these Dutch women do up things well, though?"

"They do, indeed," assented Mrs. Fisher, with a critical eye for the blue gingham; "but I really suppose the Swiss beat them, Polly."

"Well, they must be just perfect, then," said Polly, putting the blue gown carefully over her head. "Mamsie, I just love this dress."

"Yes, it is pretty," said Mother Fisher, with an approving eye for the dainty ruffles, "and you keep your clothes cleaner than you used to, Polly; you're improving."

"I used to get them all mussed up just as soon as could be," mourned Polly, her cheeks rosy at the remembrance. "Mamsie, how much trouble I've made you." She stopped dressing, and sprang over to Mrs. Fisher. Phronsie, trying to button on the waistband, and clinging to it, went stumbling after.

"Take care," warned Mrs. Fisher, "don't muss it; it looks so nice now."

"There, there, Phronsie, I'll do that," said Polly, a trifle impatiently, looking over her shoulder.

"Oh, I want to, Polly," said Phronsie, fumbling for the button. "Do let me; I want to."

"No, I can do it myself," said Polly, trying to whirl off from the busy little fingers.

"Polly," began Mother Fisher, who saw what Polly couldn't, Phronsie's little face very red with her exertion, and the brown eyes filling with tears.

"Well, I declare," cried Polly, at sound of her mother's tone; "so you shall, Phronsie. Now I'll stand just as still as a mouse, and you shall make that old button fly into its hole."

"So he shall, old button fly into his hole," laughed Phronsie through her tears. And presently she declared it was done. And with a final pat, this time from Mother Fisher's fingers, Polly was released, and the rest of the dressing was soon done.

And there, waiting at the end of their corridor, was Jasper, in every conceivable way trying to get the better of his impatience. When he did finally see Polly, he dashed up to her. "Well, are you really here?"

"Yes," cried Polly, scampering on, with Phronsie clinging to her hand, "I really believe I am, Jasper. But don't let's go faster than Mamsie," looking back for her.

"You all run on," said Mother Fisher, laughing, "I shall get there soon; and really, Mr. King has waited long enough," she added to herself.

And, indeed, Mr. King thought so too, and he couldn't control his delight when the three danced into the little private parlour, opening out from his bedroom, and came up to his side.

"I slept over," said Polly, in a shamefaced little way; "I'm sorry, Grandpapa dear."

"You needn't be; not a bit of it," declared Grandpapa, holding her off at arm's length to scan her rosy face; "the best thing you could possibly do"--Mamsie's very words. So Polly felt relieved at once. "And now we will wait for Mrs. Fisher," he added, with a glance at the door.

"Here she is," piped Phronsie, who had been regarding the door anxiously.

"Yes, here she is," repeated old Mr. King, in great satisfaction, holding Polly fast. "Well, now, Mrs. Fisher, that you have come, we'll begin our festivities. Our Polly, here, is fifteen years old to-day--only think of that!" Still he held her fast, and bent his courtly white head to kiss her brown hair.

Polly clung to his other hand. "It can't be a house celebration, Polly, my dear, with a party and all that, but we'll do the best we can. And to add to our pleasure, and to be company for you" (not a suggestion of the pleasure he was to give), "why, we've another little girl with us who has chosen this very day for her birthday, too. Adela, come here."

Adela Gray, who had been standing silently, looking on with a sad heart at finding herself with a birthday on her hands, and no one to celebrate it with her, though for that matter all her birthdays had been rather dismal affairs at the best, in the Paris school, now shrank back at Mr. King's sudden summons, and hid behind her grandmother's black gown.

"Come, Adela," commanded Mr. King, in a tone that brooked no further delay. So she crept out, and stood in front of him.

"Oh, Adela!" exclaimed Polly, in a transport, drawing her up by her other hand, for still Grandpapa held her fast. "Is it your birthday too? How perfectly elegant! oh, oh!"

And everybody said, "How fine!" And they all were smiling at her. And Adela found herself, before she knew it, coming up out of her old despair into brightness and warmth and joy. And she never knew when old Mr. King proclaimed her fourteen years old, and dropped a kiss--yes, he actually did--on her head. And then she found herself on his other side, by the big centre table, that was covered with a large cloth. And Polly made her put her hand under it first, saying, "Oh, no, Grandpapa, please let Adela pull out the first parcel." And lo, and behold--she held a neat little white-papered bundle tied with a blue ribbon.

"Open it," cried Jasper, as she stood stupidly staring at it, in her hand. "Don't you see it's got your name on it?" But Adela didn't see anything, she was so dazed. So Jasper had to open it for her. "We may thank our stars the first parcel happened to be for her," he was thinking busily all the time he was untying the ribbon. And there was just what she had wanted for, oh, so long-- Mrs. Jameson's little books on Art--her very own, she saw as soon as her trembling fingers opened the cover.

After that, the skies might rain down anything in the shape of gifts, as it seemed to be doing for Polly and for her; it didn't matter to Adela; and she found herself, finally, looking over a heap of white papers and tangled ribbons, at Polly Pepper, who was dancing about, and thanking everybody to right and to left.

"Why don't--why don't--you--thank him?" old Mrs. Gray mumbled in her ear, while the tears were running down her wrinkled cheeks.

"Let her alone," said old Mr. King, hearing her. "She's thanked me enough. Now then, to breakfast, all of us! Come, Polly--come, Adela --Jasper, you take Mrs. Gray," and the others falling in, away they all went down to the big dining room, to their own special table in the centre.

"I do so love what Joey sent me, and Ben and Davie," breathed Polly, for about the fiftieth time, patting her little money-bag which she had hung on her belt. Then she looked at the new ring on her finger very lovingly, and the other hand stole up to pinch the pin on her trim necktie, and see if it were really there. "Oh, Jasper, if the boys were only here!" she whispered, under cover of the chatter and bustle around the table.

"Don't let us think of that, Polly," Jasper made haste to say; "it will make father feel so badly if he thinks you are worrying."

"I know it," said Polly, pulling herself out of her gloom in an instant, to be as gay as ever, till the big sombre dining room seemed instinct with life, and the cheeriest place imaginable.

"What good times Americans do have!" exclaimed a lady, passing the door, and sending an envious glance within.

"Yes, if they're the right kind of Americans," said her companion, wisely.

All that wonderful day the sun seemed to shine more brightly than on any other day in the whole long year. And the two girls who had the birthday together, went here and there, arm in arm, to gladden all the tired, and often discontented, eyes of the fellow-travellers they chanced to meet. And when finally it came to the dusk, and Polly and Adela were obliged to say, "Our birthday is almost all over," why then, that was just the very time when Mother Fisher and the little doctor (for he was in the plan, you may be very sure, only he wanted her to make all the arrangements, "It's more in a woman's way, my dear," he had said),--well, then, that was their turn to celebrate the double birthday!

"Where are those girls?" cried the little doctor, fidgeting about, and knocking down a little table in his prancing across the room. Jasper ran and picked it up. "No harm done," he declared, setting the books straight again.

"O dear, did I knock that over?" asked Dr. Fisher, whirling around to look at the result of his progress. "Bless me, did I really do that?"

"It's all right now," said Jasper, with a laugh at the doctor's face. "Lucky there wasn't anything that could break on the table."

"I should say so," declared the little doctor; "still, I'm sorry I floored these," with a rueful hand on the books. "I'd rather smash some other things that I know of than to hurt the feelings of a book. Dear me!"

"So had I," agreed Jasper, "to tell you the truth; but these aren't hurt; not a bit." He took up each volume, and carefully examined the binding.

When he saw that this was so, the little doctor began to fidget again, and to wonder where the girls were, and in his impatience he was on the point of prancing off once more across the room, when Jasper said, "Let us go and find them--you and I."

"An excellent plan," said Dr. Fisher, hooking his arm into Jasper's and skipping off, Jasper having hard work to keep up with him.

"Here--where are you two going?" called Mr. King after them. And this hindered them so that Polly and Adela ran in unnoticed. And there they were on time after all; for it turned out that the little doctor's watch was five minutes ahead.

Well, and then they all filed into the big dining room, and there, to be sure, was their special table in the centre, and in the middle of it was a tall Dutch cake, ornamented with all sorts of nuts and fruits and candies, and gay with layers of frosting, edged and trimmed with coloured devices, and on the very tip-top of all was an elaborate figure in sugar of a little Dutch shepherdess. And around this wonderful cake were plates of mottoes, all trimmed in the Dutch fashion--in pink and green and yellow--while two big bunches of posies, lay one at each plate, of the two girls who had a birthday together in Old Amsterdam.

"Oh--oh!" cried Polly, seizing her bunch before she looked at the huge Dutch cake, and burying her nose deep among the big fragrant roses, "how perfectly lovely! Who did do this?"

But no one said a word. And the little doctor was as sober as a judge. He only glared at them over his spectacles.

"Grandpapa," gasped Polly, "you did."

"Guess again," advised Grandpapa. "Mamsie--" Polly gave one radiant look at Mother Fisher's face.

Then Dr. Fisher broke out into a hearty laugh. "You've guessed it this time, Polly, my girl," he said, "your mother is the one."

"Your father really did it," corrected Mother Fisher. "Yes, Adoniram, you did,-- only I saw to things a little, that's all."

"Which means that pretty much the whole business was hers," added the little doctor, possessing himself of her hand under cover of the table. "Well, girls, if you like your birthday party fixings, that's all your mother and I ask. It's Dutch, anyway, and what you won't be likely to get at home; there's so much to be said for it."