XI. Dr. Fisher's Visit
 

Ben picked him up, as Mother Pepper and the others hurried out, on hearing David scream. Joel lay so still and white in Ben's arms that Polly turned quite faint. But when she saw Mamsie's face, she bent over to Phronsie. "Come here, Pet," she tried to say, as she drew her off that she might not see.

"What is it, Polly?" asked Phronsie, wonderingly. "What is Ben carrying Joey for?"

"Now I must wash off the cake-crumbs, they're all over your face, Phronsie," said Polly, desperately.

"Carry him into the bedroom," Mother Pepper was saying.

"Come, child," Polly pulled Phronsie hastily toward the woodshed, "you must really let me wash your face."

"Why do you want to wash it in the woodshed, Polly?" asked Phronsie, obstinately, holding back. "I want to wash it in Mamsie's nice bowl."

"Oh, Phronsie, please come," begged Polly, still holding her arm. "See, if you don't, I shall cry." Which was the truth as the tears were beginning to come in Polly's brown eyes. Seeing this, Phronsie yielded, and pattered along by Polly's side obediently, and allowed her little face to be scrubbed and wiped quite dry, Polly's heart all the while going like a triphammer, and her ears pricked up for any word that might tell her of Joel. At last she could bear it no longer.

"Phronsie," she said, when the round cheeks and hands were as clean as clean could be, "now look at me, dear."

Phronsie lifted her blue eyes and fixed them in wide-eyed astonishment on Polly's face.

"What makes you do so, Polly?" she asked wonderingly.

"Never mind," said Polly, with an awful feeling at her heart, it was so still out in the kitchen and bedroom. "Now, you must do just as I tell you, and not ask me any questions. Polly wants you to do it, to go and sit down on that bench," pointing to a little low one in the corner, "and not stir till I call you."

Phronsie looked over at the little bench.

"I'll go, Polly," she said with a sigh, "if you want me to."

Polly dropped a hasty kiss on the yellow hair, then fled on unsteady feet through the kitchen and into the bedroom. Mother Pepper was bending over Joel. Ben was holding the bowl of water, and Davie was crying and wringing his hands at the foot of the bed, with his eyes on Joel's face.

"You better go for Dr. Fisher, Ben," Mrs. Pepper said hoarsely, putting the wet cloth into the bowl.

Polly crept up to her side. "Hasn't Grandma Bascom anything?" she asked. "Shall I go and see?"

"No," said Mrs. Pepper. "And the doctor must see if he's broken any limbs, or is hurt inside." Ben was already out and running down the road at top speed.

It seemed an hour. It was really but ten minutes, when a step bounded out in the kitchen. Mrs. Pepper looked at Polly, who stole silently out, and with a gasp almost tumbled into the arms of a little man with very big spectacles. "Oh, Dr. Fisher!" she cried, "I'm so glad!"

"And I'm glad, too," said little Dr. Fisher, beaming at her. "Why, what's the matter, Polly, my girl?" as Polly seemed to be almost tumbling over. "You see, I've come to take Phronsie to ride. I haven't been able to a good while back," he mourned, "but perhaps you'd better go," setting his spectacles to take a keen look at her.

"Oh, Dr. Fisher! Ben's gone for you," gasped Polly, seizing his hand, to draw him to the bedroom door.

"Gone for me!" repeated Dr. Fisher, taking the words out of her mouth. "Who's sick?" and his face paled abruptly.

"Joel," gasped Polly; "he fell from the apple tree. Oh, do come, dear Dr. Fisher."

The little doctor was by this time in the bedroom. "Don't worry, ma'am," he said to Mrs. Pepper, then he hurried to the side of the bed and bent over Joel.

"I ain't sick," exclaimed Joel, opening his eyes to look up into the big spectacles. "I wish people'd let me alone," and he gave an irritable flounce. "Oh--it's Dr. Fisher," he finished joyfully.

"So it is," assented the little doctor, bobbing his head amiably, so that the big spectacles slipped down to the end of his nose. Then he looked to the others to keep still.

"You'll take me to ride with you in the gig, won't you, Dr. Fisher?" begged Joel. His face was still white, but his eyes were as bright as ever.

"Maybe," said the little doctor. "Well, now let's see. You've been playing up in the apple tree, haven't you?" Meanwhile, his long thin fingers were going rapidly all over Joel's bones and muscles.

"Yes," said Joel, nodding. "And I was a bear, Dr. Fisher."

"I used to play bear when I was no bigger than you are, Joel," said Dr. Fisher, whose fingers seemed to be everywhere at once.

"I don't b'lieve you were as big a bear as I was," said Joel, sturdily. "No, sir-ree! And I went clear out to the tip of th' apple tree. Now could you do that, Dr. Fisher?" he asked triumphantly.

"I wouldn't try it again, if I were you," said the little doctor, ignoring the question, while his fingers went rapidly on their work.

"And may I go to ride in your gig?" begged Joel, twisting away to the other side of the bed, "and what are you feeling my legs all over for?"

Little Dr. Fisher stood up quite straight and looked across at Mrs. Pepper. "He's sound as a nut," he said.

"Praise the Lord!" exclaimed Mother Pepper. Polly ran up to her and threw her arms around her. "Mamsie, just think, Joel's all well!" she cried convulsively.

Little Davie threw himself flat on the floor and cried as hard as he could. Polly ran over to him, "Why, Davie," she cried, getting down on the floor by his side, "don't you understand? Joel's all well. Dr. Fisher says so."

"I know it," sobbed Davie, "but I can't stop. I'm so happy, Polly."

"Well, you must stop," commanded Polly, firmly, "'cause you'll make Joel feel badly if he hears you, Davie."

So Davie hushed his tears. Since Joel might hear him, there must be no crying. But he sat on the floor, and wouldn't get up.

And then the door opened suddenly, and Ben hurried in with a white, disappointed face. "He isn't home, and they don't know when--Why!" for there sat little Dr. Fisher laughing and peering at him over his big spectacles.

"Yes, Joel may go to ride," said Dr. Fisher, when Ben had gotten over his surprise a bit; "that is, if Polly will give up her seat,--for I'd invited her," and he looked over at her.

"Yes, I will, indeed," said Polly, with a happy little laugh. "Oh, Joe, you'll have such a good time!" kissing his cheek, into which the color was slowly coming back.

"I know it," said Joel, wheeling over to give a roll out of bed.

"Take it easy," said Dr. Fisher, "there's plenty of time. Feel all right, my boy?"

"No, I don't," said Joel, standing on the floor. Mrs. Pepper's cheek paled, and an anxious look came into her black eyes at once.

"Whereabouts do you feel badly?" asked the doctor, in surprise.

"Here," said Joel, laying his hand on his jacket-front. "I'm so hungry."

"Do give him something to eat, Mrs. Pepper," said Dr. Fisher, laughing heartily, "then we'll be off. And Polly, you and I will have a ride next time," he said, darting off before Mrs. Pepper had a chance to pay him, or even to thank him.

"But that I never could do enough," she said, wiping her eyes on her apron, "but the Lord will, I know."

Joel was already in the gig, peeping out at them, and teasing Dr. Fisher to hurry. They had driven off, and been gone some time, when suddenly Polly started in dismay as she was setting the table for supper.

"You most dropped that dish, Polly," said little Davie, looking at her in amazement.

"I forgot--Phronsie--O dear!" gasped Polly, setting the dish in her hand suddenly on the table, and plunging out of the room.

There sat Phronsie in the woodshed on the little bench, her rusty little shoes placed patiently before her, and her hands folded in her lap. "I'm so tired, Polly," she said plaintively.

"So you must be!" cried Polly, in a spasm of remorse, and lifting her up. "Well, now we'll have such a nice time, Phronsie, you can't think," covering her with kisses.

"You never came, Polly," said Phronsie, mournfully shaking her yellow head, "never at all."

"Don't, Phronsie," cried Polly, almost smothering her as she hugged her tightly.

"Oh, Polly, you hurt me!" cried Phronsie.

"Did I, Pet? well, I won't do so any more. Now, says I, one, two--three, here we go into the kitchen!" and Polly set her down on the floor.

"It is nice to walk with my feet," said Phronsie, giving a long stretch to her fat little legs. "Little things kept sticking into 'em, Polly, most all the time."

"The prickles, from sitting still," said Polly. "Oh, Phronsie dear, I never shall forgive myself for forgetting you," as Phronsie pattered across the kitchen, to clamber into Mother Pepper's lap.

But notwithstanding all the wonderful things that happened that day, Joel didn't quite forget the circus, and he whispered to David that night, after they had hopped into bed, and pulled the sheet over their heads, "I'm goin' to have a circus of my own, so there!"

Little David was all worn out with the exciting events of the day, and he didn't hear him, as he fell asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow. So Joel, not finding it very much fun to talk when there was no one to listen, closed his eyes, and before he knew it, he was asleep too. Ben, looking across at the two little faces, as he came up into the loft to go to bed, said to himself, "Well, I'm thankful that Joe's asleep." And he gave a sigh of relief.

The next days were full of work. "Play can't come all the time," Mrs. Pepper observed wisely. She sent Polly down with the money for the doctor's visit, pinned up carefully in a paper, which the little doctor promptly returned the next day, Polly having left it, as he was away on his rounds. So Mrs. Pepper could do nothing but tie it into the old stocking-leg again, in the bureau drawer. "Children," she said, drawing them all up around her, "we must never forget to do something for Dr. Fisher, and may the Lord give us a chance soon. He's been so good to us."

"There never'll come a chance, Mamsie," said Polly, disconsolately, "we're so poor."

"Chances come, if people look for 'em," observed Mrs. Pepper, shortly, as she shut the drawer.

"We ain't poor," cried Joel, who never could bear to be called so.

"Yes, we are," said Polly, positively, "we are poor, Joel. That's the truth, Joel, and you oughtn't to mind hearing it."

"Well, we ain't goin' to be poor," declared Joel, confidently.

"When Joel's ships come in, I s'pose he means," said Ben, and the children shouted.

"I don't care," said Joel, when the laugh died down, "we ain't goin' to be poor when I git to be a man. I'm goin' to be awful rich."

"Well, you'll have to work when you're a boy, then," said Mrs. Pepper, sensibly. "Riches don't tumble into lazy folks' laps."

"Then I'm goin' to work right straight off," cried Joel, springing away on nimble feet. "Come on, Dave, and help pick those old rocks."

But a terrible shower came on, and drove them all within doors, and it grew so dark that Polly couldn't see to sew. So the three youngest children gathered around her and clamored for a story.

"Yes," said Polly, "I will. Let's get down on the floor in a ring." So they all sat down in the middle of the kitchen floor, after some delay, caused by Joel's vociferous demand to sit next to Polly.

"Phronsie must be one side," said Polly, "of course."

"Yes, I must, Joey," said Phronsie, cuddling up closer yet to Polly.

"Well, the other side, then," said Joel, struggling to slip in between Polly and little David, and twitching Davie's arm.

"Stop, Joe, and sit down over here," cried Ben, seizing him by the jacket, "else you shan't sit anywhere."

"Ow!" howled Joel, pulling smartly at David.

"Davie got here first," said Polly, "and he's younger. How can you, Joe?" she added reproachfully.

"He's always younger," said Joel, gloomily, "and I never sit next to you, Polly."

"Oh!" cried Polly, "yes, you did, Joel Pepper, just the very last time I told stories."

"Well, that was just forever ago," said Joel, still holding David's arm, and showing no disposition to give up.

"Well, I think if Mamsie should come in now," warned Polly, for Mrs. Pepper had gone over to Grandma Bascom's--the old lady having been sick for a day or two--and been caught there by the sudden shower, "and should see you, you'd feel badly, Joey."

At the mention of Mamsie, Joel's grasp on Davie's arm dropped, and he slunk back. Then Ben pulled him into a place next to him, quiet was restored, and Polly was soon launched on one of her wonderful stories, "Mr. Kangaroo and the silly little Duck," and presently they were all so absorbed that no one noticed the sun was shining brightly, until they heard a voice, "Well, I declare, sitting down in the day-time to tell stories!"

Polly sprang to her feet and stared.

"Ugh!" cried Joel, taking one look at their visitor. "I should think," said Miss Jerusha, the minister's sister, in a very tart voice, and raising her black mitts very high, "that children as old as you are could find some work to do, without sitting down to fold your hands and tell good-for-nothing stories."

"They aren't good-for-nothing," shouted Joel. "You haven't heard 'em; they're just beautiful!"

"Be still, Joe," commanded Ben. But Joel broke away from him, and jumped to his feet.

"And Mamsie lets Polly tell us stories," he blurted out fiercely.

"Well, then, she's a very unwise woman," said Miss Jerusha, calmly seating herself in Mrs. Pepper's rocking chair.

"She ain't!" screamed Joel, quite beside himself with rage.

"Our mother's just right," said Ben, slowly getting to his feet. There was a light in his pale blue eyes as he bent them on Miss Jerusha, that made her look away a minute, but she soon returned to the charge. "I never was allowed to sit idle in the day-time," she said, "when I was a little girl."

"I don't believe you ever were little," said Joel, bluntly, and glaring at her across the kitchen.

"Joel, Joel!" cried Polly, in great distress. "Oh, please excuse him, Ma'am, he never talks so, and Mamsie will feel so very badly, when she knows it."

"I am very glad I came," said Miss Jerusha, sitting up stiff and tall, "for you children need some instruction, I can plainly see. Poor things! well, it's not to be wondered at, when we consider you've had no bringing up."

"We have had bringing up, Miss Jerusha," said Ben. "Children, you go into the bedroom, and shut the door, and stay there," he said to the three little ones. And never having seen him so before, the two boys went off wonderingly, without a word, and holding Phronsie by the hands. "Our mother is our mother," went on Ben, proudly, "the very best mother in all the world, and she's brought us up, oh, how she has worked to bring us up! and if we're naughty, it's all our own fault!" It was a long speech for Ben to make, and Polly stared at him in an amazement mingled with pride, while her breast heaved, and she clasped her hands tightly together, so afraid she should speak a word and spoil it all, for Miss Jerusha was really uncomfortable, that they could both see.

Meantime, Joel was climbing out of the bedroom window. "I'm goin' to Grandma Bascom's for Mamsie," he cried passionately.

"We must stay here, Phronsie," said little Davie, holding tightly to her hand, and standing still in the middle of the floor, "'cause Ben told us to, you know."

"Ugh!" they could hear Joel exclaim, as he jumped clear of the window sill to the grass beneath; but they didn't know that the old cracked pane of glass had given away under his hand, nor that a little stream of blood was trickling down his wrist, as he raced over through the lane, and rushed into Grandma Bascom's little cottage.