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was carefully guarded on all sides these days, lest she should let out
the great secret, for, of course, she ought to be in the very centre of
all these preparations to celebrate Polly's birthday in Old Amsterdam,
so she knew everything just as soon as it was planned. But sometimes,
with all this care, the whole thing nearly popped out.

"Mr. King!" It was Mother Fisher who called after him, and her voice
didn't sound like hers, for it had an excited little ring. "Oh, are you
going out?" for she didn't see that he held his hat in his hand till he
turned in the corridor.

"I can wait just as well if it's anything you want, Mrs. Fisher," he
said gladly, controlling his surprise at her unusual manner. "I was
only about to run down to the Kalver-straat for a little matter I just
thought of for the birthday. Can I do anything for you?" he begged.

"Yes, it's just that," said Mrs. Fisher, hurriedly; "it's about the
birthday - I must speak quickly - I've just found out, - " she glanced up
and down the corridor as if fully expecting to see Polly dash around a
corner, - "that Adela Gray's birthday is to-morrow - "

"The dickens! You don't say so!" exploded Mr. King. "Well, now, I call
that very clever on your part to have found it out. Very clever indeed,
Mrs. Fisher," he repeated, beaming at her. "And just in time, for it
would have been a dreadful thing, indeed, to have had that poor little
girl left out, and her birthday too! Dear me!"

"It would, indeed," said Mrs. Fisher, heartily, with a shiver at the
mere thought.

"And we might as well have had no celebration in such a case, for Polly
wouldn't have enjoyed a single bit of it - not an atom!" declared old
Mr. King, bringing his walking stick heavily down on the floor.

"What is it - oh, Grandpapa, what is it?" and Polly came hurrying along
the corridor, and Jasper after her.

"Here she comes!" exclaimed Grandpapa, in a fright. "Glad you told
me - Hush - O dear me - I'll take care of the gifts."

"And I'm to do the rest - just the same - Doctor Fisher and I. Remember!"
It was all Mrs. Fisher had time to utter. Even then, Polly caught the
last words in the flurry.

"Oh, what is it, Mamsie - Is anything the matter with Papa-Doctor?" And
her brown eyes filled with alarm at her mother's unusual manner.

"Polly," Mrs. Fisher looked into the brown eyes with a steady glance,
and all the hurry was gone out of her voice, "your father is all right.
And now, run away, you and Jasper." She looked over Polly's shoulder at
him as she spoke. "No, not another word, child." And away Mrs. Fisher
hurried, while old Mr. King slipped off in the opposite direction.

"How funnily they act," said Polly, looking first after one and then
another, with a puzzled face. "What can it be, Jasper?"

"Oh, well, I suppose they are in a hurry," said Jasper, as carelessly
as he could. "Never mind, Polly, everything is all right. Oh, I say,
let's fix our stamp books."

"But I was going to ask Grandpapa to go out with us, and now he's gone
by himself," and Polly's face grew more puzzled than ever.

"Polly," said Jasper, desperately, "I really think we ought to fix our
stamp books. I really do," and he took her hand. "My stamps are all in
heaps in the envelopes, and in a mess generally. Come, let's begin
now - do." And he led her back down the corridor.

"I suppose so," said Polly, with a reluctant little sigh, as they went

And that afternoon, there was another narrow escape, when it seemed as
if the secret really must pop out. Polly, rushing along to the reading
room opposite the big dining room, saw Mother Fisher in consultation
with the head waiter, and he was saying "cake," and then he stopped
suddenly, and Mrs. Fisher turned and saw her. And Mamsie came across
the hall, and into the reading room, and sat there a bit, while Polly
tossed off a letter to Alexia Rhys, that had been worrying her for
days. And there was a funny little smile tucked away in the corners of
Mother Fisher's mouth, and Polly thought that things were getting
queerer than ever.

"I am glad you are writing that letter," said Mrs. Fisher, with an
approving smile that chased the funny little one all around the
strongly curved mouth, "for Alexia will feel badly not to hear often
from you, Polly."

"I know it," said Polly, wrinkling her brows, "and I didn't mean to let
this wait so long," scribbling away as fast as she could.

"Take care, Polly," warned her mother; "a carelessly written letter is
no compliment, and it gets you in a bad way. Don't hurry so, child," as
Polly's pen went scratching across the paper at a fearful rate.

"But there are so many letters to write to all the girls," said Polly,
stopping a minute to look at her mother, "and I've only just got all
the letters in my steamer mail-bag answered. I _must_ write to Cathie
and Philena, and Amy Garrett too, to-day, Mamsie," she added, in

"Polly," said Mother Fisher, looking into the flushed face, "I tell you
what would be the best way for you to do. All the letters in your
mail-bag are answered, you said?"

"Yes, indeed," declared Polly. "Oh, Mamsie, you didn't think I could
put those off?" she asked reproachfully.

"No, Polly, I really didn't," Mrs. Fisher made haste to assure her.
"Well, now, mother will tell you what will be the best way for you to
do. Write as good a letter as you can to Alexia, and tell her to send
it around to all the girls, for a kind of a bulletin, and - "

"Oh, Mamsie Fisher," cried Polly, not stopping to hear the rest, but
deserting the writing table to run and throw her arms around her
mother's neck, "you're the bestest, dearest mother in all this
world - oh - oh! Now I sha'n't have but one letter to write! How fine!"

"And you must write that one letter very nicely, Polly, and take ever
so much pains with it," said Mother Fisher, her black eyes shining at
the happy solution; "and that is much better than to hurry off a good
many slovenly ones. Besides, it is not well to take your time and
strength for too much letter writing, for there are the boys, and Mrs.
Whitney and - "

"Grandma Bascom and dear Mrs. Beebe," finished Polly. "Oh, I couldn't
ever forget them, Mamsie, in all this world." She stopped cuddling
Mother Fisher's neck, to peer into the black eyes.

"No, you mustn't ever forget them," repeated Mrs. Fisher, emphatically,
"in all this world, Polly. Well, get to work now over your one letter
that's to be a bulletin!"

"I shall tear this one up," declared Polly, running back to get into
her chair again. "O dear me, what a horrible old scrawl," she cried,
with a very red face. "I didn't know it did look so bad" And she tore
it clear across the page, and then snipped it into very little bits.

"That's the result of hurry," observed Mother Fisher, wisely, "and I
would begin all over again, Polly."

So Polly took a fresh sheet and set to work; and Mrs. Fisher, seeing
her so busily occupied, soon stole out. And there was the head waiter
waiting for her in the dining room, and Polly never heard a word they
said, although "cake" was mentioned a great many times, and several
other things too.

But the next morning Polly Pepper woke up to the fact that it was her
birthday. For there was Mamsie leaning over her pillow, the first thing
she saw the minute her eyes were opened. And Phronsie was sitting on
the end of the bed with her hands folded in her lap.

When she saw Polly's eyes open, she gave a little crow and darted
forward. "Oh, I thought you never would wake up, Polly," she said,
throwing her arms around Polly's neck.

"Yes, this child has been sitting there a whole hour, Polly." Mother
Fisher gave a merry little laugh, and then she began to drop kisses on
Polly's rosy cheek - ever so many of them.

Polly's dewy eyes opened wide.

"It's your birthday, don't you know!" exclaimed Phronsie, trying to
drop as many kisses and as fast, on Polly's other cheek, and to talk at
the same time.

"Mamsie Fisher!" cried Polly, springing up straight in the middle of
the bed, nearly knocking Phronsie over. "Why, so it is. Oh, how could I
forget - and sleep over. And I'm fifteen!"

"You're fifteen," repeated Mother Fisher, setting the last little kiss
on Polly's cheek, - "and it's the best thing you could possibly do, to
sleep over, child. Now, then, Phronsie, let us help her to get dressed."

Wasn't there a merry time, though, for the next half-hour, till Polly
had had her bath, and was arrayed, Mother Fisher and Phronsie here,
there, and everywhere, helping to tie and to hook Polly's
clothes - Phronsie bringing her little silver button-hook that Auntie
Whitney gave her, declaring that she should button Polly's boots.

"Oh, no, child," protested Polly. "I'll button them myself," flying off
for the boots.

But Phronsie piped out, hurrying after her, "I have them, Polly," and,
sure enough, there they were, one under each arm; "do let me,
Polly - do, please!" she begged.

"I would, Polly," advised Mrs. Fisher, "for Phronsie really has set her
heart on doing it."

So Polly sat down in the low chair, and put out her foot, feeling very
queer indeed, and as if she ought to be doing up Phronsie's boots
instead. And Phronsie curled up on the floor, and patiently drew every
one of the buttons into place, and buttoned them fast. And then on with
the other boot.

"There, now, I did do them all by myself," she announced, getting up
from the floor, and smoothing down her gown with much importance. "I
did truly, Polly."

"So you did, Pet," cried Polly, sticking out both feet to look at them.
"You buttoned every single one of those buttons up splendidly, Phronsie
Pepper. Now my toes will be just as happy all day; oh, you can't think
how happy they'll be." And she seized her, half smothering her with

"Will they?" cried Phronsie, coming out of the embrace to peer up into
Polly's face, in a transport. "Will your toes really and truly be
happy, Polly?"

"They'll be so happy," declared Polly, with a little wriggle of each
foot, "that they'll want to sing, only they can't," and she burst out
into a little laugh.

"Put on your blue dress, Polly," said Mother Fisher, coming out of the
closet to hurry operations a bit.

"Oh, Mamsie," begged Phronsie, "mayn't Polly wear her white one? Do,
Mamsie, please!" She ran up to her mother pleadingly.

"Polly will wear a white gown to-night," said Mother Fisher, her eyes
shining, and the same funny little smile hiding in the corners of her
mouth; "but this morning she would better put on her blue gingham."

"Yes, that's best," said Polly, reassuringly, running off to get it out
of the big bureau drawer. "It's all done up spick and span," drawing it
out. "Mamsie, don't these Dutch women do up things well, though?"

"They do, indeed," assented Mrs. Fisher, with a critical eye for the
blue gingham; "but I really suppose the Swiss beat them, Polly."

"Well, they must be just perfect, then," said Polly, putting the blue
gown carefully over her head. "Mamsie, I just love this dress."

"Yes, it is pretty," said Mother Fisher, with an approving eye for the
dainty ruffles, "and you keep your clothes cleaner than you used to,
Polly; you're improving."

"I used to get them all mussed up just as soon as could be," mourned
Polly, her cheeks rosy at the remembrance. "Mamsie, how much trouble
I've made you." She stopped dressing, and sprang over to Mrs. Fisher.
Phronsie, trying to button on the waistband, and clinging to it, went
stumbling after.

"Take care," warned Mrs. Fisher, "don't muss it; it looks so nice now."

"There, there, Phronsie, I'll do that," said Polly, a trifle
impatiently, looking over her shoulder.

"Oh, I want to, Polly," said Phronsie, fumbling for the button. "Do let
me; I want to."

"No, I can do it myself," said Polly, trying to whirl off from the busy
little fingers.

"Polly," began Mother Fisher, who saw what Polly couldn't, Phronsie's
little face very red with her exertion, and the brown eyes filling with

"Well, I declare," cried Polly, at sound of her mother's tone; "so you
shall, Phronsie. Now I'll stand just as still as a mouse, and you shall
make that old button fly into its hole."

"So he shall, old button fly into his hole," laughed Phronsie through
her tears. And presently she declared it was done. And with a final
pat, this time from Mother Fisher's fingers, Polly was released, and
the rest of the dressing was soon done.

And there, waiting at the end of their corridor, was Jasper, in every
conceivable way trying to get the better of his impatience. When he did
finally see Polly, he dashed up to her. "Well, are you really here?"

"Yes," cried Polly, scampering on, with Phronsie clinging to her hand,
"I really believe I am, Jasper. But don't let's go faster than Mamsie,"
looking back for her.

"You all run on," said Mother Fisher, laughing, "I shall get there
soon; and really, Mr. King has waited long enough," she added to

And, indeed, Mr. King thought so too, and he couldn't control his
delight when the three danced into the little private parlour, opening
out from his bedroom, and came up to his side.

"I slept over," said Polly, in a shamefaced little way; "I'm sorry,
Grandpapa dear."

"You needn't be; not a bit of it," declared Grandpapa, holding her off
at arm's length to scan her rosy face; "the best thing you could
possibly do" - Mamsie's very words. So Polly felt relieved at once. "And
now we will wait for Mrs. Fisher," he added, with a glance at the door.

"Here she is," piped Phronsie, who had been regarding the door

"Yes, here she is," repeated old Mr. King, in great satisfaction,
holding Polly fast. "Well, now, Mrs. Fisher, that you have come, we'll
begin our festivities. Our Polly, here, is fifteen years old
to-day - only think of that!" Still he held her fast, and bent his
courtly white head to kiss her brown hair.

Polly clung to his other hand. "It can't be a house celebration, Polly,
my dear, with a party and all that, but we'll do the best we can. And
to add to our pleasure, and to be company for you" (not a suggestion of
the pleasure he was to give), "why, we've another little girl with us
who has chosen this very day for her birthday, too. Adela, come here."

Adela Gray, who had been standing silently, looking on with a sad heart
at finding herself with a birthday on her hands, and no one to
celebrate it with her, though for that matter all her birthdays had
been rather dismal affairs at the best, in the Paris school, now shrank
back at Mr. King's sudden summons, and hid behind her grandmother's
black gown.

"Come, Adela," commanded Mr. King, in a tone that brooked no further
delay. So she crept out, and stood in front of him.

"Oh, Adela!" exclaimed Polly, in a transport, drawing her up by her
other hand, for still Grandpapa held her fast. "Is it your birthday
too? How perfectly elegant! oh, oh!"

And everybody said, "How fine!" And they all were smiling at her. And
Adela found herself, before she knew it, coming up out of her old
despair into brightness and warmth and joy. And she never knew when old
Mr. King proclaimed her fourteen years old, and dropped a kiss - yes, he
actually did - on her head. And then she found herself on his other
side, by the big centre table, that was covered with a large cloth. And
Polly made her put her hand under it first, saying, "Oh, no, Grandpapa,
please let Adela pull out the first parcel." And lo, and behold - she
held a neat little white-papered bundle tied with a blue ribbon.

"Open it," cried Jasper, as she stood stupidly staring at it, in her
hand. "Don't you see it's got your name on it?" But Adela didn't see
anything, she was so dazed. So Jasper had to open it for her. "We may
thank our stars the first parcel happened to be for her," he was
thinking busily all the time he was untying the ribbon. And there was
just what she had wanted for, oh, so long - Mrs. Jameson's little books
on Art - her very own, she saw as soon as her trembling fingers opened
the cover.

After that, the skies might rain down anything in the shape of gifts,
as it seemed to be doing for Polly and for her; it didn't matter to
Adela; and she found herself, finally, looking over a heap of white
papers and tangled ribbons, at Polly Pepper, who was dancing about, and
thanking everybody to right and to left.

"Why don't - why don't - you - thank him?" old Mrs. Gray mumbled in her
ear, while the tears were running down her wrinkled cheeks.

"Let her alone," said old Mr. King, hearing her. "She's thanked me
enough. Now then, to breakfast, all of us! Come, Polly - come,
Adela - Jasper, you take Mrs. Gray," and the others falling in, away
they all went down to the big dining room, to their own special table
in the centre.

"I do so love what Joey sent me, and Ben and Davie," breathed Polly,
for about the fiftieth time, patting her little money-bag which she had
hung on her belt. Then she looked at the new ring on her finger very
lovingly, and the other hand stole up to pinch the pin on her trim
necktie, and see if it were really there. "Oh, Jasper, if the boys were
only here!" she whispered, under cover of the chatter and bustle around
the table.

"Don't let us think of that, Polly," Jasper made haste to say; "it will
make father feel so badly if he thinks you are worrying."

"I know it," said Polly, pulling herself out of her gloom in an
instant, to be as gay as ever, till the big sombre dining room seemed
instinct with life, and the cheeriest place imaginable.

"What good times Americans do have!" exclaimed a lady, passing the
door, and sending an envious glance within.

"Yes, if they're the right kind of Americans," said her companion,

All that wonderful day the sun seemed to shine more brightly than on
any other day in the whole long year. And the two girls who had the
birthday together, went here and there, arm in arm, to gladden all the
tired, and often discontented, eyes of the fellow-travellers they
chanced to meet. And when finally it came to the dusk, and Polly and
Adela were obliged to say, "Our birthday is almost all over," why then,
that was just the very time when Mother Fisher and the little doctor
(for he was in the plan, you may be very sure, only he wanted her to
make all the arrangements, "It's more in a woman's way, my dear," he
had said), - well, then, that was their turn to celebrate the double

"Where are those girls?" cried the little doctor, fidgeting about, and
knocking down a little table in his prancing across the room. Jasper
ran and picked it up. "No harm done," he declared, setting the books
straight again.

"O dear, did I knock that over?" asked Dr. Fisher, whirling around to
look at the result of his progress. "Bless me, did I really do that?"

"It's all right now," said Jasper, with a laugh at the doctor's face.
"Lucky there wasn't anything that could break on the table."

"I should say so," declared the little doctor; "still, I'm sorry I
floored these," with a rueful hand on the books. "I'd rather smash some
other things that I know of than to hurt the feelings of a book. Dear

"So had I," agreed Jasper, "to tell you the truth; but these aren't
hurt; not a bit." He took up each volume, and carefully examined the

When he saw that this was so, the little doctor began to fidget again,
and to wonder where the girls were, and in his impatience he was on the
point of prancing off once more across the room, when Jasper said, "Let
us go and find them - you and I."

"An excellent plan," said Dr. Fisher, hooking his arm into Jasper's and
skipping off, Jasper having hard work to keep up with him.

"Here - where are you two going?" called Mr. King after them. And this
hindered them so that Polly and Adela ran in unnoticed. And there they
were on time after all; for it turned out that the little doctor's
watch was five minutes ahead.

Well, and then they all filed into the big dining room, and there, to
be sure, was their special table in the centre, and in the middle of it
was a tall Dutch cake, ornamented with all sorts of nuts and fruits and
candies, and gay with layers of frosting, edged and trimmed with
coloured devices, and on the very tip-top of all was an elaborate
figure in sugar of a little Dutch shepherdess. And around this
wonderful cake were plates of mottoes, all trimmed in the Dutch
fashion - in pink and green and yellow - while two big bunches of posies,
lay one at each plate, of the two girls who had a birthday together in
Old Amsterdam.

"Oh - oh!" cried Polly, seizing her bunch before she looked at the huge
Dutch cake, and burying her nose deep among the big fragrant roses,
"how perfectly lovely! Who did do this?"

But no one said a word. And the little doctor was as sober as a judge.
He only glared at them over his spectacles.

"Grandpapa," gasped Polly, "you did."

"Guess again," advised Grandpapa. "Mamsie - " Polly gave one radiant
look at Mother Fisher's face.

Then Dr. Fisher broke out into a hearty laugh. "You've guessed it this
time, Polly, my girl," he said, "your mother is the one."

"Your father really did it," corrected Mother Fisher. "Yes, Adoniram,
you did, - only I saw to things a little, that's all."

"Which means that pretty much the whole business was hers," added the
little doctor, possessing himself of her hand under cover of the table.
"Well, girls, if you like your birthday party fixings, that's all your
mother and I ask. It's Dutch, anyway, and what you won't be likely to
get at home; there's so much to be said for it."



And as Mother Fisher observed, they would all enjoy Marken better for
the delay, for there would be more time to anticipate the pleasure; and
then there was the Henderson box to get ready, for Grandpapa King had
not only approved the plan; he had welcomed the idea most heartily. "It
will be a good diversion from our scare," he said, when Polly and
Jasper laid it before him.

"And give us all something to do," he added, "so go ahead, children,
and set to work on it." And Polly and Jasper had flown off with the
good news, and every one did "set to work" as Grandpapa said, diving
into the shops again.

Phronsie tried to find the mate to her china cat, that was by this time
sailing over the sea to Joel; and it worried her dreadfully, for, try
as she would, she never could see another one. And she looked so pale
and tired one night that Mr. King asked her, in consternation, as they
were all assembled in one corner of the drawing-room, what was the

"I wish I could find a cat," sighed Phronsie, trying not to be so
tired, and wishing the prickles wouldn't run up and down her legs so.
"We've walked and walked, Grandpapa, and the shop wouldn't come, where
it must be."

"What kind of a cat is it you want?" asked Adela Gray.

"It was just like Joey's," said Phronsie, turning her troubled blue
eyes on Adela's face.

"Well, what colour?" continued Adela.

"It was yellow," said Phronsie, "a sweet little yellow cat."

"With green eyes?"

"No, I don't think it's eyes were green," said Phronsie, slowly trying
to think, "but they were so pretty; and she had a pink ribbon around
her neck, and - "

"Oh, that settles it," declared Adela, quite joyful that she could help
the little Pepper girl in any way, "at least the pink ribbon round its
neck does, for I know where there is a cat exactly like that - that is,
the one I saw had green eyes, but everything else is like it - it's
sitting upon a shelf in a shop where I was just this very day, Phronsie

"Oh!" Phronsie gave a little gurgle of delight, and, slipping out of
her chair, she ran over to Adela. "Will you show me that shop
to-morrow?" she begged, in great excitement.

"To be sure I will," promised Adela, just as happy as Phronsie; "we
will go in the morning right after breakfast. May we, Mrs. Fisher?"
looking over to her, where she sat knitting as cosily as if she were in
the library at home. "For I think people who travel, get out of their
everyday habits," she had said to her husband, before they started,
"and I'm going to pack my knitting basket to keep my hands out of

And old Mr. King had smiled more than once in satisfaction to glance
over at Mother Fisher in her cosey corner of an evening, and it made
him feel at home immediately, even in the dreariest of hotel parlours,
just the very sight of those knitting needles.

And so, in between the picture galleries and museums, to which some
part of every day was devoted, the Peppers and Jasper and Adela, and
old Mr. King, who always went, and Mother Fisher, who sometimes was of

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Online LibraryMargaret SidneyFive Little Peppers Abroad → online text (page 7 of 19)