Then she hopped away from Polly and made a little cheese right on the sidewalk.
It was quite impossible that the detailed records presented through the later Pepper books, of the doings and sayings of the “Little Brown House” family, should omit Ben. He, the eldest-born of Mother Pepper’s brood, and her mainstay after the father died, the quiet, “steady-as-a-rock boy,” as the Badgertown people all called him, with lots of fun in him too, because he could not help it, being a Pepper, was worthy of a book to himself.
So the hosts of readers of the Pepper Series decided, and many of them accordingly be-sought the author to give Ben a chance to be better known. He was always so ready to efface himself, that it was Margaret Sidney’s responsibility, after all, to bring him more to the front, to be understood by all who loved his life in the earlier records.
So Margaret Sidney, despite Ben’s wishes, has written this latest volume. To do it, Polly and Joel and David and Phronsie have told her most lovingly the facts with which it is strewn. Most of all, Mother Pepper-Fisher contributed to the new book, out of a heart full of gratitude and love for her Ben.
“Oh, yes, the children can go as long as Ben and Polly are with them,” said Mother Fisher, with pride. “I’ll trust them anywhere,” her face said as plainly as if she had put it all into words.
“I wish I could go with them.” Mrs. Whitney took her gaze from the busy fingers sorting the pile of small stockings Jane had brought up from the laundry, and went abruptly over to the window with a troubled face.
“But you can’t,” said Mrs. Fisher, cheerfully, nowise dismayed at the number of holes staring up at her, “so don’t let us think any more of it. And Ben’s big enough to take them anywhere, I’m sure. And Polly can look after their manners,” she thought, but didn’t finish aloud.
“You see father didn’t know about this picture exhibit till Mr. Cabot’s note came a half hour ago, begging him not to miss it. And if I told him of the children’s plans, he’d give the whole thing up and stay at home rather than have them disappointed. He mustn’t do that.”
“Indeed he mustn’t!” echoed Mrs. Fisher, in her most decided fashion, and putting the last stocking into place on top of the big pile on the table. “Hush! Here comes Polly!”
“Oh, Mamsie!” Polly rushed up to the work-table. “Just think what splendid fun!” She threw her arms around Mrs. Fisher’s neck and gave her a big hug. “Isn’t Aunty Whitney too lovely for anything to take us out to buy our Christmas presents? Dear me! What richness!”
“Polly, see here, child,” Mother Fisher brought her face around to look into the rosy one; “Mrs. Whitney cannot — ”
Polly tore herself away with a gasp, and stood quite still, her brown eyes fixed on Mother Fisher’s face, and the color dying out of her cheek. “Do you mean we are not to go, Mamsie?” she cried, her hands working nervously; “we must!” she brought up passionately.
“You see, Polly,” Mrs. Whitney came quickly away from the window. Polly at that turned and stared in dismay. O dear! To think Aunty Whitney was there, and now she would be so distressed. “It is just this way,” Mrs. Whitney was hurrying on in quite as unhappy a state as Polly had feared: “Father has received word that there is a picture exhibit this afternoon, and I must go with him. I’m sorry, dear, but it can’t be helped.” She bent to kiss Polly’s cheek where the color had rushed this time up to the brown hair.
“I’m so sorry, too,” Polly burst out, clinging to Mrs. Whitney’s hand. Oh, why had she given way to her passion? The tears were running down her cheeks now, “I didn’t mean — ” she murmured.
“Why, you are going, Polly,” said Mrs. Whitney, comfortingly, and patting the brown hair.
“What?” exclaimed Polly, bringing up her head suddenly to stare into the kind face.
“Yes,” laughed Mrs. Whitney, “the Christmas shopping isn’t to be given up. Mrs. Fisher is going to let you and Ben take the children. Just think, Polly, that’s much better than to go with me,” she finished gayly.
All this time Mother Fisher had sat quite still, her black eyes fastened on Polly’s face. “I don’t know,” she said slowly, “about their going now.”
“Oh, Mrs. Fisher,” cried Mrs. Whitney, in dismay, “you can’t think of — ” but she didn’t finish, on seeing Mrs. Fisher’s face. Instead, she went softly out and closed the door.
“I didn’t mean — ” mumbled Polly again, and then she tumbled down on her knees and hid her face on Mamsie’s lap, and sobbed as hard as she could.
“Yes, that’s the trouble, Polly,” Mother Fisher’s hands were busy smoothing the brown hair; “you didn’t mean to, but you said it just the same; and that’s the mischief of it, not to mean to say a thing, and yet say it.”
“O dear me!” wailed Polly, burrowing deeper within the folds of the black alpaca apron. “Why did I? O dear!”
"O dear me," wailed Polly, burrowing deeper within the folds of the black alpaca apron.
Mother Fisher’s hands kept on at their task, but she said nothing, and at last Polly’s sobs grew quieter. “Mamsie,” she said faintly.
“I’m so sorry.”
“I know you are, child; but, Polly, there is no ‘must’ unless mother says so. And to fly into a passion — why, then you ought not to go at all.”
“Oh, I don’t want to go now, Mamsie,” cried Polly, flying up to sit straight on the floor, and brushing away the tears with a hasty hand, “I really don’t, Mamsie.”
“Well, then you see you’ll just keep the children at home,” said Mrs. Fisher; “for I can’t let Ben have all the care alone, and they’ll be so disappointed.”
Polly gave a groan and wriggled on the carpet in distress.
“You see, Polly, that’s the trouble when we give way to our passion; it hurts more than ourselves,” said Mother Fisher, “so I can’t see but that you have got to go.”
“Oh, I don’t want to, Mamsie; don’t make me,” cried Polly, squeezing her mother’s hands tightly in both of her own. “I can’t go now!”
“Tut, tut, Polly,” said Mrs. Fisher, reprovingly; “‘can’t’ isn’t the thing to say any more than ‘must.’” And her black eyes had such a look in them that Polly ducked her head, taking refuge in the lap again.
“And now you must get up,” said Mother Fisher, “and get ready, for I am going to let you and Ben take the children; that’s decided.”
“Oh, Mamsie!” Polly found her feet somehow, and flung her arms again around her mother’s neck; “you won’t trust me ever again. O dear me!”
“Yes, I will,” said Mrs. Fisher, quickly, and, seizing Polly’s hands, she made the brown eyes look at her; “why, Polly child, did you suppose Mother would let you go and help Ben take care of the children if she didn’t know you would do everything just right? Never say such a word as that again, Polly!” and the black eyes shone with love and pride. “And now hurry, child, for here’s Ben coming,” as steps sounded in the hall, and then his voice asking, “Where’s Mamsie?”
Polly flew up to her feet and stumbled over to the washstand. “O dear me!” she gasped, catching sight of her face in the long mirror on the way, “I can’t — oh, I mean my eyes are so red, and my nose, Mamsie! Just look at it!”
“That’s the trouble of crying and giving way to fits of passion,” observed Mrs. Fisher, quietly; “it makes a good deal of trouble, first and last,” as Ben came hurrying in.
Polly splashed the water all over her hot face with such a hasty hand that a little stream ran down the pretty brown waist, which only served to increase her dismay.
“Oh, Mamsie!” Ben was saying, “we’re not to go, after all. What a pity! Polly’ll be so sorry.” His blue eyes looked very much troubled. To have anything make Polly sorry hurt him dreadfully.
“Oh, yes, you are going, Ben,” Mrs. Fisher made haste to say.
“Why, Aunty Whitney can’t go,” said Ben, in surprise. “Grandpapa just said she is going out with him.”
“You didn’t say anything of the shopping plan, Ben?” ejaculated Mrs. Fisher, involuntarily, yet she knew she didn’t need to ask the question.
“Why, no,” said Ben, in amazement; “of course not, Mamsie.”
“Of course not, too,” said his mother, with a little laugh; “and why I asked such a stupid question, I’m sure I don’t know, Ben.”
All this gave Polly time to sop her face quite cool, and she had buried her red cheeks in the towel to dry them off, when Mother Fisher, having made Ben acquainted with the joyful news, called, “Come, Polly, it’s time to get on your hat and coat.”
“Halloo, Polly, you there?” cried Ben, whirling round, as Polly hurried into the little room next to get her out-of-door things.
“Yes,” called back Polly, on her way, “I’ll be ready in a minute, Ben.”
“Isn’t it no end jolly that we’re going, Polly?” he cried, deserting his mother to hurry over to the doorway where he could stand and see Polly get ready. His blue eyes shone and his head was held very high. To think that Polly and he were to be allowed to take the children out shopping amid all the excitement of Christmas week! It was almost too good to be true! “Say, Polly, did you ever know anything like it?” He came in and
“Yes, yes, I know. Ugh!” Polly, with all her eyes on the red-rimmed ones looking out at her from the mirror, beside what she saw of the poor swollen nose, jammed on the hat over her face and jumped away from the bureau.