“Oh Ben,” cried Jasper, overtaking him by a smart run as he was turning in at the little brown gate one morning three days after, “do wait.”
“Halloa!” cried Ben, turning around, and setting down his load–a bag of salt and a basket of potatoes–and viewing Jasper and Prince with great satisfaction.
“Yes, here I am,” said Jasper. “And how I’ve run; that fellow on the stage was awful slow in getting here–oh, you’re so good,” he said and his eyes, brimful of gladness, beamed on Ben. “The cakes were just prime, and ’twas great fun to get your letter.”
“Did you like it?” asked Ben, the color up all over his brown face– “Like it!” cried Jasper. “Why ’twas just splendid; and the cakes were royal! Isn’t Polly smart though, to bake like that!” he added admiringly.
“I guess she is,” said Ben, drawing himself up to his very tallest dimensions. “She knows how to do everything, Jasper King!”
“I should think she did,” responded the boy quickly. “I wish she was my sister,” he finished longingly.
“Well, I don’t,” quickly replied Ben, “for then she wouldn’t be mine; and I couldn’t think of being without Polly! Was your father angry about–about–‘the gingerbread boy’?” he asked timidly, trembling for an answer.
“Oh dear,” cried Jasper, tumbling over on the grass, “don’t, don’t! I shan’t be good for anything if you make me laugh! oh! wasn’t it funny;” and he rolled over and over, shaking with glee.
“Yes,” said Ben, immensely relieved to find that no offence had been taken. “But she would send it; Polly tried not to have her, and she most cried when Phronsie was so determined, cause she said your father never’d let you come again”– “Twas just lovely in Phronsie,” said the boy, sitting up and wiping his eyes, “but oh it was so funny! you ought to have seen my father, Ben Pepper.”
“Oh, then he was angry,” cried Ben.
“No indeed he wasn’t!” said Jasper; “don’t you think it! do you know it did him lots of good, for he’d been feeling real badly that morning, he hadn’t eaten any breakfast, and when he saw that gingerbread boy”–here Jasper rolled over again with a peal of laughter–“and heard the message, he just put back his head, and he laughed–why, I never heard him laugh as he did then! the room shook all over; and he ate a big dinner, and all that afternoon he felt as good as could be. But he says he’s coming to see the little girl that baked it for him before we go home.”
Ben nearly tumbled over by the side of Jasper at these words– “Coming to see us!” he gasped,
“Yes,” said Jasper, who had scarcely got over his own astonishment about it, for if the roof had suddenly whisked off on to the church steeple, he couldn’t have been more amazed than when he heard his father say cheerily: “Well, Jasper my boy, I guess I shall have to drive over and see your little girl, since she’s been polite enough to bake me this,” pointing to the wild-looking “gingerbread boy.”
“Come in and tell ’em about it,” cried Ben, radiantly, picking up his potatoes and salt. “It’s all right, Polly!” he said in a jubilant voice, “for here’s Jasper, and he’ll tell you so himself.”
“Hush!” said Jasper warningly, “don’t let Phronsie hear; well, here’s my pet now,” and after bobbing lovingly to the others, with eyes beaming over with fun, he caught up the little girl who was screaming–“Oh, here’s Japser! and my beyew-ti-ful doggie!”
“Now Phronsie,” he cried, “give me a kiss; you haven’t any soft soap to-day, have you? no; that’s a good, nice one, now; your ‘gingerbread boy’ was just splendid!”
“Did he eat it?” asked the child in grave delight.
“Well–no–he hasn’t eaten it yet,” said Jasper, smiling on the others; “he’s keeping it to look at, Phronsie.”
“I should think so!” groaned Polly.
“Never mind, Polly,” Ben whispered; “Jasper’s been a-tellin’ me about it; his father liked it–he did truly.”
“Oh!” said Polly, “I’m so glad!”
“He had eyes,” said Phronsie, going back to the charms of the “gingerbread boy.”
“I know it,” said Jasper admiringly; “so he did.”
“Rather deep sunk, one of ’em was,” muttered Ben.
“And I’ll bake you one, Japser,” said the child as he put her down; “I will very truly–some day.”
“Will you,” smiled Jasper; “well then,” and there was a whispered conference with Phronsie that somehow sent that damsel into a blissful state of delight. And then while Phronsie monopolized Prince, Jasper told them all about the reception of the parcel–how very dull and forlorn he was feeling that morning, Prince and he shut up in-doors–and how his father had had a miserable night, and had eaten scarcely no breakfast, and just at this juncture there came a knock at the door, “and” said Jasper, “your parcel walked in, all dressed up in flowers!”
“They weren’t our flowers,” said Polly, honestly. “Mrs. Blodgett put ’em on.”
“Well she couldn’t have, if you hadn’t sent the parcel,” said Jasper in a tone of conviction.
Then he launched out into a description of how they opened the package–Prince looking on, and begging for one of the cakes.
“Oh, didn’t you give him one?” cried Polly at this. “Good old Prince!”
“Yes I did,” said Jasper, “the biggest one of all.”
“The one I guess,” interrupted Joel, “with the big raisin on top.”
Polly spoke up quickly to save any more remarks on Joel’s part. “Now tell us about your father–and the ‘gingerbread boy.
So Jasper broke out with a merry laugh, into this part of the story, and soon had them all in such a gale of merriment, that Phronsie stopped playing out on the door-step with Prince, and came in to see what the matter was.
“Never mind,” said Polly, trying to get her breath, just as Jasper was relating how Mr. King set up the “gingerbread boy” on his writing table before him, while he leaned back in his chair for a hearty laugh.
“And to make it funnier still,” said Jasper “don’t you think, a little pen-wiper he has, made like a cap, hanging on the pen-rack above him, tumbled off just at this very identical minute right on the head of the ‘gingerbread boy,’ and there it stuck!”
“Oh!” they all screamed, “if we could only have seen it.”
“What was it?” asked Phronsie, pulling Polly’s sleeve to make her hear.
So Jasper took her in his lap, and told how funny the “gingerbread boy” looked with
And then they had the baking! and Polly tied one of her mother’s ample aprons on Jasper, as Mrs. Pepper had left directions if he should come while she was away; and he developed such a taste for cookery, and had so many splendid improvements on the Peppers’ simple ideas, that the children thought it the most fortunate thing in the world that he came; and one and all voted him a most charming companion.
“You could cook a Thanksgiving dinner in this stove, just as easy as not,” said Jasper, putting into the oven something on a little cracked plate that would have been a pie if there were any centre; but lacking that necessary accompaniment, probably was a short-cake. “Just as easy as not,” be repeated with emphasis, slamming the door, to give point to his remarks.
“No, you couldn’t either,” said Ben at the table with equal decision; “not a bit of it, Jasper King!”
“Why, Ben Pepper?” asked Jasper, “that oven’s big enough! I should like to know why not?”
“‘Cause there isn’t anything to cook,” said Ben coolly, cutting out a piece of dough for a jumble; “we don’t keep Thanksgiving.”
“Not keep Thanksgiving!” said Jasper, standing quite still; “never had a Thanksgiving! well, I declare,” and then he stopped again.
“Yes,” answered Ben; “we had one once; ’twas last year– but that wasn’t much.”
“Well then,” said Jasper, leaning over the table, “I’ll tell you what I should think you’d do–try Christmas.”
“Oh, that’s always worse,” said Polly, setting down her rolling-pin to think–which immediately rolled away by itself off from the table.
“We never had a Christmas,” said little Davie reflectively; “what are they like, Jasper?”
Jasper sat quite still, and didn’t reply to this question for a moment or two.
To be among children who didn’t like Thanksgiving, and who “never had seen a Christmas,” and “didn’t know what it was like,” was a new revelation to him.
“They hang up stockings,” said Polly softly.
How many, many times she had begged her mother to try it for the younger ones; but there was never anything to put in them, and the winters were cold and hard, and the strictest economy only carried them through.
“Oh!” said little Phronsie in horror, “are their feet in ’em, Polly?”