A Letter to Jasper
“Mamsie, what shall we do?” implored Polly of her mother.
“I don’t know,” said her mother; “however did that get into her head, do you suppose?”
“I am sure I can’t tell,” said Polly, jumping up and beginning to stir briskly to make up for lost time. “P’r’aps she heard us talking about Jasper’s having to take care of his sick father, and how hard it must be to he sick away from home.”
“Yes,” said Phronsie, “but he’ll be glad to see my gingerbread boy, I guess; poor, sick man.”
“Oh, Phronsie,” cried Polly, in great distress, “you aren’t ever going to make a ‘gingerbread boy’ to-day! see, we’ll put in a cunning little cake for Mr. King–full of raisins, Phronsie; won’t that be lovely!” and Polly began to fill a little scalloped tin with some of the cake mixture.
“N-no,” said the child, eying it suspiciously; “that isn’t like a ‘gingerbread boy,’ Polly; he’ll like that best.”
“Mamsie,” said Polly, “we can’t let her make a dreadful, horrid ‘gingerbread boy’ to send Mr. King! he never’ll let Jasper come here again.”
“Oh, let her,” cried Joel; “she can bake it, and Dave an’ I’ll eat it,” and he picked up a raisin that had fallen under the table and began crunching it with great gusto.
“That wouldn’t be fair,” said Polly, gloomily. “Do get her off from it, mammy.”
“Phronsie,” said Mrs. Pepper, going up back- of the child, who sat patiently in her high chair waiting for Polly to let her begin, “hadn’t you rather wait and give your ‘gingerbread boy’ to Jasper for his father, when he comes?”
“Oh, no, no,” cried Phronsie, twisting in her chair in great apprehension, “I want to send it now, I do.”
“Well, Polly,” said her mother, laughing, “after all it’s best, I think, to let her; it can’t do any harm anyway–and instead of Mr. King’s not letting Jasper come, if he’s a sensible man that won’t make any difference; and if he isn’t, why, then there’d be sure to something come up sometime to make trouble.”
“Well,” said Polly, “I suppose she’s got to; and perhaps,” as a consoling idea struck her, “perhaps she’ll want to eat it up herself when it’s done. Here, Phronsie,” giving her a handful of the cake mixture, which she stiffened with flour to the right thickness, “there, you can call that a ‘gingerbread boy;’ see, won’t it make a beautiful one!”
“You needn’t think,” said Mrs. Pepper, seeing Phronsie’s delighted face, and laughing as she went back to her work, “but what that gingerbread boy’ll go.”
When the little cakes were done, eight of them, and set upon the table for exhibition, they one and all protested that they never saw so fine a lot. Polly was delighted with the praise they received, and her mother’s commendation that she was “growing a better cook every day.” “How glad Jasper’ll be, won’t he, mamsie?” said she.
The children walked around and around the table, admiring and pointing out the chief points of attraction, as they appeared before their discriminating eyes.
“I should choose that one,” said Joel, pointing at one which was particularly plummy, with a raisin standing up on one end with a festive air, as if to say, “there’s lots of us inside, you better believe!”
“I wouldn’t,” said Davie, “I’d have that–that’s cracked so pretty.”
“So ’tis,” said Mrs. Pepper; “they’re all as light as a feather, Polly.”
“But my ‘gingerbread boy,” cried Phronsie, running eagerly along with a particularly ugly looking specimen of a cake figure in her hand, “is the be-yew-tifullest, isn’t it, Polly?”
“Oh, dear,” groaned Polly, “it looks just awfully, don’t it, Ben!”
“Hoh, hoh!” laughed Joel in derision; “his leg is crooked, see Phronsie–you better let Davie an’ me have it.”
“No, no,” screamed the child in terror; “that’s my sick man’s ‘gingerbread boy,’ it is!”
“Joe, put it down,” said Ben. “Yes, Phronsie, you shall have it; there, it’s all safe;” and he put it carefully into Phronsie’s apron, when she breathed easier.
“And he hasn’t but one eye,” still laughed Joel, while little Davie giggled too.
“He did have two,” said Polly, “but she punched the other in with her thumb; don’t, boys,” she said, aside, “you’ll make her feel bad; do stop laughing. Now, how’ll we send the things?”
“Put ’em in a basket,” said Ben; “that’s nicest.”
“But we haven’t got any basket,” said Polly, “except the potato basket, and they’d be lost in that.”
“Can’t we take your work-basket, mamsie?” asked Ben; “they’d look so nice in that.”
“Oh,” said Mrs. Pepper, “that wouldn’t do; I couldn’t spare it, and besides, it’s all broken at the side, Ben; that don’t look nice.”
“Oh, dear,” said Polly, sitting down on one of the hard wooden chairs to think, “I do wish we had things nice to send to sick people.” And her forehead puckered up in a little hard knot.
“We’ll have to do ’em up in a paper, Polly,” said Ben; “there isn’t any other way; they’ll look nice in anything, ’cause they are nice,” he added, comfortingly.
“If we only had some flowers,” said Polly, “that would set ’em off.”
“You’re always a-thinkin’ of flowers, Polly,” said Ben. “I guess the cakes’ll have to go without ’em.”
“I suppose they will,” said Polly, stifling a little sigh. “Where’s the paper?”
“I’ve got a nice piece up-stairs,” said Ben, “just right; I’ll get it.”
“Put my ‘gingerbread boy’ on top,” cried Phronsie, handing him up.
So Polly packed the little cakes neatly in two rows, and laid the ‘gingerbread boy’ in a fascinating attitude across the top.
“He looks as if he’d been struck by lightning!” said Ben, viewing him critically as he came in the door with the paper.
“Be still,” said Polly, trying not to laugh; “that’s because he baked so funny; it made his feet stick out.”
“Children,” said Mrs. Pepper, “how’ll Jasper know where the cakes come from?”
“Why, he’ll know it’s us,” said Polly, “of course; ’cause it’ll make him think of the baking we’re going to have when he gets well.”
“Well, but you don’t say so,” said Mrs. Pepper, smiling; “tisn’t polite to send it this way.”
“Whatever’ll we do, mammy!” said all four children in dismay, while Phronsie simply stared. “Can’t we send ’em at all?”
“Why yes,” said their mother; “I hope so, I’m sure, after you’ve got ’em baked; but you might answer Jasper’s letter I should think, and tell him about ’em, and the ‘gingerbread boy’.”
“Oh dear,” said Polly, ready to fly, “I couldn’t mamsie; I never wrote a letter.”
“Well, you never had one before,” said her mother, composedly biting her thread. “Never say you can’t, Polly, cause you don’t know what you can do till you’ve tried.”
“You write, Ben,” said Polly, imploringly.
“No,” said Ben, “I think the nicest way is for all to say somethin’, then ‘twon’t be hard for any of us.”
“Where’s the paper,” queried Polly, “coming from, I wonder!”
“Joel,” said Mrs. Pepper, “run to the bureau in the bedroom, and open the top drawer, and get a green box there.”
So Joel, quite important at the errand, departed, and presently put the designated box into his mother’s hand.
“There, now I’m going to give you this,” and she took out a small sheet of paper slightly yellowed by age; but being gilt-edged, it looked very magnificent to the five pairs of eyes directed to it.
“Now Ben, you get the ink bottle and the pen, and then go to work.”
So Ben reached down from the upper shelf in the cupboard the ink bottle, and a pen in a black wooden penholder.
“Oh, mamsie,” cried Polly, “that’s where Phronsie bit it off when she was a baby, isn’t it?” holding up the stubby end where the little ball had disappeared.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Pepper, “and now you’re going to write about her ‘gingerbread boy’ with it–well, time goes, to be sure.” And she bent over her work again, harder than ever. Poor woman! if she could only scrape together enough money to get her children into school–that was the earnest wish of her heart. She must do it soon, for Ben was twelve years old; but with all her strivings and scrimpings she could only manage to put bread into their mouths, and live from day to day. “I know I ought to be thankful for that,” she said to herself, not taking time even to cry over her troubles. “But oh, the learning! they must have that!”
“Now,” said Polly, “how’ll we do it Ben?” as they ranged themselves around the table, on which reposed the cakes; “you begin.”
“How do folks begin a letter?” asked Ben in despair, of his mother.
“How did Jasper begin his?” asked Mrs. Pepper back again. “Oh,” cried Polly, running into the bedroom to get the precious missive. “Dear Miss Polly’–that’s what it says.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Pepper, “then you’d better say, ‘Dear Mister Jasper’–or you might say, ‘Dear Mr. King.'”
“Oh, dear!” cried Polly, “that would be the father then– s’pose he should think we wrote to him!” and Polly looked horror-stricken to the last degree.
“There, there ’tis,” said Ben: ‘Dear Mister Jasper’–now what’ll we say?”
“Why, say about the cakes,” replied Polly.
“And the ‘gingerbread boy,’” cried Phronsie. “Oh, tell about him, Polly, do.”
“Yes, yes, Phronsie,” said Polly, “we will–why, tell him how we wish he could have come, and that we baked him some cakes, and that we do so want him to come just as soon as he can.”
“All right!” said Ben; so he went to work laboriously; only his hard breathing showing what a hard task it was, as the stiff old pen scratched up and down the paper.
“There, that’s done,” he cried at length in great satisfaction, holding it up for inspection.
“Oh, I do wish,” cried Polly in intense admiration, “I could write so nice and so fast as you can, Ben.”
“Read it, Polly,” said Mrs. Pepper, in pride.