The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
By Margaret Sidney
Chapter Five: More Trouble
"Call upon Me in the day of trouble:
I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me."
~ Psalm 50:15 ~
h, dear," said Polly to herself the next morning,
trying to get a breakfast for the sick ones out of the inevitable mush. "Everything's
just as bad as it can be! They can't ever eat this. I wish I had an ocean of toast!"
"Toast some of the bread in the pail, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper.
She looked worn and worried. She had been up nearly all night, back and forth from
Ben's bed in the loft to restless, fretful little Phronsie in the big four - poster
in the bedroom, for Phronsie wouldn't get into the crib. Polly had tried her best
to help her and had rubbed her eyes diligently to keep awake, but she was wholly
unaccustomed to it, and her healthy, tired little body succumbed. And then when she
awoke, shame and remorse filled her very heart.
"That isn't nice, ma," she said, glancing at the poor old pail, which she
had brought out of the Provision Room. "Old brown bread! I want to fix 'em something
"Well, you can't, you know," said Mrs. Pepper with a sigh. "But you've
got butter now; that'll be splendid!"
"I know it," said Polly, running to the corner cupboard where the precious
morsel in the blue bowl remained. "What - ever should we do without it, mammy?"
"Do without it!" said Mrs. Pepper. "Same's we have done."
"Well, 'twas splendid in Mrs. Henderson to give it to us, anyway," said
Polly, longing for just one taste. "Seems as if 'twas a year since I was there.
Oh, ma!" And here Polly took up the thread that had been so rudely snapped:
"Don't you think she's got ten of the prettiest - yes, the sweetest little chickens
you ever saw! Why can't we have some, mammy?"
"Costs money," replied Mrs. Pepper. "We've got too many in the house
to have any outside."
"Oh, dear," said Polly with a red face that was toasting about as much
as the bread she was holding on the point of an old fork. "We never have had
anything. There," she added at last. "That's the best I can do; now I'll
put the butter on this little blue plate. Ain't that cunning, ma?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper approvingly. "It takes you, Polly."
So Polly trotted first to Ben, up the crooked, low stairs to the loft. And while
she regaled him with the brown toast and butter, she kept her tongue flying on the
subject of the little chicks and all that she saw on the famous Henderson visit.
Poor Ben pretended hard to eat but ate nothing really; and Polly saw it all, and
it cut her to the heart, so she talked faster than ever.
"Now," she said, starting to go back to Phronsie, "Ben Pepper, just
as soon as you get well, we'll have some chickens - so there!"
"Guess we shan't get 'em very soon," said Ben despondently, "if I've
got to lie here. And, besides, Polly, you know every bit we can save has got to go
for the new stove."
"Oh, dear," said Polly. "I forgot that; so it has. Seems to me everything's
"You can't bake any longer in the old thing," said Ben, turning over and
looking at her. "Poor girl, I don't see how you've stood it so long."
"And we've been stuffing it," cried Polly merrily, "till 'twon't stuff
"No," said Ben, turning back again. "That's all worn out."
"Well, you must go to sleep," said Polly, "or mammy'll be up here.
And Phronsie hasn't had her breakfast either."
Phronsie was wailing away dismally, sitting up in the middle of the old bed. Her
face pricked, she said, and she was rubbing it vigorously with both fat little hands
and then crying worse than ever.
"Oh, me! Oh, my!" cried Polly. "How you look, Phronsie!"
"I want my mammy!" cried poor Phronsie.
"Mammy can't come now, Phronsie dear; she's sewing. See what Polly's got for
you - butter: isn't that spIendid!"
Phronsie stopped for just one moment and took a mouthful; but the toast was hard
and dry, and she cried harder than before.
"Now," said Polly, curling up on the bed beside her, "if you'll stop
crying, Phronsie Pepper, I'll tell you about the cunningest, yes, the very cunningest
little chickens you ever saw. One was white, and he looked just like this,"
said Polly, tumbling over on the bed in a heap. "He couldn't stand up straight,
he was so fat."
"Did he bite?" asked Phronsie, full of interest.
"No, he didn't bite me," said Polly. "But his mother put a bug in
his mouth - just as I'm doing, you know," And she broke off a small piece of
the toast, put on a generous bit of butter, and held it over Phronsie's mouth.
"Did he swallow it?" asked the child, obediently opening her little red
"Oh, snapped it," answered Polly, "quick as ever he could, I tell
you. But 'twasn't good like this, Phronsie."
"Did he have two bugs?" asked Phronsie, eyeing suspiciously the second
morsel of dry toast that Polly was conveying to her mouth.
"Well, he would have had," replied Polly, "if there'd been bugs enough;
but there were nine other chicks, Phronsie."
"Poor chickies," said Phronsie, and looked lovingly at the rest of the
toast and butter on the plate; and while Polly fed it to her, listened with absorbed
interest to all the particulars concerning each and every chick in the Henderson
"Mother," said Polly toward evening, "I'm going to sit up with Ben
tonight. Say I may, do, mother."
"Oh, no, you can't," replied Mrs. Pepper. "You'll get worn out, and
then what shall I do? Joel can hand him his medicine."
"Oh, Joe would tumble to sleep, mammy," said Polly, "the first thing.
"Perhaps Phronsie'll let me go tonight," said Mrs. Pepper reflectively.
"Oh, no, she won't, I know," replied Polly decisively. "She wants
you all the time."
"I will, Polly," said Davie, coming in with an armful of wood in time to
hear the conversation. "I'll give him his medicine, mayn't I, mammy?" And
David let down his load and came over where his mother and Polly sat sewing to urge
"I don't know," said his mother, smiling on him. "Can you, do you
"Yes, ma'am!" said Davie, straightening himself up.
When they told Ben, he said he knew a better way than for Davie to watch. He'd have
a string tied to Davie's arm, and the end he'd hold in bed, and when 'twas time for
medicine, he'd pull the string, and that would wake Davie up!
Polly didn't sleep much more on her shakedown on the floor than if she had watched
with Ben. For Phronsie cried and moaned and wanted a drink of water every two minutes,
it seemed to her. As she went back into her nest after one of these travels, Polly
thought, "Well, I don't care if nobody else gets sick, if Ben'll only get well.
Tomorrow I'm goin' to do mammy's sack she's begun for Mr. Jackson. It's all plain
sewin', just like a bag; and I can do it, I know - " And so she fell into a
troubled sleep, only to be awakened by Phronsie's fretful little voice. "I want
a drink of water, Polly, I do. "
"Don't she drink awfully, mammy?" asked Polly after one of these excursions
out to the kitchen after the necessary draft.
"Yes," said Mrs. Pepper. "And she mustn't have any more; 'twill hurt
her." But Phronsie fell into a delicious sleep after that and didn't want any
"Here, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper the next morning. "Take this coat up
to Mr. Peters, and be sure you get the money for it."
"How'll I get it?" asked Joe, who didn't relish the long, hot walk.
"Why, tell 'em we're sick - Ben's sick," added Mrs. Pepper as the most
decisive thing, "and we must have it; and then wait for it."
"'Tisn't pleasant up at the Peterses'," grumbled Joel, taking the parcel
and moving slowly off.
"No, no, Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, "you needn't do that," seeing
Polly take up some sewing after doing up the room and finishing the semi - weekly
bake. "You're all beat out with that tussle over the stove. That sack'll have
to go till next week."
"It can't, mammy," said Polly, snipping off a basting thread. "We've
got to have the money; how much'll he give you for it?"
"Thirty cents," replied Mrs. Pepper.
"Well," said Polly, "we've got to get all the thirty centses we can,
mammy dear; and I know I can do it, truly - try me once," she implored.
"Well." Mrs. Pepper relented slowly.
"Don't feel bad, mammy dear," comforted Polly, sewing away briskly. "Ben'll
get well pretty soon, and then we'll be all right."
"Maybe," said Mrs, Pepper, and went back to Phronsie, who could scarcely
let her out of her sight.
Polly stitched away bravely. "Now if I do this good, mammy'll let me do it other
times," she said to herself.
Davie, too, worked patiently out of doors, trying to do Ben's chores. The little
fellow blundered over things that Ben would have accomplished in half the time, and
he had to sit down often on the steps of the little old shed where the tools were
kept, to wipe his hot face and rest.
"Polly," said Mrs. Pepper, "hadn't you better stop a little! Dear
me! How fast you sew, child!"
Polly gave a delighted little hum at her mother's evident approval.
"I'm going to do 'em all next week, mammy," she said. "Then Mr. Atkins
won't take 'em away from us, I guess."
Mr. Atkins kept the store and gave out coats and sacks of coarse linen and homespun
to Mrs. Pepper to make; and it was the fear of losing the work that had made the
mother's heart sink.
"I don't believe anybody's got such children as I have," she said, and
she gave Polly a motherly little pat that the little daughter felt clear to the tips
of her toes with a thrill of delight.
About half past two, long after dinner, Joe came walking in, hungry as a beaver but
flushed and triumphant.
"Why, where have you been all this time!" asked his mother.
"Oh, Joe, you didn't stop to play?" asked Polly from her perch where she
sat sewing, giving him a reproachful glance.
"Stop to play!"" retorted Joe indignantly. "No, I guess I didn't!
I've been to Old Peters's."
"Not all this time!" exclaimed Mrs. Pepper.
"Yes, I have too," replied Joel, sturdily marching up to her. "And
there's your money, mother." And he counted out a quarter of a dollar in silver
pieces and pennies, which he took from a dingy wad of paper stowed away in the depths
of his pocket.
"Oh, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper, sinking back in her chair and looking at him.
"What do you mean?"
Polly put her work in her lap and waited to hear.
"Where's my dinner, Polly?" asked Joel. "I hope it's a big one."
"Yes, 'tis," said Polly. "You've got lots today. It's in the corner
of the cupboard, covered up with the plate. So tell on, Joe. "
"That's elegant!" said Joel, coming back with the well - filled plate,
Ben's and his own share.
"Do tell us, Joey," implored Polly. "Mother's waiting."
"Well," said Joel, his mouth half full, "I waited - and he said the
coat was all right - and - and - Mrs. Peters said 'twas all right - and Mirandy Peters
said 'twas all right; but they didn't any of'em say anythin' about payin', so I didn't
think 'twas all right - and - and - can't I have some more butter, Polly?"
"No," said Polly, sorry to refuse him, he'd been so good about the money.
"The butter's got to be saved for Ben and Phronsie."
"Oh," said Joe, "I wish Miss Henderson would send us some more, I
do! I think she might!"
"For shame, Joe," said Mrs. Pepper. "She was very good to send this,
I think. Now what else did you say?" she asked.
"Well," said Joel, taking another mouthful of bread, "so I waited
- you told me to, mother, you know - and they all went to work; and they didn't mind
me at all, and - there wasn't anything to look at, so I sat - and sat - Polly, can't
I have some gingerbread?"
"No," said Polly, "it's all gone. I gave the last piece to Phronsie
the day she was taken sick."
"Oh, dear," said Joel. "Everything's gone."
"Well, do go on, Joe, do. "
"And - then they had dinner; and Mr. Peters said, 'Hasn't that boy gone home
yet?' and Mrs. Peters said, 'No' - and he called me in and asked me why I didn't
run along home; and I said, Phronsie was sick, and Ben had the squeezles - "
"The what?" said Polly.
"The squeezles," repeated Joel irritably. "That's what you said."
"It's measles, Joey," corrected Mrs. Pepper. "Never mind, I wouldn't
"Well, they all laughed and laughed, and then I said you told me to wait till
I did get the money."
"Oh, Joe," began Mrs. Pepper, "you shouldn't have told'em so - what
did he say?"
"Well, he laughed and said I was a smart boy, and he'd see; and Mirandy said,
'Do pay him, pa, he must be tired to death.' And don't you think, he went to a big
desk in the corner, and took out a box, and 'twas full most of money - lots! Oh!
And he gave me mine - and - that's all; and I'm tired to death." And Joel flung
himself down on the floor, expanded his legs as only Joel could, and took a comfortable
"So you must be," said Polly pityingly, "waiting at those Peterses'."
"Don't ever want to see any more Peterses'," said Joel, "never, never,
"Oh, dear," thought Polly as she sewed on into the afternoon, "I wonder
what does ail my eyes! Feels just like sand in 'em." And she rubbed and rubbed
to thread her needle. But she was afraid her mother would see, so she kept at her
sewing. Once in a while the bad feeling would go away, and then she would forget
all about it. "There, now, who says I can't do it! That's most done," she
cried, jumping up and spinning across the room to stretch herself a bit. "And
tomorrow I'll finish it."
"Well," said Mrs. Pepper, "if you can do that, Polly, you'll be the
greatest help I've had yet."
So Polly tucked herself into the old shakedown with a thankful heart that night,
hoping for morning.
Alas! When morning did come, Polly could hardly move. The measles! What should she
do! A faint hope of driving them off made her tumble out of bed and stagger across
the room to look in the old cracked looking glass. All hope was gone as the red reflection
met her gaze. Polly was on the sick list now!
"I won't be sick," she said. "At any rate, I'Il keep around."
An awful feeling made her clutch the back of a chair, but she managed somehow to
get into her clothes and go groping blindly into the kitchen. Somehow Polly couldn't
see very well. She tried to set the table, but 'twas no use. "Oh, dear,"
she thought, "whatever'll mammy do?"
"Hulloa!" said Joel, coming in. "What's the matter, Polly!" Polly
started at his sudden entrance and, wavering a minute, fell over in a heap.
"Oh, ma! Ma!" screamed Joel, running to the foot of the stairs leading
to the loft, where Mrs. Pepper was with Ben.
"Something's taken Polly, and she fell, and I guess she's in she's in the woodbox!"