“Run down and get the cinnamon, will you, Joey?” said Polly; “it’s in the ‘Provision Room.”
The “Provision Room” was a little shed that was tacked on to the main house, and reached by a short flight of rickety steps; so called, because as Polly said, “’twas a good place to keep provisions in, even if we haven’t any; and besides,” she always finished, “it sounds nice!”
“Come on, Dave! then we’ll get something to eat!”
So the cinnamon was handed up, and then Joel flew back to Davie.
And now, Polly’s cake was done, and ready for the oven. With many admiring glances from herself, and Phronsie, who with Seraphina, an extremely old but greatly revered doll, tightly hugged in her arms was watching everything with the biggest of eyes from the depths of the old chair, it was placed in the oven, the door shut to with a happy little bang, then Polly gathered Phronsie up in her arms, and sat down in the chair to have a good time with her and to watch the process of cooking.
There was a bumping noise that came from the “Provision Room” that sounded ominous, and then a smothered sound of words, followed by a scuffling over the old floor.
“Boys!” called Polly. No answer; everything was just as still as a mouse. “Joel and David!” called Polly again, in her loudest tones.
“Yes,” came up the crooked stairs, in Davie’s voice.
“Come up here, right away!” went back again from Polly. So up the stairs trudged the two boys, and presented themselves rather sheepishly before the big chair.
“What was that noise?” she asked; “what have you been doing?”
“Twasn’t anything but the pail,” answered Joel, not looking at her.
“We had something to eat,” said Davie, by way of explanation; “you always let us.”
“I know,” said Polly; “that’s right, you can have as much bread as you want to; but what you been doing with the pail?”
“Nothing,” said Joel; “‘twouldn’t hangup, that’s all.”
“And you’ve been bumping it,” said Polly; “oh! Joel, how could you! You might have broken it; then what would mamsie say?”
“I didn’t,” said Joel, stoutly, with his hands in his pockets, “bump it worse’n Davie, so there!”
“Why, Davie,” said Polly, turning to him sorrowfully, “I shouldn’t have thought you would!”
“Well, I’m tired of hanging it up,” said little Davie, vehemently; “and I said I wasn’t a-goin’ to; Joel always makes me; I’ve done it for two million times, I guess!”
“Oh, dear,” said Polly, sinking back into the chair, “I don’t know what I ever shall do; here’s Phronsie hurt; and we want to celebrate to-morrow; and you two boys are bumping and banging out the bread pail, and”– “Oh! we won’t!” cried both of the children, perfectly overwhelmed with remorse; “we’ll hang it right up.”
“I’ll hang it,” said Davie, clattering off down the stairs with a will.
“No, I will!” shouted Joel, going after him at double pace; and presently both came up with shining faces, and reported it nicely done.
“And now,” said Polly, after they had all sat around the stove another half-hour, watching and sniffing expectantly, “the cake’s done!–dear me! it’s turning black!”
And quickly as possible Polly twitched it out with energy, and set it on the table.
Oh, dear; of all things in the world! The beautiful cake over which so many hopes had been formed, that was to have given so much happiness on the morrow to the dear mother, presented a forlorn appearance as it stood there in anything but holiday attire. It was quite black on the top, in the center of which was a depressing little dump, as if to say, “My feelings wouldn’t allow me to rise to the occasion.”
“Now,” said Polly, turning away with a little fling, and looking at the stove, “I hope you’re satisfied, you old thing; you’ve spoiled our mamsie’s birthday!” and without a bit of warning, she sat right down in the middle of the floor and began to cry as hard as she could.
“Well, I never!” said a cheery voice, that made the children skip.
“It’s Mrs. Beebe; oh, it’s Mrs. Beebe!” cried Davie; “see, Polly.”
Polly scrambled up to her feet, ashamed to be caught thus, and whisked away the tears; the others explaining to their new visitor the sad disappointment that had befallen them; and she was soon oh-ing, and ah-ing enough to suit even their distressed little souls.
“You poor creeters, you!” she exclaimed at last, for about the fiftieth time. “Here, Polly, here’s some posies for you, and”– “Oh, thank you!” cried Polly, with a radiant face, “why, Mrs. Beebe, we can put them in here, can’t we? the very thing!”
And she set the little knot of flowers in the hollow of the cake, and there they stood and nodded away to the delighted children, like brave little comforters, as they were.
“The very thing!” echoed Mrs. Beebe, tickled to death to see their delight; “it looks beautiful, I declare! and now, I must run right along, or pa’ll be worrying;” and so the good woman trotted out to her waiting husband, who was impatient to be off. Mr. Beebe kept a little shoe shop in town; and always being of the impression if he left it for ten minutes that crowds of customers would visit it. He was the most restless of companions on any pleasure excursion.
“And Phronsie’s got hurt,” said Mrs. Beebe, telling him the news, as he finished tucking her up, and started the old horse.
“Ho? you don’t say so!” he cried; “whoa!”
“Dear me!” said Mrs. Beebe; “how you scat me, pal what’s the matter?”
“What?–the little girl that bought the shoes?” asked her husband.
“Yes,” replied his wife, “she’s hurt her foot.”
“Now,” said the old gentleman; “that’s too bad,” and he began to feel in all his pockets industriously; “there, can you get out again, and take her that?” and he laid a small piece of peppermint candy, thick and white, in his wife’s lap.
“Oh, yes,” cried Mrs. Beebe, good-naturedly, beginning to clamber over the wheel.
So the candy was handed in to Phronsie, who insisted that Polly should hold her up to the window to thank Mr. Beebe. So amid nods, and shakings of hands, the Beebes drove off, and quiet settled down over the little brown house again.
“Now, children,” said Polly, after Phronsie had made them take a bite of her candy all around, “let’s get the cake put away safe, for mamsie may come home early.
“Where’ll you put it?” asked Joel, wishing the world was all peppermint candy.
“Oh–in the cupboard,” said Polly, taking it up; “there, Joe, you can climb up, and put it clear back in the corner, oh! wait; I must take the posies off, and keep them fresh in water;” so the cake was finally deposited in a place of safety, followed by the eyes of all the children.
“Now,” said Polly, as they shut the door tight, “don’t you go to looking at the cupboard, Joey, or mammy’ll guess something.”
“Can’t I just open it a little crack, and take one smell when she isn’t looking?” asked Joel; “I should think you might, Polly; just one.”
“No,” said Polly, firmly; “not one, Joe; she’ll guess if you do.” But Mrs. Pepper was so utterly engrossed with her baby when she came home and heard the account of the accident, that she wouldn’t have guessed if there’d been a dozen cakes in the cupboard. Joel was consoled, as his mother assured him in a satisfactory way that she never should think of blaming him; and Phronsie was comforted and coddled to her heart’s content. And so the evening passed rapidly and happily away; Ben smuggling Phronsie off into a corner, where she told him all the doings of the day–the disappointment of the cake, and how it was finally crowned with flowers; all of which Phronsie, with no small pride in being the narrator, related gravely to her absorbed listener. “And don’t you think, Bensie,” she said, clasping her little hand in a convincing way over his two bigger, stronger ones, “that Polly’s stove was very naughty to make poor Polly cry?”
“Yes, I do,” said Ben, and he shut his lips tightly together.
To have Polly cry, hurt him more than he cared to have Phronsie see.
“What are you staring at, Joe?” asked Polly, a few minutes later, as her eyes fell upon Joel, who sat with his back to the cupboard, persistently gazing at the opposite wall.
“Why, you told me yourself not to look at the cupboard,” said Joel, in the loudest of stage whispers.
“Dear me; that’ll make mammy suspect worse’n anything else if you look like that,” said Polly.
“What did you say about the cupboard?” asked Mrs. Pepper, who caught Joe’s last word.
“We can’t tell,” said Phronsie, shaking her head at her mother; “cause there’s a ca”– “Ugh!” and Polly clapped her hand on the child’s mouth; “don’t you want Ben to tell us a story?”
“Oh, yes!” cried little Phronsie, in which all the others joined with a whoop of delight; so a most wonderful story, drawn up in Ben’s best style, followed till bedtime.
The first thing Polly did in the morning, was to run to the old cupboard, followed by all the others, to see if the cake was safe; and then it had to be drawn out, and dressed anew with the flowers, for they had decided to have it on the breakfast table.
“It looks better,” whispered Polly to Ben, “than it did yesterday; and aren’t the flowers pretty?”
“It looks good enough to eat, anyway,” said Ben, smacking his lips.
“Well, we tried,” said Polly, stilling a sigh; “now, boys, call mamsie; everything’s ready.”
Oh! how surprised their mother appeared when she was ushered out to the feast, and the full glory of the table burst upon her. Her delight in the cake was fully enough to satisfy the most exacting mind. She admired and admired it on every side, protesting that she shouldn’t have supposed Polly could possibly have baked it as good in the old stove; and then she cut it, and gave a piece to every child, with a little posy on top. Wasn’t it good, though! for like many other things, the cake proved better on trial than it looked, and so turned out to be really quite a good surprise all around.
“Why can’t I ever have a birthday?” asked Joel, finishing the last crumb of his piece; “I should think I might,” he added, reflectively.
“Why, you have, Joe,” said Ben; “eight of ’em.”
“What a story!” exclaimed Joel; “when did I have ’em? I never had a cake; did I, Polly?”
“Not a cake-birthday, Joel,” said his mother; “you haven’t got to that yet.”
“When’s it coming?” asked Joel, who was decidedly of a matter-of-fact turn of mind.
“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Pepper, laughing; “but there’s plenty of time ahead.”