After that they couldn’t thank Jasper enough! They tried to, lovingly, and an elaborate letter of thanks, headed by Mrs. Pepper, was drawn up and sent with a box of the results of Polly’s diligent study of Jasper’s book. Polly stripped off recklessly her choicest buds and blossoms from the gay little stand of flowers in the corner, that had already begun to blossom, and tucked them into every little nook in the box that could possibly hold a posy. But as for thanking him enough!
“We can’t do it, mammy,” said Polly, looking around on all the happy faces, and then up at Cherry, who was singing in the window, and who immediately swelled up his little throat and poured out such a merry burst of song that she had to wait for him to finish. “No, not if we tried a thousand years!”
“I’m a-goin’,” said Joel, who was busy as a bee with his new tools that the tree had shaken down for him, “to make Jappy the splendidest box you ever saw, Polly! I guess that’ll thank him!”
“Do,” cried Polly; “he’d be so pleased, Joey.”
“And I,” said Phronsie, over in the corner with her children, “I’m goin’ to see my poor sick man sometime, Polly, I am!”
“Oh, dear!” cried Polly, whirling around, and looking at her mother in dismay. “She’ll be goin’ to-morrow! Oh, no, Phronsie, you can’t; he lives miles and miles away–oh, ever so far!”
“Does he live as far as the moon?” asked little Phronsie, carefully laying Seraphina down, and looking up at Polly, anxiously.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Polly, giving Cherry a piece of bread, and laughing to see how cunning he looked. “Oh, no, of course not, but it’s an awful long ways, Phronsie.”
“I don’t care,” said Phronsie, determinedly, giving the new doll a loving little pat, “I’m goin’ sometime, Polly, to thank my poor sick man, yes, I am!”
“You’ll see him next summer, Phronsie,” sang Polly skipping around the kitchen, “and Jappy’s sister Marian, the lovely lady, and all the boys. Won’t that be nice?” and Polly stopped to pat the yellow head bending in motherly attentions over her array of dolls.
“Ye-es,” said Phronsie, slowly; “the whole of ’em, Polly?”
“Yes, indeed!” said Polly, gayly; “the whole of ’em, Phronsie!
“Hooray!” shouted the two boys, while Phronsie only gave a long sigh, and clasped her hands.
“Better not be looking for summer,” said Mrs. Pepper, “until you do your duty by the winter; then you can enjoy it,” and she took a fresh needleful of thread.
“Mamsie’s right,” said Ben, smiling over at her. And he threw down his book and jumped for his cap. “Now for a good chop!” he cried, and snatching a kiss from Phronsie, he rushed out of the door to his work, whistling as he went.
“Warn’t Mr. Henderson good, ma,” asked Polly, watching his retreating figure, “to give Ben learning?”
“Yes, he was,” replied Mrs. Pepper, enthusiastically. “We’ve got a parson, if anybody has in this world!”
“And Ben’s learning,” said Polly, swelling with pride, as she sat down by her mother, and began to sew rapidly, “so that he’ll be a big man right off! Oh, dear,” as a thought made her needle pause a minute in its quick flying in and out.
“What is it, Polly?” Mrs. Pepper looked keenly at the troubled face and downcast eyes.
“Why–” began Polly, and then she finished very slowly, “I shan’t know anything, and Ben’ll be ashamed of me.
“Yes, you will!” cried Mrs. Pepper, energetically, “you keep on trying, and the Lord’ll send some way; don’t you go to bothering your head about it now, Polly–it’ll come when it’s time.”
“Will it?” asked Polly, doubtfully, taking up her needle again.
“Yes, indeed!” cried Mrs. Pepper, briskly; “come fly at your sewing; that’s your learning now.”
“So ’tis,” said Polly, with a little laugh. “Now let’s see which’ll get their seam done first, mamsie?”
And now letters flew thick and fast from the city to the little brown house, and back again, warming Jasper’s heart, and filling the tedious months of that winter with more of jollity and fun than the lad ever enjoyed before; and never was fun and jollity more needed than now; for Mr. King, having nothing to do, and each year finding himself less inclined to exercise any thoughtful energy for others, began to look at life something in the light of a serious bore, and accordingly made it decidedly disagreeable for all around him, and particularly for Jasper who was his constant companion. But the boy was looking forward to summer, and so held on bravely.
“I do verily believe, Polly,” he wrote, “that Badgertown’ll see the gayest times it ever knew! Sister Marian wants to go, so that’s all right. Now, hurrah for a good time–it’s surely coming!”
But alas! for Jasper! as spring advanced, his father took a decided aversion to Hingham, Badgertown, and all other places that could be mentioned in that vicinity.
“It’s a wretched climate,” he asserted, over and over; “and the foundation of all my ill feelings this winter was laid, I’m convinced, in Hingham last summer.”
No use to urge the contrary; and all Jasper’s pleadings were equally vain. At last, sister Marian, who was kind-hearted to a fault, sorry to see her brother’s dismay and disappointment said, one day, “Why not have one of the children come here? I should like it very much–do invite Ben.”
“I don’t want Ben,” said Jasper gloomily, “I want Polly.” He added this in much the same tone as Phronsie’s when she had rushed up to him the day she was lost, declaring, “I want Polly!”
“Very well, then,” said sister Marian, laughing, “I’m sure I didn’t mean to dictate which one; let it be Polly then; yes, I should prefer Polly myself, I think, as we’ve enough boys now,” smiling to think of her own brood of wide awake youngsters.
“If you only will, father, I’ll try to be ever so good!” said Jasper, turning suddenly to his father.
“Jasper needs some change,” said sister Marian kindly, “he really has grown very pale and thin.”
“Hey!” said Mr. King, sharply, looking at him over his eyeglasses. “The boy’s well enough; well enough!” But he twisted uneasily in his chair, all the same. At last he flung down his paper, twitched his fingers through his hair two or three times, and then burst out– “Well, why don’t you send for her? I’m sure I don’t care– I’ll write myself, and I had better do it now. Tell Thomas to be ready to take it right down; it must get into this mail.”
When Mr. King had made up his mind to do anything, everybody else must immediately give up their individual plans, and stand out of the way for him to execute his at just that particular moment! Accordingly Thomas was dragged from his work to post the letter, while the old gentleman occupied the time in pulling out his watch every third second until the slightly-out-of-breath Thomas reported on his return that the letter did get in. Then Mr. King settled down satisfied, and everything went on smoothly as before.
But Polly didn’t come! A grateful, appreciative letter, expressed in Mrs. Pepper’s own stiff way, plainly showed the determination of that good woman not to accept what was such a favor to her child.
In vain Mr. King stormed, and fretted, and begged, offering every advantage possible–Polly should have the best foundation for a musical education that the city could afford; also lessons in the schoolroom under the boys’ private tutor– it was all of no avail. In vain sister Marian sent a gentle appeal, fully showing her heart was in it; nothing broke down Mrs. Pepper’s resolve, until, at last, the old gentleman wrote one day that Jasper, being in such failing health, really depended on Polly to cheer him up. That removed the last straw that made it “putting one’s self under an obligation,” which to Mrs. Pepper’s independent soul, had seemed insurmountable.
And now, it was decided that Polly was really to go! and pretty soon all Badgertown knew that Polly Pepper was going to the big city. And there wasn’t a man, woman, or child but what greatly rejoiced that a sunny time was coming to one of the chicks in the little brown house. With many warm words, and some substantial gifts, kind friends helped forward the “outing.” Only one person doubted that this delightful chance should be grasped at once–and that one was Polly herself!