The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
By Margaret Sidney
Chapter Four: Trouble for the Little Brown House
"I was sick, and ye visited me"
~ Matthew 25:36 ~
h, 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 some - thing new besides this everlasting old breakfast! Why can't
"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 sh'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
"What'll they be?" asked Phronsie, in the greatest delight, prepared for
"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 to 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!
"Hoh!" 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 'm all like that,
"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!" ejaculated 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 phoohed and 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 today."
"Oh, dear," said Joel dismally. "I wish Mr. Blodgett's wood was all
"Never say that, Joel," said Mrs. Pepper, looking up sternly. "It's
biting your own nose off to wish that wood was afire - and besides, it's dreadfully
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
"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 ever an' ever have so many dishes
"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 tomorrow 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."
"It is?" 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 toward the Provision Room door, a stream of dishwater
following in its wake. "She will be wet clear through; do get off her things,
"Yes'm," cried Polly, picking up the tub and giving two or three quick
sops to the floor. "Here you are, Pussy," 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' only let me do "m all tomorrow."
"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
"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 dishwater
had run, while Polly went for dry stockings.
"So you shall," said Polly, coming back, a big piece of gingerbread in
"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, hob - nobbing 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 halfway 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 'spose."
"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."
Polly sighed, and feeling sure that something must be the matter with her mind, gave
her whole attention to the errand; till at last after a multiplicity of messages
and charges not to forget any one of them, Mrs. Pepper let her depart.
Up to the old - fashioned green door, with its brass knocker, Polly went, running
over in her mind just which of the messages she ought to give first. She couldn't
for her life think whether "if 'twas a chill he had yesterday" ought to
come before "how he slept." She knocked timidly, hoping Mrs. Henderson
would help her out of her difficulty by telling her without asking. All other front
doors in Badgertown were ornaments, only opened on grand occasions, like a wedding
or a funeral. But the minister's was accessible alike to all. So Polly let fall the
knocker and awaited the answer.
A scuffling noise sounded along the passage, and then Polly's soul sank down in dire
dismay. It was the minister's sister and not gentle little Mrs. Henderson. She never
could get on with Miss Jerusha in the least. She made her feel, as she told her mother
once, "as if I don't know what my name is." And now here she was; and all
Miss Jerusha unbolted the door, slid back the great bar, opened the upper half, and
stood there. She was a big woman, with sharp black eyes, and spectacles over which
she looked, which to Polly was much worse, for that gave her four eyes.
"Well, and what do you want?" she asked.
"I came to see - I mean my ma sent me," stammered poor Polly.
"And who is your ma?" demanded Miss Jerusha, as much like a policeman as
anything. "And where do you live?"
"I live in Primrose Lane," replied Polly, wishing very much
that she was back there.
"I don't want to know where you live before I know who you are," said Miss
Jerusha. "You should answer the question I asked first; always remember that."
"My ma's Mrs. Pepper," said Polly.
"Mrs. who?" repeated Miss Jerusha.
By this time Polly was so worn that she came very near turning and fleeing, but she
thought of her mother's disappointment in her, and the loss of the news, and stood
"What is it, Jerusha?" a gentle voice here broke upon Polly's ear.
"I don't know," responded Miss Jerusha tartly, still holding the door much
as if Polly were a robber. "It's a little girl, and I can't make out what she
"Why, it's Polly Pepper!" exclaimed Mrs. Henderson pleasantly. "Come
in, child." She opened the other half of the big door and led the way through
the wide hall into a big, old - fashioned room with painted floor and high, old sideboard
and some stiff - backed rocking chairs.
Miss Jerusha stalked in also and seated herself by the window, and began to knit.
Polly had just opened her mouth to tell her errand when the door also opened suddenly
and Mr. Henderson walked in.
"Oh!" said Polly, and then she stopped, and the color flushed up into her
"What is it, my dear?" And the minister took her hand kindly and looked
down into her flushed face.
"You are not going to have a fever, and be sick and die!" she cried.
"I hope not, my little girl." He smiled back encouragingly,
and then Polly gave her messages, which now she managed easily enough.
"There," broke in Miss Jerusha, "a cat can't sneeze in this town but
everybody'll know it in quarter of an hour."
And then Mrs. Henderson took Polly out to see a brood of new little chicks that had
just popped their heads out into the world; and to Polly, down on her knees, admiring,
the time passed very swiftly indeed.
"Now I must go, ma'am," she said at last, looking up into the lady's face
regretfully, "for mammy didn't say I was to stay.
"Very well, dear. Do you think you could carry a little pat of butter? I have
some very nice my sister sent me, and I want your mother to share it."
"Oh, thank you, ma'am!" cried Polly, thinking, "How glad Davie'll
be, for he does so love butter! Only - "
"Wait a bit, then," said Mrs. Henderson, who didn't seem to notice the
objection. So she went into the house, and Polly went down again in admiration before
the fascinating little puffballs.
But she was soon on the way with a little pat of butter in a blue bowl, tied over
with a clean cloth; happy in her gift for mammy and in the knowledge of the minister
being all well.
"I wonder if Phronsie's awake," she thought to herself, turning in at the
little brown gate. "If she is, she shall have a piece of bread with lots of
"Hush!" said Mrs. Pepper from the rocking chair in the middle of the floor.
She had something in her arms. Polly stopped suddenly, almost letting the bowl fall.
"It's Phronsie," said the mother, "and I don't know what the matter
is with her. You'll have to go for the doctor, Polly, and just as fast as you can."
Polly still stood, holding the bowl, and staring with all her might. Phronsie sick.
"Don't wake her," said Mrs. Pepper.
Poor Polly couldn't have stirred to save her life for a minute. Then she said, "Where
shall I go?"
"Oh, run to Dr. Fisher's - and don't be gone long."
Polly set down the bowl of butter and sped on the wings of the wind for the doctor.
Something dreadful was the matter, she felt, for never had a physician been summoned
to the hearty Pepper family since she could remember; only when the father died.
Fear lent speed to her feet, and soon the doctor came and bent over poor little Phronsie,
who still lay in her mother's arms, in a burning fever.
"It's measles," he pronounced, "that's all. No cause for alarm. You
ever had it?" he asked, turning suddenly around on Polly, who was watching with
wide-open eyes for the verdict.
"No, sir," answered Polly, not knowing in the least what "measles"
"What shall we do!" said Mrs. Pepper. "They haven't any of them had
The doctor was over by the little old table under the window, mixing up some black
- looking stuff in a tumbler, and he didn't hear her.
"There," he said, putting a spoonful into Phronsie's mouth. "She'll
get along well enough; only keep her out of the cold." Then he pulled out a
big silver watch. He was a little thin man, and the watch was immense. Polly for
her life couldn't keep her eyes off it; if Ben could only have one so fine!
"Polly," whispered Mrs. Pepper, "run and get my purse; it's in the
top bureau drawer."
"Yes'm," said Polly, by a violent wrench, taking her eyes off the fascinating
watch; and she ran quickly and got the little old stocking leg, where the hard earnings
that stayed long enough to be put anywhere always found refuge. She put it into her
mother's lap and watched while Mrs. Pepper counted out slowly one dollar in small
"Here, sir," said Mrs. Pepper, holding them out toward the doctor. "And
thank you for coming."
"Hey!" said the little man, spinning round. "That dollar's the Lord's!"
Mrs. Pepper looked bewildered and still sat holding it out.
"And the Lord has given it to you to cake care of these children with; see that
you do it." And without another word he was gone.
"Wasn't he good, mammy?" asked Polly after the first surprise was over.
"I'm sure he was," said Mrs. Pepper. "Well, tie it up again, Polly;
tie it up tight. We shall want it, I'm sure," sighing at her little sick girl.
"Mayn't I take Phronsie, ma?" asked Polly.
"No, no, " said Phronsie. She had got mammy, and she meant to improve the
"What is 'measles' anyway, mammy?" asked Polly, sitting down on the floor
at their feet.
"Oh,'tis something children always have," replied Mrs. Pepper. "But
I'm sure I hoped it wouldn't come just yet."
"I shan't have it," said Polly decisively. "I know I shan't! Nor Ben
- nor - Joe - nor - nor Davie - I guess," she added, hesitatingly, for Davie
was the delicate one of the family; at least not nearly so strong as the others.
Mrs. Pepper looked at her anxiously; but Polly seemed as bright and healthy as ever
as she jumped up and ran to put the kettle on the stove.
"What'll the boys say I wonder!" she thought to herself, feeling quite
important that they really had sickness in the house. As long as Phronsie wasn't
dangerous, it seemed quite like rich folks; and she forgot the toil and the grind
of poverty. She looked out from time to time as she passed the window, but no boys
"I'll put her in bed, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper in a whisper as Phronsie
closed her eyes and breathed regularly.
"And then will you have your dinner, ma?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper. "I don't care - if the boys come."
"The boys'll never come," said Polly impatiently. "I don't believe
- why, here they are now!"
"Oh, dear," said Joel, coming in crossly, "I'm so hungry - oh, butter!
Where'd you get it! I thought we never should get here!"
"I thought so too," said Polly. "Hush! Why, where's Ben?"
"He's just back," began Joel, commencing to eat, "and Davie. Something
is the matter with Ben - he says he feels funny."
"Something the matter with Ben!' repeated Polly. She dropped the cup she held,
which broke in a dozen pieces.
"Oh, whocky!" cried Joel. "See what you've done, Polly Pepper!"
But Polly didn't hear; over the big, flat door stone she sped and met Ben with little
David, coming in the gate. His face was just like Phronsie's! And with a cold, heavy
feeling at her heart, Polly realized that this was no play.
"Oh, Ben! she cried, flinging her arms around his neck and bursting into tears.
"Don't! Please - I wish you wouldn't. Phronsie's got 'em, and that's enough!"
"Got what?" asked Ben, while Davie's eyes grew to their widest proportions.
"Oh, measles!" cried Polly, bursting out afresh. "The hatefulest,
horridest measles! And now you're taken!"
"Oh, no, I'm not," responded Ben cheerfully, who knew what measles were.
"Wipe up, Polly, I'm all right. Only my head aches, and my eyes feel funny."
But Polly, only half reassured, controlled her sobs, and the sorrowful trio repaired
"Oh, dear!" ejaculated Mrs. Pepper, sinking into a chair in dismay at sight
of Ben's red face. "Whatever'll we do now!"
The prop and stay of her life would be taken away if Ben should be laid aside. No
more stray half- or quarter - dollars would come to help her out when she didn't
know where to turn.
Polly cleared off the deserted table - for once Joel had all the bread and butter
he wanted, Ben took some of Phronsie's medicine and crawled up into the loft to bed;
and quiet settled down on the little household.
"Polly," whispered Ben as she tucked him in, "it'll be hard buckling
- to now for you, but I guess you'll do it."