New Friends continued…
(start the audio where part 2 left off0
And then, somehow, the hubbub ceased. Polly went on with her work, and the others separated, and Mrs. Pepper and Jasper had a long talk. When the mother’s eyes fell on Phronsie playing around on the floor, she gave the boy a grateful smile that he thought was beautiful.
“Well, I declare,” said Jasper, at last, looking up at the old clock in the corner by the side of the cupboard, “I’m afraid I’ll miss the stage, and then father never’ll let me come again. Come, Prince.”
“Oh, don’t go,” cried Phronsie, wailing. “Let doggie stay! Oh, make him stay, mammy!”
“I can’t, Phronsie,” said Mrs. Pepper, smiling, “if he thinks he ought to go.”
“I’ll come again,” said Jasper, eagerly, “if I may, ma’am.”
He looked up at Mrs. Pepper as he stood cap in hand, waiting for the answer.
“I’m sure we should be glad if your father’ll be willing,” she added; thinking, proudly, “My children are an honor to anybody, I’m sure,” as she glanced around on the bright little group she could call her own. “But be sure, Jasper,” and she laid her hand on his arm as she looked down into his eyes, “that you father is willing, that’s all.”
“Oh, yes, ma’am,” said the boy; “but he will be, I guess, if he feels well.”
“Then come on Thursday,” said Polly; “and can’t we bake something then, mammy?”
“I’m sure I don’t care,” laughed Mrs. Pepper; “but you won’t find much but brown flour and meal to bake with.”
“Well, we can pretend,” said Polly; “and we can cut the cakes with the heart-shape, and they’ll do for anything.
“Oh, I’ll come,” laughed Jasper, ready for such lovely fun in the old kitchen; “look out for me on Thursday, Ben!”
So Jasper and Prince took their leave, all the children accompanying them to the gate; and then after seeing him fairly started on a smart run to catch the stage, Prince scampering at his heels, they all began to sing his praises and to wish for Thursday to come.
But Jasper didn’t come! Thursday came and went; a beautiful, bright, sunny day, but with no signs of the merry boy whom all had begun to love, nor of the big black dog. The children had made all the needful preparations with much ostentation and bustle, and were in a state of excited happiness, ready for any gale. But the last hope had to be given up, as the old clock ticked away hour after hour. And at last Polly had to put Phronsie to bed, who wouldn’t stop crying enough to eat her supper at the dreadful disappointment.
“He couldn’t come, I know,” said both Ben and Polly, standing staunchly up for their new friend; but Joel and David felt that he had broken his word.
“He promised,” said Joel, vindictively.
“I don’t believe his father’d let him,” said Polly, wiping away a sly tear; “I know Jasper’d come, if he could.”
Mrs. Pepper wisely kept her own counsel, simply giving them a kindly caution:
“Don’t you go to judging him, children, till you know.”
“Well, he promised,” said Joel, as a settler.
“Aren’t you ashamed, Joel,” said his mother, “to talk about any one whose back is turned? Wait till he tells you the reason himself.”
Joel hung his head, and then began to tease David in the corner, to make up for his disappointment.
The next morning Ben had to go to the store after some more meal. As he was going out rather dismally, the storekeeper, who was also postmaster, called out, “Oh, halloa, there!”
“What is it?” asked Ben, turning back, thinking perhaps Mr. Atkins hadn’t given him the right change.
“Here,” said Mr. Atkins, stepping up to the Post-office department, quite smart with its array of boxes and official notices, where Ben had always lingered, wishing there might be sometime a letter for him–or some of them. “You’ve got a sister Polly, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” said Ben, wondering what was coming next.
“Well, she’s got a letter,” said the postmaster, holding up a nice big envelope, looking just like those that Ben had so many times wished for. That magic piece of white paper danced before the boy’s eyes for a minute; then he said– “It can’t be for her, Mr. Atkins; why, she’s never had one.” “Well, she’s got one now, sure enough,” said Mr. Atkins; “here ’tis, plain enough,” and he read what he had no need to study much as it had already passed examination by his own and his wife’s faithful eyes: “Miss Polly Pepper, near the Turnpike, Badgertown’–that’s her, isn’t it?” he added, laying it down before Ben’s eyes. “Must be a first time for everything, you know, my boy!” and he laughed long over his own joke; “so take it and run along home.” For Ben still stood looking at it, and not offering to stir.
“If you say so,” said the boy, as if Mr. Atkins had given him something out of his own pocket; “but I’m afraid ’tisn’t for Polly.” Then buttoning up the precious letter in his jacket, he spun along home as never before.
“Polly! Polly!” he screamed. “Where is she, mother?”
“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Pepper, coming out of the bedroom. “Dear me! is anybody hurt, Ben?”
“I don’t know,” said Ben, in a state to believe anything, “but Polly’s got a letter.”
“Polly got a letter!” cried Mrs. Pepper; “what do you mean, Ben?”
“I don’t know,” repeated the boy, still holding out the precious letter; “but Mr. Atkins gave it to me; where is Polly?”
“I know where she is,” said Joel; “she’s up-stairs.” And he flew out in a twinkling, and just as soon reappeared with Polly scampering after him in the wildest excitement.
And then the kitchen was in an uproar as the precious missive was put into Polly’s hand; and they all gathered around her, wondering and examining, till Ben thought he would go wild with the delay.
“I wonder where it did come from,” said Polly, in the greatest anxiety, examining again the address.
“Where does the postmark say?” asked Mrs. Pepper, looking over her shoulder.
“It’s all rubbed out,” said Polly, peering at it “you can’t see anything.”
“Do open it,” said Ben, “and then you’ll find out.”
“But p’raps ’tisn’t for me,” said Polly, timidly.
“Well, Mr. Atkins says ’tis,” said Ben, impatiently; “here, I’ll open it for you, Polly.”
“No, let her open it for herself, Ben,” protested his mother.
“But she won’t,” said Ben; “do tear it open, Polly.”
“No, I’m goin’ to get a knife,” she said.
“I’ll get one,” cried Joel, running up to the table drawer; “here’s one, Polly.”
“Oh, dear,” groaned Ben; “you never’ll get it open at this rate!”
But at last it was cut; and they all holding their breath, gazed awe-struck, while Polly drew out the mysterious missive.
“What does it say?” gasped Mrs. Pepper.
“Dear Miss Polly,” began both Ben and Polly in a breath. “Let Polly read,” said Joel, who couldn’t hear in the confusion.
“Well, go on Polly,” said Ben; “hurry!”
“Dear Miss Polly, I was so sorry I couldn’t come on Thursday’ “–
“Oh, it’s Jasper! it’s Jasper!” cried all the children in a breath.
“I told you so!” cried Ben and Polly, perfectly delighted to find their friend vindicated fully–“there! Joey Pepper!”
“Well, I don’t care,” cried Joe, nothing daunted, “he didn’t come, anyway–do go on, Polly.”
“I was so sorry I couldn’t come’ “–began Polly.
“You read that,” said Joel.
“I know it,” said Polly, “but it’s just lovely; ‘on Thursday; but my father was sick, and I couldn’t leave him. If you don’t mind I’ll come again–I mean I’ll come some other day, if it’s just as convenient for you, for I do so want the baking, and the nice time. I forgot to say that I had a cold, to,’ (here Jasper had evidently had a struggle in his mind whether there should be two O’s or one, and he had at last decided it, by crossing out one) but my father is willing I should come when I get well. Give my love to all, and especially remember me respectfully to your mother. Your friend,
Jasper Elyot King.”
“Oh, lovely! lovely!” cried Polly, flying around with the letter in her hand; “so he is coming!”
Ben was just as wild as she was, for no one knew but Polly just how the new friend had stepped into his heart. Phronsie went to sleep happy, hugging “Baby.”
“And don’t you think, Baby, dear,” she whispered sleepily, and Polly heard her say as she was tucking her in, “that Japser is really comin’; really–and the big, be-you-ti-ful doggie, too!”