Trouble for the Little Brown House
“Oh, I do wish,” said Joel, a few mornings after, pushing back his chair and looking discontentedly at his bowl of mush and molasses, “that we could ever have something new besides this everlasting old breakfast! Why can’t we, mammy?”
“Better be glad you’ve got that, Joe,” said Mrs. Pepper, taking another cold potato, and sprinkling on a little salt; “folks shouldn’t complain so long as they’ve anything to eat.”
“But I’m so tired of it–same old thing!” growled Joel; “seems as if I she’d turn into a meal-bag or a molasses jug!”
“Well, hand it over, then,” proposed Ben, who was unusually hungry, and had a hard day’s work before him.
“No,” said Joel, alarmed at the prospect, and putting in an enormous mouthful; “it’s better than nothing.”
“Oh, dear,” said little Phronsie, catching Joel’s tone, “it isn’t nice; no, it isn’t.” And she put down her spoon so suddenly that the molasses spun off in a big drop, that trailed off the corner of the table, and made Polly jump up and run for the floor-cloth.
“Oh, Phronsie,” she said, reprovingly; “you ought not to. Never mind, pet,” as she caught sight of two big tears trying to make a path in the little molasses-streaked face, “Polly’ll wipe it up.”
“Shan’t we ever have anything else to eat, Polly?” asked the child, gravely, getting down from her high chair to watch the operation of cleaning the floor.
“Oh, yes,” said Polly, cheerfully, “lots and lots–when our ship comes in.”
“What’ll they be?” asked Phronsie, in the greatest delight, prepared for anything.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Polly; “ice cream for one thing, Phronsie, and maybe, little cakes.”
“With pink on top?” interrupted Phronsie, getting down by Polly’s side.
“Oh, yes,” said Polly, warming with her subject; “ever and ever so much pink, Phronsie Pepper; more than you could eat!”
Phronsie just clasped her hands and sighed. More than she could eat was beyond her!
“Ho!” said Joel, who caught the imaginary bill of fare, “that’s nothing, Polly. I’d speak for a plum-puddin’.”
“Like the one mother made us for Thanksgiving?” asked Polly, getting up and waiting a minute, cloth in hand, for the answer.
“Yes, sir,” said Joel, shutting one eye and looking up at the ceiling, musingly, while he smacked his lips in remembrance; “wasn’t that prime, though!”
“Yes,” said Polly, thoughtfully; “would you have ’em all like that, Joe?”
“Every one,” replied Joe, promptly; “I’d have seventy-five of ’em.”
“Seventy-five what?” asked Mrs. Pepper, who had gone into the bedroom, and now came out, a coat in hand, to sit down in the west window, where she began to sew rapidly. “Better clear up the dishes, Polly, and set the table back–seventy-five what, Joel?”
“Plum-puddings,” said Joel, kissing Phronsie.
“Dear me!” exclaimed Mrs. Pepper; “you don’t know what you’re saying, Joel Pepper; the house couldn’t hold ’em!”
“Wouldn’t long,” responded Joel; “we’d eat ’em.”
“That would be foolish,” interposed Ben; “I’d have roast beef and fixings–and oysters–and huckleberry pie.”
“Oh, dear,” cried Polly; “how nice, Ben! you always do think of the very best things.”
But Joel declared he wouldn’t waste his time “over old beef; he’d have something like!” And then he cried:
“Come on, Dave, what’d you choose?”
Little Davie had been quietly eating his breakfast amid all this chatter, and somehow thinking it might make the mother feel badly, he had refrained from saying just how tiresome he had really found this “everlasting breakfast” as Joel called it. But now he looked up eagerly, his answer all ready. “Oh, I know,” he cried, “what would be most beautiful! toasted bread–white bread–and candy.”
“What’s candy?” asked Phronsie.
“Oh, don’t you know, Phronsie,” cried Polly, “what Mrs. Beebe gave you the day you got your shoes–the pink sticks; and”– “And the peppermint stick Mr. Beebe gave you, Phronsie,” finished Joel, his mouth watering at the remembrance.
“That day, when you got your toe pounded,” added Davie, looking at Joel.
“Oh!” cried Phronsie; “I want some now, I do!”
“Well, Davie,” said Polly, “you shall have that for breakfast when our ship comes in then.”
“Your ships aren’t ever coming,” broke in Mrs. Pepper, wisely, “if you sit there talking–folks don’t ever make any fortunes by wishing.”
“True enough,” laughed Ben, jumping up and setting back his chair. “Come on, Joe; you’ve got to pile to-day.”
“Oh, dear,” said Joel, dismally; “I wish Mr. Blodgett’s wood was all a-fire.”
“Never say that, Joel,” said Mrs. Pepper, looking up sternly; “it’s biting your own nose off to wish that wood was a-fire– and besides it’s dreadfully wicked.”
Joel hung his head, for his mother never spoke in that way unless she was strongly moved; but he soon recovered, and hastened off for his jacket.
“I’m sorry I can’t help you do the dishes, Polly,” said David, running after Joel.
“I’m going to help her,” said Phronsie; “I am.”
So Polly got the little wooden tub that she always used, gave Phronsie the well-worn cup-napkin, and allowed her to wipe the handleless cups and cracked saucers, which afforded the little one intense delight.
“Don’t you wish, Polly,” said little Phronsie, bustling around with a very important air, nearly smothered in the depths of a big brown apron that Polly had carefully tied under her chin, “that you didn’t always have so many dishes to do?”
“Um–maybe,” said Polly, thoughtlessly. She was thinking of something else besides cups and saucers just then; of how nice it would be to go off for just one day, and do exactly as she had a mind to in everything. She even envied Ben and the boys who were going to work hard at Deacon Blodgett’s woodpile.
“Well, I tell you,” said Phronsie, confidentially, setting down a cup that she had polished with great care, “I’m going to do ’em all to-morrow, for you, Polly–I can truly; let me now, Polly, do.”
“Nonsense!” said Polly, giving a great splash with her mop in the tub, ashamed of her inward repinings. “Phronsie, you’re no bigger than a mouse!”
“Yes, I am,” retorted Phronsie, very indignantly. Her face began to get very red, and she straightened up so suddenly to show Polly just how very big she was that her little head came up against the edge of the tub–over it went! a pile of saucers followed.
“There now,” cried Polly, “see what you’ve done!”
“Ow!” whimpered Phronsie, breaking into a subdued roar; “oh, Polly! it’s all running down my back.”
“Is it?” said Polly, bursting out into a laugh; “never mind, Phronsie, I’ll dry you.”
“Dear me, Polly!” said Mrs. Pepper, who had looked up in time to see the tub racing along by itself towards the “Provision Room” door, a stream of dish-water following in its wake, “she will be wet clear through; do get off her things, quick.”
“Yes’m,” cried Polly, picking up the tub, and giving two or three quick sops to the floor. “Here you are,” grasping Phronsie, crying as she was, and carrying her into the bedroom.
“Oh, dear,” wailed the child, still holding the wet dish towel; “I won’t ever do it again, if you’ll only let me do ’em all to-morrow.”
“When you’re big and strong,” said Polly, giving her a hug, “you shall do ’em every day.”
“May I really?” said little Phronsie, blinking through the tears, and looking radiant.
“Yes, truly–every day.”
“Then I’ll grow right away, I will,” said Phronsie, bursting out merrily; and she sat down and pulled off the well-worn shoes, into which a big pool of dish-water had run, while Polly went for dry stockings.
“So you shall,” said Polly, coming back, a big piece of gingerbread in her hand; “and this’ll make you grow, Phronsie.”
“O-o-h!” and Phronsie’s little white teeth shut down quickly on the comforting morsel. Gingerbread didn’t come often enough into the Pepper household to be lightly esteemed.
“Now,” said Mrs. Pepper, when order was restored, the floor washed up brightly, and every cup and platter in place, hobnobbing away to themselves on the shelves of the old corner cupboard, and Polly had come as usual with needle and thread to help mother– Polly was getting so that she could do the plain parts on the coats and jackets, which filled her with pride at the very thought–“now,” said Mrs. Pepper, “you needn’t help me this morning, Polly: I’m getting on pretty smart; but you may just run down to the parson’s, and see how he is.”
“Is he sick?” asked Polly, in awe.
To have the parson sick, was something quite different from an ordinary person’s illness.
“He’s taken with a chill,” said Mrs. Pepper, biting off a thread, “so Miss Huldy Folsom told me last night, and I’m afraid he’s going to have a fever.”
“Oh, dear,” said Polly, in dire distress; “whatever’d we do, mammy!”
“Don’t know, I’m sure,” replied Mrs. Pepper, setting her stitches firmly; “the Lord’ll provide. So you run along, child, and see how he is.”
“Can’t Phronsie go?” asked Polly, pausing half-way to the bedroom door.
“Well, yes, I suppose she might,” said Mrs. Pepper, assentingly.
“No, she can’t either,” said Polly, coming back with her sun-bonnet in her hand, and shutting the door carefully after her, “cause she’s fast asleep on the floor.”
“Is she?” said Mrs. Pepper; “well, she’s been running so this morning, she’s tired out, I suppose.”
“And her face is dreadfully red,” continued Polly, tying on her bonnet; “now, what’ll I say, mammy?”
“Well, I should think ‘twould be,” said Mrs. Pepper, replying to the first half of Polly’s speech; “she cried so. Well, you just tell Mrs. Henderson your ma wants to know how Mr. Henderson is this morning, and if ’twas a chill he had yesterday, and how he slept last night, and”– “Oh, ma,” said Polly, “I can’t ever remember all that.”
“Oh, yes, you can,” said Mrs. Pepper, encouragingly; “just put your mind on it, Polly; ’tisn’t anything to what I used to have to remember–when I was a little girl, no bigger than you are.