XIII. Passengers for the Boxford Stage
 

"I declare, that's fine!" said Ben, the next day. It was dull and cloudy, and he squinted up at the sky. "There isn't a bit of wind. Now Mr. Blodgett'll have that bonfire, I guess; that'll suit you, Joe, as you can't have much fun with that hand."

Joel squealed right out. "That's prime! And I can pile in the sticks and straw just as well with my other hand."

"You aren't goin' to touch that bonfire, once it's lighted," declared Ben, in his most decided way. "Now you remember that, Joe Pepper!"

"There ain't any good in it, if I can't help," cried Joel, horribly disappointed.

"You can see it," said Ben, "same's David."

"Hoh! what's that!" cried Joel; "that won't be any fun."

"Then you can stay at home," said Ben, coolly. "As for having you, Joe, careering round that fire, and cutting up your capers, we ain't goin' to let you. Like enough you'd be half burnt up."

"Phoo!" cried Joel, in high disdain, and snapping the fingers of his well hand, "I wouldn't get afire."

"I wouldn't trust you. You'd be afire before you knew it. You needn't tease, Joe; Mamsie wouldn't allow it." And Ben walked off and shut the door.

"Ben never let's me do anything," howled Joel, twisting his face up into a dreadful knot, and wishing there was something he could do with his left hand, for the other was all tied up in a sling, Mother Pepper wisely concluding that to be the only way to keep it still. "If I tie it up, Joel, you can't use it," she had said, fastening the broad strip of white cloth firmly over his shoulder. And Joel, knowing there was no use in protesting, had borne it as well as he could, making Davie wait on him, and driving Polly almost to despair in her efforts to amuse him, while she did up the morning work, Mother Pepper being away. "Why don't you play stage-coach, Joel?" proposed Polly now, as Joel couldn't vent his disappointment loudly enough.

"That's no fun, with one hand," said Joel, disconsolately, drumming on the window pane.

"Some folks always drive with their left hand," said Polly.

"Mr. Tisbett doesn't," said Joel, gloomily regarding the bunch of white cloth that covered his right hand. "He always drives with this one," sticking it out, "'cept when he takes both."

"Well, you can play there's been an accident, and you got hurt, and so you had to drive with that hand," said Polly.

"So I can," cried Joel, bounding away from the window, "so I can, Polly Pepper. I'll have it right now, and it's to be a perfectly awful one. Come on, Dave, let's fix up the coach, and you get inside, and I'll upset you, and most smash everything to death." And Joel ran hither and thither, dragging the chairs, and Phronsie's little cricket, and everything movable into place as well as he could with one hand.

"Take care, Joe," warned Polly, wondering if she hadn't done wrong in proposing stagecoach, "don't fly round so. You'll hurt your hand. I'd get up on the front seat if I were you, and begin to drive."

"Would you have the horses run into something, Polly, kersmash," cried Joel, tugging at Mamsie's rocking chair to bring it into line, "or make the stage-coach tumble over and roll down hill?"

"Dear me," cried Polly, going into the pantry to mix up her brown bread, and wondering which would be the less of the two evils, "I'm sure I don't know, Joel."

"I'm goin' to have 'em do both," decided Joel. "Dave, pull this up, will you?" So little David ran and gave a lift on the other side of the big rocking chair, to haul it into place. "We'll run into somethin' an' th' horse'll shy, and that'll make the old stage-coach roll down hill. Gee-whickets!" he brought up, in huge delight.

"I shan't let you play it at all," said Polly, from the pantry, "if you say such words, Joel. You'll just have to stop and go and sit down. So remember."

Joel was clambering up into Mr. Tisbett's seat on the box, but he ducked his head at Polly's rebuke. "Get in, Dave," he shouted, recovering himself. "Hurry up. You're the passenger that wants to go to Boxford. You're awful slow. I'll drive off without you if you don't make haste," he threatened, gathering up in his left hand the bits of string that were fastened to a nail in the corner of the shelf.

Little David, feeling it a dreadful calamity to be left behind when he wanted to go to Boxford, hopped nimbly into the opening in the pile of chairs that represented the stage-coach, and off they drove.

"I can't hold my whip," cried Joel in distress, after a minute or so of bowling along on the road to Boxford, accompanied with much shouting to Mr. Tisbett's pair of black horses, and excitement generally as the stage-driver tried to get out of the way of the great number of teams on the turnpike. "O dear, it ain't any fun without the whip!" and the whole establishment came to a dead stop.

"I'll hold the whip," cried the passenger, eagerly, poking his head out of the stage-coach window.

"No, you won't, either," cried Joel. "You're the passenger. O dear me, there ain't any fun without th' whip!"

"Then I can drive," said little David. "Do let me, Joel," he pleaded.

"I won't either," declared Joel, flatly. "I'm Mr. Tisbett, and besides, there won't be anybody inside if you get up here."

"Phronsie might be passenger," said David, reflecting a moment.

"Goody, oh, so she might!" cried Joel, "and Seraphina too. And that'll make more upset. Then you may come up here, Dave," he promised. But when Polly was made acquainted with this fine plan, she refused to allow Phronsie to enter into such a noisy play. And Joel's face dropped so dismally that she was at her wits' end to know how to straighten out the trouble. Just then one of the Henderson boys came up to the door with a little pat of butter in a dish for Mrs. Pepper.

"Here comes Peletiah Henderson," announced Polly, catching sight of him through the window. "Now, p'r'aps he can stop and play with you, Joel."

"He ain't much good to play," answered Joel, who never seemed to be able to wake up the quiet boy to much action.

"Oh, Joel, he'll play real pretty, I guess," said Polly, reprovingly, "and he's such a good boy."

"He might be the passenger," said Joel, thinking busily, as Polly ran to the door to let the Henderson boy in. "We'll play he's the minister goin' over to preach in Boxford, and we'll upset him just before he gets there. Jump out, Dave, and get up here."

"I don't know as we ought to upset him if he's the minister," objected David, doubtfully, as he clambered up to Joel's side. Still, a perfect thrill of delight seized him at his promotion to the seat of honor, and his little hands trembled as Joel laid the precious whip within them.

"No, I guess I'd rather you had the reins," decided Joel, twitching away the whip to lay the bits of string in David's little brown hands. "You can drive first, 'cause I want to crack the whip awful loud as we start. And then I'll take 'em again."

David, who would much rather have cracked the whip, said nothing, feeling it bliss enough to be up there on the box and doing something, as Peletiah, a light-haired, serious boy, walked slowly into the kitchen.

"You're the passenger," shouted Joel at him, and cracking his whip, "and you're going over to Boxford. Hurry up and get into the stage-coach. I'm Mr. Tisbett."

"And I'm helping, Peletiah," cried David, turning a very pink and happy face down toward him.

"I don't want to go to Boxford," said Peletiah, deliberately, and standing quite still, while Polly ran into the pantry to slip the little pat of butter on to another plate.

"Oh, how good it looks!" she said, longing for just one taste.

"Well, you've got to go," said Joel, obstinately, "so get in."

"I don't want to go to Boxford," repeated Peletiah, not stirring.

Joel cracked the whip angrily, and glared down at him.

"P'r'aps he wants to go somewhere else," said little David, leaning forward and clutching the reins carefully, "and that'll be just as good."

"Do you?" asked Joel, crossly. "Want to go anywheres else, Peletiah?"

Peletiah considered so long over this that Joel, drumming with his heels on the dashboard, got tired out, and shouted, "Hurry up and get in--th' stage-coach's goin'!" which had the desired effect, to make the passenger skip in much livelier than he intended.

"Now we're goin' to Boxford," announced Joel, positively, cracking his whip at its loudest. "Be careful, David; hold the horses up."

"He said he didn't want to go to Boxford," put in little David, trembling all over at the vast responsibility of holding in Mr. Tisbett's black horses, and the passenger's being taken where he didn't want to go.

"Well, he didn't tell us where he did want to go," said Joel, "and th' stage is goin' to Boxford. Boxford, Box," he screamed to imaginary people along the road. "Anybody want to go to Boxford?"

"I said I didn't want to go to Boxford," interrupted the passenger in the general din.

"Well, you've got to," said Joel, "'cause the stage is goin' there. Boxford--Boxford! Anybody goin' to Boxford? Want to go, Marm?" an imaginary old woman sitting on a stone by the roadside.

"I'm goin' to get out," announced Peletiah, in a tone that convinced Joel that remonstrance was useless.

"No, you mustn't," cried Joel, "and you can't, either, for th' accident's comin' now," he added cheerfully.

Davie held his breath, and clutched the lines tighter yet, and Joel screamed shrilly, "Look out!" and gave an awful kick with his heels to the back of the top chair, and before anybody could say a word, over it came, knocking Davie with it, and before the passenger could get out, Mr. Tisbett and his assistant and the best part of the whole establishment seemed to be on top of him.

Polly heard the noise and came rushing out. "Oh, boys--boys!" she cried in a fright, "are you hurt?" for everything seemed to be in a heap together, with some small legs kicking wildly about, trying to extricate the persons to whom they belonged.

"I ain't," announced Joel, hopping out of the heaps and shaking the black hair out of his eyes. "Oh, Polly, it was such fun!" he cried.

"Davie! Davie and Peletiah!" cried Polly, an awful dread at her heart, on account of the little guest, as she hung over the wreck, pulling busily at the chairs, "are you all safe?"

Little David tried to speak, but his head ached dreadfully, and the breath seemed to have left his body. Peletiah said slowly, "I barked my shin, and I didn't want to go to Boxford."

"O dear me," exclaimed Polly, fishing him out, "that's too bad! Joel, you oughtn't to have taken him to Boxford if he didn't want to go."

"That wouldn't 'a' made any difference," declared Joel, "'cause we had to get upset, anyway."

"Well, Davie's hurt, I expect," said Polly, looking Peletiah carefully all over, as in duty bound to a guest, as he stood up before her.

"Oh, no, I ain't, Polly," said little David, trying to speak cheerfully, and crawling out with a big lump on his forehead.

"O dear me!" exclaimed Polly, at sight of it. "Well, I'm glad, child, it's no worse," as she rapidly examined the rest of him. "Now you must have some pieces of wet brown paper on that."

"I'm glad I haven't got to have wet brown paper all over me," declared Joel, with a grimace--"old, slippery, shiny brown paper."

"I barked my shin," gravely announced Peletiah, standing quite still.

"Oh, so you did," cried Polly, with a remorseful twinge. "Now you must wait, Davie, till I fix Peletiah up, for he's company, you know."

"I guess Grandma's got some wormwood--the stuff she made for Phronsie's toe when 'twas pounded," suggested Joel, quite oblivious to the black looks which Peletiah was constantly casting on him.

"You may run over and see," said Polly. "O dear me, no, you can't, Joe, just look at your hand!" as she happened to glance up.

Joel looked down quickly at the big white bundle in the sling. "There ain't nothin'--" He was going to say, "the matter with my hand, Polly," when he saw some very red spots spreading quickly along its surface.

"Oh, now you've burst open the cut," cried Polly, forgetting herself, and turning quite white. "What shall we do, and Mamsie away!"

Little David, at that, burst into a loud cry, and Joel tried to say, "No, I haven't," but looking very scared at Polly's scream.

"Oh, I'll fix it, Joe," she exclaimed in haste, though how she managed to get the words out she never knew. "Let me see, Mamsie would untie it if she were here, and put on court plaster. Now, David, you run over to Grandma's and ask her to give us some more. She told us to come if we wanted it, and I'll put on a fresh piece just as tight, oh, you can't think!" Polly kept talking all the time, feeling that she should drop if she didn't, and little David, forgetting all about the lump on his forehead, that now was most as big as an egg, ran off as fast as he could, and presently returned with the court plaster, waving it over his head.

Polly took off the bloody rag, setting her lips tightly together, until she saw Joel's face again. Then she began quickly, "Oh, what a nice time you're goin' to have at the bonfire, Joe!"

"Is there goin' to be a bonfire?" asked Peletiah, with more interest than he had hitherto shown.

"Yes," said Polly, "there is, Peletiah. Mr. Blodgett's goin' to burn up all that rubbish left after he pulled down his cow-pen, you know."

"When's he goin' to burn it?" continued Peletiah.

"This afternoon," said Polly. "Ben's over there, and Joel's goin', and David." All the while she was dabbing off the blood running out of the side where the court plaster slipped when the stage went over. Then she cut off another bit from the piece Grandma sent over, and quickly pasted it over the edge of the old piece. "There now, Joey," she cried, "that's as nice as can be! Now I'll get you a fresh piece of cloth to tie it up in."

"I don't want it tied up," cried Joel, wiggling his fingers; "they feel so good to be out, Polly."

"Oh, you must have 'em tied up," cried Polly, decisively, running back with the cloth. "Hold your hand still, Joe; there now, says I, that's all done!" She gave a great sigh of relief, when at last Joel's arm was once more in its sling.

"I'm glad it's all back again, Polly," said little David, viewing the white bundle with satisfaction.

"So am I, I declare," said Polly, folding her hands to rest a bit.

"I guess I'll go to that bonfire," observed Peletiah. At the sound of his voice, Polly came to herself with a little gasp. "Oh, I forgot all about you, Peletiah, and David's head. I'll see your shin first, 'cause you're company."

When Peletiah's small trouser leg was pulled up, Polly saw with dismay a black and blue spot rapidly spreading. "O dear me," she cried, down on her knees, "what will dear Mrs. Henderson say? and she's so good to us!"

"And I didn't want to go to Boxford, either," said Peletiah.

"Well, David, you must just run back and ask Grandma if we may have a little wormwood," said Polly. "I'd go, but I don't like to leave you children alone," in distress as she saw Davie's lump on his forehead, and his hot, tired face. "I'm sorry, for you've just been over."

"I'll go," cried Joel, springing off, but Polly called him back.

"No, you can't, Joe," she cried, "you'll burst that cut open again, maybe. Davie must go. Tell Grandma one of the minister's boys has got hurt."

So Davie ran over again, trying not to think how his head ached, and in he came in a few minutes with the bunch of wormwood dangling at his side.

"She said--Grandma did--pound it up and tie it on with a rag, if you haven't got time to steep it," said Davie, relinquishing the bundle into Polly's hand, "and to put some on my head, too," he added, feeling this to be a calamity as much worse as could be imagined than to have on the brown paper bits.

"So I will," declared Polly. "Oh, how good of Grandma! Boys, we must do ever and all we can for her, she's so nice to us. Now I must pound this up, just as she said."

This operation was somewhat delayed by all three of the boys hanging over her and getting in the way. And Phronsie, who had been busy with Seraphina in the bedroom, now running out to add herself to the number, it was a little time before Peletiah's small leg had the wet rag tied on.

"Well, now you're done," said Polly, thankfully, "and you'd better run home, Peletiah, and tell your mother all about it, and how sorry we are."

"Yes," said Peletiah, slowly moving off, "I will, 'cause she told me to come right back."

"Oh, Peletiah!" exclaimed Polly, in horror, "and you've been here all this time!"

"And I didn't want to go to Boxford," said Peletiah, going off. Pretty soon, back he came, just as Polly finished bathing Davie's head. "I'll take the dish," he said. "Mother said bring it back."