Christmas Bells! Continued…
(start the audio where Part 1 left off)
“I want to keep the wig awfully,” said Ben. “You did make that just magnificent, Polly!”
“If you could see yourself,” giggled Polly; “did you put it in the straw bed? and are you sure you pulled the ticking over it smooth?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Ben, “sure’s my name’s Ben Pepper! if you’ll only keep them from seeing me when I’m in it till we’re ready–that’s all I ask.”
“Well,” said Polly a little relieved, “but I hope Joe won’t look.”
“Come on! they’re a-comin’!” whispered Ben; “quick!”
“Polly!” rang a voice dangerously near; so near that Polly, speeding over the stairs to intercept it, nearly fell on her nose.
“Where you been?” asked one.
“Let’s have a concert,” put in Ben; Polly was so out of breath that she couldn’t speak. “Come, now, each take a whistle, and we’ll march round and round and see which can make the biggest noise.”
In the rattle and laughter which this procession made all mystery was forgotten, and the two conspirators began to breathe freer.
Five o’clock! The small ones of the Pepper flock, being pretty well tired out with noise and excitement, all gathered around Polly and Ben, and clamored for a story.
“Do, Polly, do,” begged Joel. “It’s Christmas, and ‘twon’t come again for a year.”
“I can’t,” said Polly, in such a twitter that she could hardly stand still, and for the first time in her life refusing, “I can’t think of a thing.”
“I will then,” said Ben; “we must do something,” he whispered to Polly.
“Tell it good,” said Joel, settling himself.
So for an hour the small tyrants kept their entertainers well employed.
“Isn’t it growing awful dark?” said Davie, rousing himself at last, as Ben paused to take breath.
Polly pinched Ben.
“Mammy’s a-goin’ to let us know,” he whispered in reply. “We must keep on a little longer.”
“Don’t stop,” said Joel, lifting his head where he sat on the floor. “What you whisperin’ for, Polly?”
“I’m not,” said Polly, glad to think she hadn’t spoken.
“Well, do go on, Ben,” said Joel, lying down again.
“Polly’ll have to finish it,” said Ben; “I’ve got to go upstairs now.”
So Polly launched out into such an extravagant story that they all, perforce, had to listen.
All this time Mrs. Pepper had been pretty busy in her way. And now she came into the kitchen and set down her candle on the table. “Children,” she said. Everybody turned and looked at her–her tone was so strange; and when they saw her dark eyes shining with such a new light, little Davie skipped right out into the middle of the room. “What’s the matter, mammy?”
“You may all come into the Provision Room,” said she.
“What for?” shouted Joel, in amazement; while the others jumped to their feet, and stood staring.
Polly flew around like a general, arranging her forces. “Let’s march there,” said she; “Phronsie, you take hold of Davie’s hand, and go first.”
“I’m goin’ first,” announced Joel, squeezing up past Polly. “No, you mustn’t, Joe,” said Polly decidedly; “Phronsie and David are the youngest.”
“They’re always the youngest,” said Joel, falling back with Polly to the rear.
“Forward! March!” sang Polly. “Follow mamsie!”
Down the stairs they went with military step, and into the Provision Room. And then, with one wild look, the little battalion broke ranks, and tumbling one over the other in decidedly unmilitary style, presented a very queer appearance!
And Captain Polly was the queerest of all; for she just gave one gaze at the tree, and then sat right down on the floor, and said, “Oh! Oh!”
Mrs. Pepper was flying around delightedly, and saying, “Please to come right in,” and “How do you do?”
And before anybody knew it, there were the laughing faces of Mrs. Henderson and the Parson himself, Doctor Fisher and old Grandma Bascom; while the two Henderson boys, unwilling to be defrauded of any of the fun, were squeezing themselves in between everybody else, and coming up to Polly every third minute, and saying, “There–aren’t you surprised?”
“It’s Fairyland!” cried little Davie, out of his wits with joy; “Oh! aren’t we in Fairyland, ma?”
The whole room was in one buzz of chatter and fun; and everybody beamed on everybody else; and nobody knew what they said, till Mrs. Pepper called, “Hush! Santa Claus is coming!”
A rattle at the little old window made everybody look there, just as a great snow-white head popped up over the sill.
“Oh!” screamed Joel, “’tis Santy!”
“He’s a-comin’ in!” cried Davie in chorus, which sent Phronsie flying to Polly. In jumped a little old man, quite spry for his years; with a jolly, red face and a pack on his back, and flew into their midst, prepared to do his duty; but what should he do, instead of making his speech, “this jolly Old Saint”–but first fly up to Mrs. Pepper, and say–“Oh, mammy how did you do it?”
“It’s Ben!” screamed Phronsie; but the little Old Saint didn’t hear, for he and Polly took hold of hands, and pranced around that tree while everybody laughed till they cried to see them go!
And then it all came out!
“Order!” said Parson Henderson in his deepest tones; and then he put into Santa Claus’ hands a letter, which he requested him to read. And the jolly Old Saint, although he was very old, didn’t need any spectacles, but piped out in Ben’s loudest tones:
“Dear Friends–A Merry Christmas to you all! And that you’ll have a good time, and enjoy it all as much as I’ve enjoyed my good times at your house, is the wish of your friend,
Jasper Elyot King”
“Hurrah for Jappy!” cried Santa Claus, pulling his beard; and “Hurrah for Jasper!” went all around the room; and this ended in three good cheers–Phronsie coming in too late with her little crow–which was just as well, however!
“Do your duty now, Santa Claus!” commanded Dr. Fisher as master of ceremonies; and everything was as still as a mouse!
And the first thing she knew, a lovely brass cage, with a dear little bird with two astonished black eyes dropped down into Polly’s hands. The card on it said: “For Miss Polly Pepper, to give her music everyday in the year.”
“Mammy,” said Polly; and then she did the queerest thing of the whole! she just burst into tears! “I never thought I should have a bird for my very own!”
“Hullo!” said Santa Claus, “I’ve got something myself!”
“Santa Claus’ clothes are too old,” laughed Dr. Fisher, holding up a stout, warm suit that a boy about as big as Ben would delight in.
And then that wonderful tree just rained down all manner of lovely fruit. Gifts came flying thick and fast, till the air seemed full, and each one was greeted with a shout of glee, as it was put into the hands of its owner. A shawl flew down on Mrs. Pepper’s shoulders; and a work-basket tumbled on Polly’s head; and tops and balls and fishing poles, sent Joel and David into a corner with howls of delight!
But the climax was reached when a large wax doll in a very gay pink silk dress, was put into Phronsie’s hands, and Dr. Fisher, stooping down, read in loud tones: “For Phronsie, from one who enjoyed her gingerbread boy.”
After that, nobody had anything to say! Books jumped down unnoticed, and gay boxes of candy. Only Polly peeped into one of her books, and saw in Jappy’s plain hand–“I hope we’ll both read this next summer.” And turning over to the title-page, she saw “A Complete Manual of Cookery.”
“The best is to come,” said Mrs. Henderson in her gentle way. When there was a lull in the gale, she took Polly’s hand, and led her to a little stand of flowers in the corner concealed by a sheet– pinks and geraniums, heliotropes and roses, blooming away, and nodding their pretty heads at the happy sight–Polly had her flowers.
“Why didn’t we know?” cried the children at last, when everybody was tying on their hoods, and getting their hats to leave the festive scene, “how could you keep it secret, mammy?”
“They all went to Mrs. Henderson’s,” said Mrs. Pepper; “Jasper wrote me, and asked where to send ’em, and Mrs. Henderson was so kind as to say that they might come there. And we brought ’em over last evening, when you were all abed. I couldn’t have done it,” she said, bowing to the Parson and his wife, “if ’twasn’t for their kindness–never, in all this world!”
“And I’m sure,” said the minister, looking around on the bright group, “if we can help along a bit of happiness like this, it is a blessed thing!”
And here Joel had the last word. “You said ‘twan’t goin’ to be Christmas always, mammy. I say,” looking around on the overflow of treasures and the happy faces–“it’ll be just forever!”