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"Mamsie doesn't mind her bothers," said Mrs. Fisher, her other hand
going softly over Phronsie's yellow hair, at which Phronsie gave a
small sigh of content, and wriggled her toes as they were stretched out
straight before her on the carpet, "if only they grow up a little
better every day than they were the day before."

"We'll try to, Mamsie," said Polly, "won't we, Pet?" leaning over and
kissing her.

"I'll try to," promised Phronsie, with another wriggle of her small
toes.

"That's right," said Mother Fisher, smiling approval.

"Mrs. Fisher!" called Grandpapa's voice at the door. Thereupon Polly
and Phronsie sprang to their feet, and a lively race ensued to see
which should be there the first to open it. The consequence was that
both faces met him at once.

"Bless me!" cried old Mr. King, laughing gaily, as the door flew open,
and they both rushed into his arms; "so you did like to have your old
Grandfather come to see you," he exclaimed, mightily pleased.

"I should think we did!" cried Polly, as they escorted him in, and led
him to the seat of honour, a big carved arm-chair, with a faded
tapestry covering.

"I should very much like to get into your lap, Grandpapa dear," said
Phronsie, surveying him gravely as he sat down and leaned his head
against the chair back.

"So you shall," cried Mr. King, lifting her up to his knee, Araminta
and all. She perched there in quiet content, while he set forth his
business which he had come to talk over with Mother Fisher.

"Now, you know those three boys of yours are the most splendid boys
that ever were in all this world, and they are working away at home,
studying and all that, Joel and David are, and Ben is pegging away at
business." Old Mr. King thought best to go to the heart of the matter
at once without any dallying.

Mrs. Fisher's cheek grew a shade paler, but she said not a word as she
fastened her black eyes on his face.

"Hem - well, we don't talk much about those boys," observed the old
gentleman, "because it makes us all homesick after them, and it's best
that they should be there, and that we should be here, so that was
settled once for all by our coming."

Still Mrs. Fisher said not a word.

"Well, now, the fact of it is," continued old Mr. King, still keeping
to the main point with wonderful directness, "I think the time has come
for us to act, which is much better than talking, in my opinion; and I
want to do something for those boys."

A pin could have been heard to drop. Polly leaned over his chair and
hung on his words, while Mrs. Fisher never took her eyes from his face.

"In short," continued old Mr. King, well pleased with the attention of
his audience, "I propose that we send a box of good things of various
descriptions to Ben and Joel and David."

A small howl of delight from Polly broke the silence. When she heard
that, Phronsie gave a little crow. "Oh, Grandpapa!" exclaimed Polly,
"do you really mean it?" and she threw her arms around his neck.
Phronsie immediately clambered up and did the same thing.

"That's just as your mother shall decide," said Mr. King, immensely
pleased with the way his news was received. "She hasn't said a word yet
whether she likes the idea or not."

"It's just because I couldn't speak at first," said Mrs. Fisher, wiping
her eyes; and her voice trembled. "But it's the very thing; and oh!
thank you, sir, for thinking of it. The boys won't be so homesick for
us when they get the box. And it will be the best thing in the world
for us to keep busy, so we can't worry about them."

"Mamsie _has_ said 'yes'!" exclaimed Polly, flying off to dance around
and around in the middle of the room. "Oh, I wish Jasper was here!" she
cried regretfully, breaking short off.

"Go and call him, then, - he's down in the reading room, writing to the
boys, - and bring him up here," said old Mr. King. "No, no, Phronsie,
you want to stay and take care of me," as Phronsie showed signs of
slipping down from his lap to go too.

"I'll stay and take care of you," said Phronsie, obediently; "just let
me lay Araminta down, Grandpapa, on the sofa, and then I'll come back
and rub your head."

So she got down and set Araminta up straight against the sofa back, and
then came and clambered up again into his lap. By this time Polly and
Jasper, racing along the hall, had reached Mother Fisher's room.

"That's regularly splendid, father." Jasper tossed his dark hair back
from his forehead, and his eyes sparkled. "Oh, can't we go out right
away and begin to buy the presents?"

"I shouldn't think that idea was a half-bad one," said old Mr. King.
"What do you say, Mrs. Fisher? If we are going to send the box, why
isn't it best to begin the work at once? There's never so good a time
as now, in my opinion. I'm sure you agree with me."

On Mother Fisher saying "yes," all three of the young people took hold
of hands, and danced around the room in glee. For old Mr. King set
Phronsie down, with, "There, go, child, and spin with the others; then
all hurry and get your hats on, and we'll be off."

And in less time than it takes to write it, old Mr. King and Mother
Fisher and Jasper and Polly and Phronsie all hurried out of the hotel,
and began a round of the shops to get the things together for the
wonderful box to go home to the boys. And though Polly didn't know it,
several other things, that boys wouldn't be supposed to care for in the
least, were slyly added to the purchases, when she wasn't looking, to
be sent home to the hotel in separate parcels to Mr. King. For Polly
was going to have a birthday before very long; though she had quite
forgotten it in the excitement over this box for Ben and Joel and David.

"It's just like buying things for Christmas, isn't it, Jasper?" said
Polly, as they hung over the show-cases and peered into windows; "only
everything is so funny here. Oh, no, Phronsie, that won't do; it's too
big," as Phronsie protested that nothing was so nice as a huge Delft
plate hanging on the wall. There was a big windmill and several little
windmills in the distance along a Dutch canal, and two or three cows in
the foreground, and a peasant girl with a basket in her hand. Phronsie
stood and gazed at it all the time they were in this particular shop.

"I like that little girl," she said, "and those cows; and they are like
Deacon Blodgett's cows at home in Badgertown. And Ben would like it,
and Joel, and David." And all Polly could do, she would still say, "I
like it, Polly, and I want Grandpapa to send it."

At last Polly turned in despair to Jasper. "Oh, what can we do?" she
cried; "she is just as determined as she was when she would send the
gingerbread boy to Grandpapa."

"Well, I think we would better not try to get her away from the idea,"
said Jasper, with a look at the rapt little face. Phronsie was now
kneeling on a Flemish oak chair, and studying the Delft plate with
absorbed attention.

"No," said Polly, with a sigh, "I suppose it isn't any use to try when
she looks like that." Just then old Mr. King, who had been busy in a
farther corner with the proprietor of the shop, picking out some small
articles that struck his fancy, turned and called Phronsie. She didn't
hear him, being too absorbed. And so he laid down the little silver
paper-cutter he was looking at, and came over to see what was the
matter.

"Well, child," he said, looking over her shoulder. "And so you like
that, hey?"

Phronsie drew a long breath. "I do, Grandpapa, like it very much
indeed," she said.

"Well, then, I don't see but what you must have it. And it shall hang
in your own little room at home, Phronsie."

"But I don't want it for my very own, Grandpapa," said Phronsie; "it
must go in the box for Ben and Joel and David."

"Dear me! You think they would like it, Phronsie?" he asked doubtfully,
and just on the point of saying, like Polly, "it's too big, child,"
when he stopped himself and finished up - "and so it pleases you,
Phronsie?"

"Yes, it does," said Phronsie, with an emphatic little nod; "I love
that nice cow, and that little girl. Grandpapa, I think I should like
to live in a windmill."

"Bless me! I think you wouldn't want to live there very long, child.
Well, the plate shall go to the boys, and I only hope they will like
it," he said to himself, dubiously.

"He is going to send it," Jasper and Polly said to each other, peering
round an angle in the shop at the two. "Well, it's a mercy it's got a
cow on it instead of a cat," said Jasper. "How Joel would howl if
Phronsie sent him the picture of a cat!"

"She would if there were a cat to be found," said Polly; "don't you
believe, Jasper, but what she would?"




X

DANGER


Well, the box that went home across the seas to the Pepper boys was a
marvel, stuffed in every nook and cranny where there was a possibility
that the tiniest parcel could be tucked, until Phronsie, who kept
bringing up more bundles, had to be told by Polly and Jasper, who did
the packing, that no more could go in.

"They are very small," sighed Phronsie, curling up on the floor by the
side of the big box, almost overflowing with billows of the soft white
paper on top, and holding up two pudgy little bundles.

"So you've said for the last hour, Phronsie," exclaimed Polly, in
despair, and sitting quite straight, her hands in her lap. "Jasper,
what _shall_ we do?" He was over by the window laying out the long
nails that were to fasten the cover on; for no one must touch this
precious box, but the loving hands that got it ready.

"Oh, we can't," began Jasper. Then he turned and saw Phronsie's face.
"Perhaps one might be crowded in," he added, with a look at Polly.
"Which one would you rather have Polly make a try at, Phronsie?"

"This one," she said, holding up the pudgiest bundle, "because this is
the china cat, and I want Joel to have that."

Down went Polly's head on the edge of the box. Jasper dropped the long
nails and hurried over to her.

"I can't help it." Polly's shoulders were shaking, and she added
gustily, "O dear me - and Joel does so hate cats!"

"Phronsie, I think I can tuck in that parcel," Jasper made haste to
say. "There, give it to me, child," and he took it out of her hand.
"For Joel" was written across it in unsteady letters.

"Is Polly sick?" asked Phronsie, wonderingly, as she resigned her cat
into his hands.

"No, only a bit tired, I think," answered Jasper. "Well, now, Phronsie,
I think there is just room enough to tuck that parcel in this corner,"
said Jasper, crowding his fingers down in between the various bundles
to make a space. "There, in it pops!" suiting the action to the word.

"I am so very glad," said Phronsie, smoothing her brown gown in great
satisfaction; "for then Joel will know that I sent it all by myself."

"He'll know that nobody else sent it," said Polly to herself. "And I
know it's a perfectly awful cat, for Phronsie always picks out the very
ugliest she can find."

Well, the box was off, at last, the Pepper children and Jasper seeing
it till the very last minute. And old Mr. King was nearly as excited as
the young folks, and the Parson and Mrs. Henderson said it reminded
them of Christmas times over again, and Mother Fisher and the little
doctor were in a great state of happiness.

And that night when Polly was in bed, and Mother Fisher came into her
room and Phronsie's, which opened into her own, to say "Good night,"
Polly turned on her pillow. "Mamsie," she said, "I do so very much wish
that we could send a box to the Henderson boys. They must be so
homesick for their mother and father."

Mrs. Fisher stopped and thought a bit, "A very good idea, Polly," she
said, "and I'm glad you thought of it. I'll speak to your father and
see if he approves, before we say anything to Mr. King."

"You see," said Polly, rolling over to get hold of one of Mother
Fisher's hands, and speaking very fast, "of course the Henderson boys
are having a good time at dear Deacon Blodgett's, but then their mother
and father are away off. Oh, Mamsie!" She reached over and threw both
arms around her mother and hugged her tightly.

"Yes, I know, Polly," said Mother Fisher, holding her big girl to her
heart, "and we must look out for other people's boys; that's what you
mean to say, isn't it?"

"Yes," said Polly, happy that Mamsie always understood, "and now that
Ben's and Joel's and David's box is off, why, I wish we could, Mamsie,
send the other one."

"I really think it can be done," said Mrs. Fisher, "but I must ask your
father first. And now, daughter, go to sleep, like Phronsie." She
glanced over at the other little bed, where Phronsie's yellow head was
lost in dreams.

"You know we are going to Marken tomorrow."

"I know," said Polly, with a happy little wriggle under the bedclothes.

"And it never would do for you to be all tired out in the morning. That
would be very unkind to dear Mr. King, who is trying so hard to make us
all happy," continued Mrs. Fisher.

"I know," said Polly, again. "Well, good night, Mamsie." She set three
or four kisses on Mother Fisher's cheek, then turned over, with her
face to the wall.

"I'll shut the door until you get to sleep, Polly," said Mrs. Fisher,
"then I will open it again," as she went out.

As Mother Fisher had said, they were going to the Island of Marken
to-morrow; and Polly tumbled asleep with her head full of all the
strange things they were to see there, and that Jasper and she had been
reading about, - how the people wore the same kind of funny costume that
their great-great-ever-so-many-times great-grandfathers and
grandmothers had worn; and how the houses were of different colours,
and built in different layers or mounds of land, with cunning little
windows and scarcely any stairs; and how they were going in the haying
season when everybody would be out raking up and
gleaning - and - and - Polly was completely lost in her happy dreams.

Somebody seemed to be pulling her arm. What! Oh, she remembered they
were going to Marken, and she must hurry and get her bath and fly into
her clothes. "Yes, Mamsie!" she cried, flying up to sit straight in the
bed. "I'll get right up and dress; oh, won't we have fun!"

"Polly," said Mother Fisher. She had on a dressing-gown, and her black
hair was hanging down her back. She looked pale and worried; Polly
could see that, although she blinked at the sudden light. "It isn't
morning, but the middle of the night. You must get up this minute. Pull
on your shoes; don't stop for stockings, and slip into your wrapper.
Don't ask questions," as Polly's lips moved.

Polly obeyed with an awful feeling at her heart. She glanced at
Phronsie's little bed; she was not there! Mrs. Fisher threw the pink
wrapper over her head; Polly thrust her arms into the sleeves, feeling
as if she were sinking way down. "Now come." And Mamsie seized her hand
and hurried her through her own room without another word. It was
empty. Father Fisher and Phronsie were nowhere to be seen. And now for
the first time Polly was conscious of a great noise out in the
corridor. It seemed to spread and fasten itself to a number of other
noises, and something made Polly feel queerly in her throat as if she
should choke. She looked up in her mother's eyes, as they sped through
the room.

"Yes, Polly," said Mother Fisher, "it is fire. The hotel is on fire;
you will be brave, my child, I know."

"Phronsie!" gasped Polly. They were now in the corridor and hurrying
along.

"She is safe; her father took her."

"Oh, Mamsie, Jasper and Grandpapa!"

"They know it; your father ran and told them. Obey me, Polly; come!"

Mrs. Fisher's firm hand on her arm really hurt Polly, as they hurried
on through the dense waves of smoke that now engulfed them.

"Oh, Mamsie, not this way; we must find the stairs." But Mrs. Fisher
held her with firmer fingers than ever, and they turned into a narrower
hall, up toward a blinking red light that sent a small bright spark out
through the thick smoke, and in a minute, or very much less, they were
out on the fire-escape, and looking down to hear - for they couldn't
see - Jasper's voice calling from below, "We are all here, Polly," and
"Be careful, wife, how you come down," from Dr. Fisher.

"Oh," cried Polly, as the little group drew her and Mamsie into their
arms, "are we all here?"

"Yes, Polly; yes, yes," answered Jasper. And "Oh, yes," cried old Mr.
King, his arm around Phronsie, "but we shouldn't have been but for this
doctor of ours."

"And Mr. and Mrs. Henderson?" cried Polly, shivering at Grandpapa's
words.

"We are here, dear child," said the parson's wife, pressing forward,
and then the crowd surged up against them this way and that, and more
people came down the fire-escape, and some were screaming and saying
they had lost everything, and they must go back for their jewels, and
one woman brought down a big feather pillow, and set it carefully on
the grass, she was so crazed with fright.

"O dear, dear, can't we help them?" cried Polly, wringing her hands,
"Look at that girl!"

She was about as old as Polly, and she rushed by them plunging into the
thickest of the crowd surging up against the fire-escape. "I'm going
up," she kept screaming.

Polly remembered her face as she flashed by. She sat at the next table
to theirs in the dining room, with a slender, gentle, little old lady
whom she called "Grandmamma." "O dear!" groaned Polly, "we _must_ help
her!"

Jasper dashed after the girl, and Polly ran, too. He laid his hand on
the arm of the flying figure as she broke through the crowd, but she
shook him off like a feather. "She's up there," pointing above, "and I
must get her."

One of the firemen seized her and held her fast. Jasper sprang for the
fire-escape. "_Jasper!_" called Polly, hoarsely, "it will kill
Grandpapa if you go - oh!" She turned at a cry from the girl, whose arms
were around a bent, shaking, little figure, and they had both sunk to
the ground.

"I brought her down long ago," said another fireman, who could speak
English, pointing to the white-haired old lady, who, on hearing her
granddaughter's voice, had pushed her way through the crowd, as Dr.
Fisher hurried up.

And then Mr. King and his party gathered his group, and they hurried to
another hotel close by, Jasper and Mr. Henderson and Mother Fisher
waiting to see to the belongings of the party; for the fire was now
subdued, although the guests had to go elsewhere for shelter, and the
little doctor was in his element, taking care of the old lady, and then
he rushed off to look after a score or more of other fainting women.

But nobody was really hurt - the smoke and the panic had been the worst,
only the poor thing who had dragged down the feather pillow sat by it
till the little doctor, discovering her, called two stout men, who took
her up in their arms - she screaming all the while for her treasure - and
bore her to a neighbouring house that kindly opened its doors to some
of the people so suddenly thrown out of shelter. And it wasn't till
near breakfast time that the little doctor came to the hotel that was
now their home.

"Brain-fever patient," he said briefly. "Wife, I must get a cold
plunge, or I'll be having it next." And when breakfast was really set
before their party, he appeared with the others fresh from his bath,
and as cheery as if nothing had happened to break his good night's rest.

"O dear me! How did you ever get so many things over here, in all this
world, and why didn't you let me stay with you?" Polly had exclaimed in
one breath, looking at the array of dresses, sacks, and hats disposed
around the room. And Mamsie was kneeling before an open trunk to take
out more.

"It wasn't best, Polly," said her mother, who had longed for Polly as
no one knew better than did Mother Fisher herself. "You were really
needed here with Grandpapa and Phronsie. You truly were, my dear."

"I know," said Polly. "Well, do let me take those out, Mamsie; you're
tired to death, already. Oh, and you've brought my dear little American
flag!" She seized it and hugged it with delight.

"Did you suppose I could come back without that flag," exclaimed Mother
Fisher in a reproving tone, "when you've put it up in your room every
place where we've stopped? - why, Polly!"

"No, Mamsie, I really didn't think you could," answered Polly, quickly,
and running to her, little silk flag and all, to throw her arms around
her neck, "only it's so good to see the dear thing again."

"You may take the things from me, and hang them up somewhere," said her
mother; "that will help me the most," giving her an armful. "I don't
see how you ever thought of so many things, Mamsie!" exclaimed Polly
going off with her armful.

"I brought all I thought we needed just at first," said Mother Fisher,
diving into the trunk depths again.

"How did you ever do it?" cried Polly, for the fiftieth time, as she
sorted, and hung the various garments in their proper places.

"Oh, Jasper helped me pack them, and then he got the hotel porter to
bring over the trunks," answered Mother Fisher, her head in the trunk.
"I've locked up our rooms, and got the keys, so I can get the rest by
and by."

"But how did you first hear of the fire?" asked Polly, when they were
all finally seated around the breakfast table, little Mrs. Gray - for so
the white-haired old lady was called - and her granddaughter Adela being
invited to join, "do tell me, Mamsie, I don't understand," she added in
a puzzled way.

"No, you were talking about Marken in your sleep," said Mother Fisher,
"when I went to call you, and how you would be ready in the morning."

"Marken?" repeated old Mr. King, looking up from the egg he was
carefully breaking for Phronsie so that she might eat it from the
shell. "So we were going there this morning. Well, we won't see that
island now for a good many days; at least, till we get over this
fright. Beside, we have things to settle here, and to get comfortably
fixed. But we'll have that excursion all in good time, never fear."

"Well, how did you, Mamsie," Polly begged again, "first hear of the
fire? Do tell me."

"Somebody made a good deal of noise down in the corridor," said Mother
Fisher, "and your father went out to see what was the matter, and then
he came back and told me what to do, and he took Phronsie and went for
old Mr. King. But he had sent a porter to warn them in 165, and they
would tell the Hendersons in the next room, before he ran upstairs to
me." It was a long speech for Mother Fisher.

"Mamsie," asked Polly, suddenly, after she had leaned across her mother
and beamed at the little doctor, which so delighted him that his big
spectacles nearly fell off in his plate, "how _did_ you know where the
fire-escape was?"

"Oh, that was your father's doings, too," said Mother Fisher. She
couldn't help but show her pride. "He told me all about it the first
day we got to the hotel. He always does; he says it's better to know
these things."

"Wife - wife," begged the little doctor, imploringly.

"I'm going to tell, Adoniram," said Mother Fisher, proudly, "the whole
story; they ought to know."

"Indeed we had; and so you shall," commanded Mr. King, from the head of
the table.

"I can't help it! I really must!" exclaimed Polly, hopping out of her
chair, - there were no other people in the breakfast room beside their
party, so really it wasn't so very dreadful after all, - and she ran
back of her mother's chair, and threw her arms around the little
doctor's neck. "Oh, Papa Fisher," she cried, setting ever so many
kisses on his cheeks under the big spectacles, "you've saved all our
lives."

"There - there, Polly," cried the little doctor, quite overcome.

"And ours, too," said little Mrs. Gray, in a shaking voice.




XI

THE TWO BIRTHDAYS IN OLD HOLLAND


And Polly never knew about a certain shelf in Grandpapa's closet, nor
how full it was getting, when Jasper ran every now and then to add the
gifts as fast as the different members of the party picked up pretty
things in the shops for the coming birthday - now very near. And she
actually forgot all about the birthday itself; all her mind being set
on the Henderson box, so soon to sail off over the sea.

And Mother Fisher would look over at her absorbed face, and smile, to
watch her in the shops, picking out things for the Henderson boys; and
old Mr. King would send many a keen glance at her, and Jasper had hard
work not to exclaim, "Oh, Polly, father has got you a - " And then he'd
pull himself up, and rush off into some great plan to buy Peletiah
Henderson something that a Badgertown boy ought to have. And Phronsie


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Online LibraryMargaret SidneyFive Little Peppers Abroad → online text (page 6 of 19)