Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Chapter 16

Getting a Christmas for the Little Ones

And so October came and went. The little Peppers were very lonely after Jasper had gone; even Mrs. Pepper caught herself looking up one day when the wind blew the door open suddenly, half expecting to see the merry whole-souled boy, and the faithful dog come scampering in.

But the letters came–and that was a comfort; and it was fun to answer them. The first one spoke of Jasper’s being under a private tutor, with his cousins; then they were less frequent, and they knew he was studying hard. Full of anticipations of Christmas himself, he urged the little Peppers to try for one. And the life and spirit of the letter was so catching, that Polly and Ben found their souls fired within them to try at least to get for the little ones a taste of Christmastide.

“Now, mammy,” they said at last, one day in the latter part of October, when the crisp, fresh air filled their little healthy bodies with springing vitality that must bubble over and rush into something, “we don’t want a Thanksgiving–truly we don’t. But may we try for a Christmas–just a little one,” they added, timidly, “for the children?” Ben and Polly always called the three younger ones of the flock “the children.”

To their utter surprise, Mrs. Pepper looked mildly assenting, and presently she said– “Well, I don’t see why you can’t try; ‘twon’t do any harm, I’m sure.”

You see Mrs. Pepper had received a letter from Jasper, which at present she didn’t feel called upon to say anything about.

“Now,” said Polly, drawing a long breath, as she and Ben stole away into a corner to “talk over” and lay plans, “what does it mean?”

“Never mind,” said Ben; “as long as she’s given us leave I don’t care what it is.”

“I neither,” said Polly, with the delicious feeling as if the whole world were before them where to choose; “it’ll be just gorgeous, Ben!”

“What’s that?” asked Ben, who was not as much given to long words as Polly, who dearly loved to be fine in language as well as other things.

“Oh, it’s something Jappy said one day; and I asked him, and he says it’s fine, and lovely, and all that,” answered Polly, delighted that she knew something she could really tell Ben.

“Then why not say fine?” commented Ben, practically, with a little upward lift of his nose.

“Oh, I’d know, I’m sure,” laughed Polly. “Let’s think what’ll we do for Christmas–how many weeks are there, anyway, Ben?” And she began to count on her fingers.

“That’s no way,” said Ben, “I’m going to get the Almanac.” So he went to the old clock where hanging up by its side, was a “Farmer’s Almanac.”

“Now, we’ll know,” he said, coming back to their corner. So with heads together they consulted and counted up till they found that eight weeks and three days remained in which to get ready.

“Dear me!” said Polly. “It’s most a year, isn’t it, Ben?”

“‘Twon’t be much time for us,” said Ben, who thought of the many hours to be devoted to hard work that would run away with the time. “We’d better begin right away, Polly.”

“Well, all right,” said Polly, who could scarcely keep her fingers still, as she thought of the many things she should so love to do if she could. “But first, Ben, what let’s do?”

“Would you rather hang up their stockings?” asked Ben, as if he had unlimited means at his disposal; “or have a tree?”

“Why,” said Polly, with wide open eyes at the two magnificent ideas, “we haven’t got anything to put in the stockings when we hang ’em, Ben.”

“That’s just it,” said Ben. “Now, wouldn’t it be better to have a tree, Polly? I can get that easy in the woods, you know.”

“Well,” interrupted Polly, eagerly, “we haven’t got anything to hang on that, either, Ben. You know Jappy said folks hang all sorts of presents on the branches. So I don’t see,” she continued, impatiently, “as that’s any good. We can’t do anything, Ben Pepper, so there! there isn’t anything to do anything with,” and with a flounce Polly sat down on the old wooden stool, and folding her hands looked at Ben in a most despairing way.

“I know,” said Ben, “we haven’t got much.”

“We haven’t got anything,” said Polly, still looking at him. “Why, we’ve got a tree,” replied Ben, hopefully. “Well, what’s a tree,” retorted Polly, scornfully. “Anybody can go out and look at a tree outdoors.”

“Well, now, I tell you, Polly,” said Ben, sitting down on the floor beside her, and speaking very slowly and decisively, “we’ve got to do something ’cause we’ve begun; and we might make a tree real pretty.”

“How?” asked Polly, ashamed of her ill-humor, but not in the least seeing how anything could be made of a tree. “How, Ben Pepper?”

“Well,” said Ben, pleasantly, “we’d set it up in the corner–”

“Oh, no, not in the corner,” cried Polly, whose spirits began to rise a little as she saw Ben so hopeful. “Put it in the middle of the room, do!”

“I don’t care where you put it,” said Ben, smiling, happy that Polly’s usual cheerful energy had returned, “but I thought.–’twill be a little one, you know, and I thought ‘twould look better in the corner.”

“What else?” asked Polly, eager to see how Ben would dress the tree.

“Well,” said Ben, “you know the Henderson boys gave me a lot of corn last week.”

“I don’t see as that helps much,” said Polly, still incredulous. “Do you mean hang the cobs on the branches, Ben? That would be just dreadful!”

“I should think likely,” laughed Ben. “No, indeed, Polly Pepper! but if we should

16.1 think likelypop a lot, oh! a bushel, and then we should string ’em, we could wind it all in and out among the branches, and–”

“Why, wouldn’t that be pretty?” cried Polly, “real pretty– and we can do that, I’m sure.”

“Yes,” continued Ben; “and then, don’t you know, there’s some little candle ends in that box in the Provision Room, maybe mammy’d give us them.”

“I don’t believe but she would,” cried Polly; “twould be just like Jappy’s if she would! Let’s ask her now–this very same minute!”

And they scampered hurriedly to Mrs. Pepper, who to their extreme astonishment, after all, said “yes,” and smiled encouragingly on the plan.

“Isn’t mammy good?” said Polly, with loving gratitude, as they seated themselves again.

“Now we’re all right,” exclaimed Ben, “and I tell you we can make the tree look perfectly splendid, Polly Pepper!”

“And I’ll tell you another thing, Ben,” Polly said, “oh! something elegant! You must get ever so many hickory nuts; and you know those bits of bright paper I’ve got in the bureau drawer? Well, we can paste them on to the nuts and hang ’em on for the balls Jappy tells of.”

“Polly,” cried Ben, “it’ll be such a tree as never was, won’t it?”

“Yes; but dear me,” cried Polly, springing up, “the children are coming! Wasn’t it good, grandma wanted ’em to come over this afternoon, so’s we could talk! Now hush!” as the door opened to admit the noisy little troop.

“If you think of any new plan,” whispered Ben, behind his hand, while Mrs. Pepper engaged their attention, “you’ll have to come out into the wood-shed to talk after this.”

“I know it,” whispered Polly back again; “oh! we’ve got just heaps of things to think of, Bensie!”

Such a contriving and racking of brains as Polly and Ben set up after this! They would bob over at each other, and smile with significant gesture as a new idea would strike one of them, in the most mysterious way that, if observed, would drive the others almost wild. And then, frightened lest in some hilarious moment the secret should pop out, the two conspirators would betake themselves to the wood-shed as before agreed on. But Joel, finding this out, followed them one day–or, as Polly said, tagged–so that was no good.

“Let’s go behind the wood-pile,” she said to Ben, in desperation; “he can’t hear there, if we whisper real soft.”

“Yes, he will,” said Ben, who knew Joel’s hearing faculties much better. “We’ll have to wait till they’re in bed.”

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