Polly’s Big Bundle continued…
(start the audio where part 2 left off)
“Then I’m going to peek,” cried Joel, squeaking across the floor to carry his threat into execution.
“Oh, you mustn’t, Joe!” cried Polly, frightened lest he should. “Come right back, or I’ll tell mamsie!”
“They’re all comin’ in, anyway,” cried little Davie, delightedly, and scuttling over to Polly’s side.
“And here are the little friends I’ve heard so much about!” cried Mr. Whitney coming in amongst them. “Oh, you needn’t introduce me to Polly–she brought me home!”
“They’re all Pepperses,” said Percy, waving his hand, and doing the business up at one stroke.
“Only the best of ’em isn’t here,” observed Van, rather ungallantly, “he draws perfectly elegant, papa!”
“1 like Polly best, I do!” cried little Dick, tumbling after. “Peppers!” again repeated Mr. Whitney in a puzzled way. “And here is Mrs. Pepper,” said old Mr. King, pompously drawing her forward, “the children’s mother, and–”
But here Mrs. Pepper began to act in a very queer way, rubbing her eyes and twisting one corner of her black apron in a decidedly nervous manner that, as the old gentleman looked up, he saw with astonishment presently communicated itself to the gentleman opposite.
“Is it,” said Mr. Whitney, putting out his hand and grasping the hard, toil-worn one in the folds of the apron, “is it cousin Mary?”
“And aren’t you cousin John?” she asked, the tears in her bright black eyes.
“Of all things in this world!” cried the old gentleman, waving his head helplessly from one to the other. “Will somebody have the extreme goodness to tell us what all this means?”
At this the little Peppers crowded around their mother, and into all the vacant places they could find, to get near the fascinating scene.
“Well,” said Mr. Whitney, sitting down and drawing his wife to his side, “it’s a long story. You see, when I was a little youngster, and–”
“You were John Whitney then,” put in Mrs. Pepper, slyly. “That’s the reason I never knew when they were all talking of Mason Whitney.”
“John Whitney I was,” said Mr. Whitney, laughing, “or rather, Johnny and Jack. But Grandmother Mason, when I grew older, wanted me called by my middle name to please grandfather. But to go back–when I was a little shaver, about as big as Percy here–”
“Oh, papa!” began Percy, deprecatingly. To be called “a little shaver” before all the others!
“He means, dearie,” said his mamma, reassuringly, “when he was a boy like you. Now hear what papa is going to say.”
“Well, I was sent up into Vermont to stay at the old place. There was a little girl there; a bright, black-eyed little girl. She was my cousin, and her name was Mary Bartlett.”
“Who’s Mary Bartlett?” asked Joel, interrupting.
“There she is, sir,” said Mr. Whitney, pointing to Mrs. Pepper, who was laughing and crying together.
“Where?” said Joel, utterly bewildered. “I don’t see any Mary Bartlett. What does he mean, Polly?”
“I don’t know,” said Polly. “Wait, Joey,” she whispered, “he’s going to tell us all about it.”
“Well, this little cousin and I went to the district school, and had many good times together. And then my parents sent for me, and I went to Germany to school; and when I came back I lost sight of her. All I could find out was that she had married an Englishman by the name of Pepper.”
“Oh!” cried all the children together.
“And I always supposed she had gone to England for despite all my exertions, I could find no trace of her. Ah, Mary,” he said reproachfully, “why didn’t you let me know where you were?”
“I heard,” said Mrs. Pepper, “that you’d grown awfully rich, and I couldn’t.”
“You always were a proud little thing,” he said laughing. “Well, but,” broke in Mr. King, unable to keep silence any longer, “I’d like to inquire, Mason, why you didn’t find all this out before, in Marian’s letters, when she mentioned Mrs. Pepper?”
“She didn’t ever mention her,” said Mr. Whitney, turning around to face his questioner, “not as Mrs. Pepper–never once by name. It was always either ‘Polly’s mother,’ or ‘Phronsie’s mother.’ Just like a woman,” he added, with a mischievous glance at his wife, “not to be explicit.”
“And just like a man,” she retorted, with a happy little laugh, “not to ask for explanations.”
“I hear Jappy,” cried Polly, in a glad voice, “and Ben–oh, good!” as a sound of rushing footsteps was heard over the veranda steps, and down the long hall.
The door was thrown suddenly open, and Jasper plunged in, his face flushed with excitement, and after him Ben, looking a little as he did when Phronsie was lost, while Prince squeezed panting in between the two boys.
“Has Polly got”–began Jasper.
“Oh, yes, I’m here,” cried Polly, springing up to them; “oh, Ben!”
“She has,” cried Joel, disentangling himself from the group, “don’t you see, Jappy?”
“She’s all home,” echoed Pbronsie, flying up. “Oh, Ben, do draw me another little house!”
“And see–see!” cried the little Whitneys, pointing with jubilant fingers to their papa, “see what she brought!”
Jasper turned around at that–and then rushed forward.
“Oh, brother Mason!”
“Well, Jasper,” said Mr. Whitney, a whole wealth of affection beaming on the boy, “how you have stretched up in six months!”
“Haven’t I?” said Jasper, laughing, and drawing himself up to his fullest height.
“He’s a-standin’ on tip-toe,” said Joel critically, who was hovering near. “I most know he is!” and he bent down to examine the position of Jasper’s heels.
“Not a bit of it, Joe!” cried Jasper, with a merry laugh, and setting both feet with a convincing thud on the floor.
“Well, anyway, I’ll be just as big,” cried Joel, “when I’m thirteen, so!”
Just then a loud and quick rap on the table made all the children skip, and stopped everybody’s tongue. It came from Mr. King.
“Phronsie,” said he, “come here, child. I can’t do anything without you,” and held out his hand. Phronsie immediately left Ben, who was hanging over Polly as if he never meant to let her go out of his sight again, and went directly over to the old gentleman’s side.
“Now, then!” He swung her upon his shoulder, where she perched like a little bird, gravely surveying the whole group. One little hand stole around the old gentleman’s neck, and patted his cheek softly, which so pleased him that for a minute or two he stood perfectly still so that everybody might see it.
“Now, Phronsie, you must tell all these children so that they’ll understand–say everything just as I tell you, mind!”
“I will,” said Phronsie, shaking her small head wisely, “every single thing.”
“Well, then, now begin–”
“Well, then, now begin,” said Phronsie, looking down on the faces with an air as much like Mr. King’s as was possible, and finishing up with two or three little nods.
“Oh, no, dear, that isn’t it,” cried the old gentleman, “I’ll tell you. Say, Phronsie, ‘you are all cousins–every one.'”
“You are all cousins–every one,” repeated little Phronsie, simply, shaking her yellow head into the very middle of the group.
“Does she mean it, grandpapa? Does she mean it?” cried Percy, in the greatest excitement.
“As true as everything?” demanded Joel, crowding in between them.
“As true as–truth!” said the old gentleman solemnly, patting the child’s little fat hand. “So make the most of it.”
“Oh!” said Polly, with a long sigh. And then Jasper and she took hold of hands and had a good spin!
Joel turned around with two big eyes on Percy.
“We’re cousins!” he said.
“I know it,” said Percy, “and so’s Van!”
“Yes,” said Van, flying up, “and I’m cousin to Polly, too– that’s best!”
“Can’t I be a Cousin?” cried little Dick, crowding up, with two red cheeks. “Isn’t anybody going to be a cousin to me, too?”
“Everybody but Jasper,” said the old gentleman, laughing heartily at them. “You and I, my boy,” he turned to his son, “are left out in the cold.”
At this a scream, loud and terrible to hear, struck upon them all, as Joel flung himself flat on the floor.
“Isn’t Jappy–our—cousin? I–want –Jappy!”
“Goodness!” exclaimed the old gentleman, in the greatest alarm, “what is the matter with the boy! Do somebody stop him!”
“Joel,” said Jasper, leaning over him, and trying to help Polly lift him up. “I’ll tell you how we’ll fix it! I’ll be your brother . That’s best of all–brother to Polly, and Ben and the whole of you–then we’ll see!”
Joel bolted up at that, and began to smile through the tears running down the rosy face.
“Will you, really?” he said, “just like Ben–and everything?”
“I can’t be as good as Ben,” said Jappy, laughing, “but I’ll be a real brother like him.”
“Phoo–phoo! Then I don’t care!” cried Joel wiping off the last tear on the back of his chubby hand. “Now I guess we’re better’n you,” he exclaimed with a triumphant glance over at the little Whitneys, as he began to make the new shoes skip at a lively pace up and down the long room.
“Oh, dear!” they both cried in great distress.
“Now, papa, Jappy’s going to be Joey’s brother–and he isn’t anything but our old uncle! Make him be ours more, papa, do!”
And then Polly sprang up.
“Oh! oh–deary me!” And she rushed out into the hall and began to tug violently at the big bundle, tossed down in a corner. “Cherry’ll die–Cherry’ll die!” she cried, “do somebody help me off with the string!”
But Polly already had it off by the time Jasper’s knife was half out of his pocket, and was kneeling down on the floor scooping out a big handful of the seed.
“Don’t hurry so, Polly,” said Jasper, as she jumped up to fly up-stairs. “He’s had some a perfect age–he’s all right.”
“What!” said Polly, stopping so suddenly that two or three little seeds flew out of the outstretched hand and went dancing away to the foot of the stairs by themselves.
“Oh, I heard him scolding away there when I first came home,” said Jasper, “so I just ran down a block or two, and got him some.”
“Is that all there is in that big bundle?” said Joel in a disappointed tone, who had followed with extreme curiosity to see its contents. “Phoo!–that’s no fun–old bird-seed!”
“I know,” said Polly with a gay little laugh, pointing with the handful of seed into the library, “but I shouldn’t have met the other big bundle if it hadn’t have been for this, Joe!”