II. What Dave Heard
 

"Dave," said Joel, in a whisper. It was the middle of the night, and the loft was very still, save for Ben's breathing over in his bed in the corner.

"Don't say a word!" Joel laid his mouth close to the ear on the straw pillow; "if you do, I'll nip you and snip you."

"Ow!" said little Davie, huddling down under the scanty blanket and dragging it over his head.

"Sh--, be still!" cried Joel, with a wrathful pinch. "Ben'll hear you,--there now, just see!"

"What's the matter, boys?" asked Ben, sleepily.

Down flew Joel in a heap under his end of the blanket, where he bestowed a kick from one set of toes on David in a little heap against the wall.

The loft was as still as a mouse, so Ben turned over again. "I guess Joel wanted a drink of water, and he's gone to sleep and forgot all about it. Now, that's good," and off he went again.

Joel's black stubby head popped up, and he peered into the darkness. "Now, I've got to wait ever'n ever so long," he grumbled softly to himself. "No, there he goes!" he added joyfully, as Ben breathed hard. "Now, Dave," he rolled over and ducked under the blanket-end, "if you scream again, I'll snip, and snip, and snip you, most dreadful."

"I won't," declared little David, fearfully. "Oh, I won't, Joe," huddling off from the little brown fingers.

"Promise, now, you'll never tell,--black and blue,--hope to die if I do."

"We must tell Mamsie," said David.

Joel gave an impatient wriggle. "Mamsie won't care, and she's too busy. Now say it, 'black and--"'

"And we must tell Polly," cried little Davie, in a smothered voice. "Oh, Joel, we must tell Polly."

"Sh!" cried Joel, with a warning pinch on the small arm that sent David into a worse heap than before. "Now, you've gone and waked Ben up again," and he pricked up one ear from under the bedclothes.

"Oh!" exclaimed little David, thinking of Mamsie and Polly whom he was not to tell.

Joel drew a long breath, as Ben did not stir.

"Well, say 'black and blue--hope to die if I do,'" commanded Joel, sliding back again under the blanket. "Hurry up, Dave."

"'Black and--blue--hope--to die if I do,'" mumbled poor little David, stuffing the end of the blanket into his mouth, trying not to cry as he thought of Mamsie and Polly.

"Now, you know I've found a cave, and I'm goin' up there to live some day," announced Joel in a smothered whisper, his mouth close to David's ear.

"Where?" cried David, fearfully.

"Sh! don't speak so loud. Over in 'Bandy Leg Mountain.'"

"Ooh,--dear me!" cried David, stopping himself in the middle of a scream. "Won't old 'Bandy Leg' catch you, Joel?"

"Hoh--no, I ain't afraid!" declared Joel. "He's been dead a hundred years, I guess. An' beside, I could knock him flat, yes, sir-ree!" He doubled up his little brown fist, and bounced up in the middle of the old shake-down.

"What's the matter, Joe?" called Ben, sleepily; "turn over and go to sleep, and you'll forget again about the drink of water."

Joel flung himself flat, and burrowed along the whole length of the bed, knocking Davie's shins all the way.

"You're pullin' all the blanket off me," said Davie, clutching his end from Joel's frantic grasp.

"Go to sleep, boys," said Ben, sharply. "And Joe, stop grumbling for a drink of water. Now you've waked up David."

Joel gripped Davie fast and clapped one hand over his mouth.

"Dear me, I think Ben might stay asleep a minute," he muttered in an injured voice. "Now, don't you speak a single word and I'll tell you all about it," after a long pause, in which they heard nothing but a rat nibbling away in the corner.

"I'm goin' up there to-morrow, an' I'm goin' to take my gun, an' some things to eat, an'--"

"Oh, Joel!" interrupted little David, "you can't ever in all this world. Polly won't let you."

"Polly'll let us go an' play some to-morrow," said Joel, sturdily, "'cause there ain't any work to do. So there now! An' maybe I'll see a bear. An'----"

"O dear me!" exclaimed little Davie, quite overcome, and trembling in every limb. "He'll eat you. Joel, I'm going to tell Polly."

"You can't," said Joel, coolly; "you said 'Black-an-blue-hope- to-die-if-I-do,' and I'm goin' to take you."

"Oh, I can't go," declared Davie, bouncing up in terror. "I ain't goin'. I ain't, Joey. I ain't----"

"Sh-sh!" warned Joel, with another nip.

"I ain't--I ain't--" cried David, softly, through his tears.

"Pshaw! I guess there ain't any bear up there," said Joel, scornfully. "Be still, Dave!"

"An' old--old Bandy Legs'll catch--catch me," mumbled David, digging his small knuckles into his eyes.

"Old Bandy Legs has been dead ever'n ever so long. I guess a thousand years," said Joel; "an' there's flowers there--oh, most beautiful ones!"

"Are there?" asked David, taking down his hands. "What kinds, Joel?"

"Oh, all sorts. The most be-yewtiful flowers, red and yellow and green, you can't think, Dave Pepper."

"I never saw a green flower," said little David, thoughtfully.

"Well, they're up there. Oh, sights an' sights," said Joel, recklessly. "An' pink and blue an'----"

"Are you sure there are green flowers up there, Joel?" asked David, huddling up to him close.

"Sh--stop talking--oh, the most beyewtiful things, I tell you, grow up by that cave."

"I might go up and get some not very near the cave, Joel," said Davie, after a long breath. "Not very near."

"So you could," said Joel, quickly. "Then I guess you'll be glad, Dave Pepper, that you came up with me."

"I shall bring down most of the green ones, Joey," cried little David, joyfully, "'cause I can get the others down below the mountain."

"Yes--yes," whispered Joel, impatiently.

"An' if I plant 'em, they'll grow, and then Mamsie'll be glad, an' Polly too," he whispered, dreadfully excited. "Won't Polly be glad though, Joe? She's never seen a green flower."

"Yes; now go to sleep," cried Joel, with a nudge, "and remember not to say a word to me to-morrow about it."

"Can't I say anything to you behind the wood pile?" asked David, in surprise.

"No, not a teenty word. An' don't you look at me. If you do, Old Bandy Legs'll come after you."

"You said he was dead," cried David in a fearful whisper, and crouching tight to Joel and gripping him with both arms. "O dear me!"

"So he is; but he'll catch you if you say a single word. Now go to sleep, an' when I tell you to come with me to-morrow, you must start just as quick as scat."

"I shall take a basket for the green flowers," said Davie, trying not to think of "Old Bandy Legs."

"No, you mustn't; you can bring 'em down in your arms."

"I can't bring many," said little David, swallowing hard. "I can't bring many, Joe, an' Polly'll want some in her garden."

"Well, old Bandy Legs won't let you get any, if you don't stop," said Joel, crossly, "so there now!" and he rolled off to the edge of the old straw bed, and in two minutes was fast asleep, leaving little Davie peering up at the rafters to watch for the first streak of light, determined to get as many green flowers as he possibly could for Polly's garden.

"I'll twist up a birch-bark basket, to bring 'em down in," he decided. And the first thing either of them knew, there was Polly shaking their arms and laughing. "You lazy little things, you--get up! I've been calling and calling and calling you to breakfast."

Joel and David flew up into the middle of the bed.

"Joe was teasing all night for a drink of water," said Ben, as Polly ran down into the kitchen. "An' I was just going to get up and fetch him some, when he tumbled to sleep again."

"Dear me," said Polly, rushing at her work; "well, I'll keep their porridge warm. Now, Phronsie, you can't help me about these dishes."

"I'm just as big since yesterday," said Phronsie, standing up on her tiptoes to turn an injured face to Polly. "See, Polly."

"So you are," said Polly, bursting into a laugh. "Well, I tell you, Pet, what you might do that would help me more."

"More than to wash the dishes, Polly?" cried Phronsie, tumbling down from her tiptoes. "Oh, do tell me, Polly!" And she ran up to her, and seized Polly's check apron with both fat little hands.

"Why, you see I can't do the dishes, all of 'em, till the boys get through their breakfast," said Polly, with a sober face, looking at the old clock, as she thought of the seams on the sacks she was going to fly at as soon as the work was done in the kitchen. How nice it was that Mamsie had promised she might try this very morning while Mrs. Pepper was down at the parsonage, mending the minister's study carpet. "Now I guess the money'll begin to come in, and Mamsie won't have to work so hard," thought Polly over and over, and her heart beat merrily, and the color flew over her cheek.

"Tell me, Polly," begged little Phronsie, holding the apron tight.

"Well, now, Pet, there's a snarl of thread in the work-basket. Don't you remember, the spool rolled under the table, and nobody saw it go, and the boys kicked it up and made it into a mess, an' Mamsie put it into the little bag, an' I was to pick it out when I got time? If you only could do that, Phronsie, just think how it would help."

Phronsie gave a long sigh. She dropped the apron, and folded her hands. "Would it help so very much, Polly?" she asked.

"Ever an' ever so much," said Polly. "You needn't do but a little now, an' some other day p'raps you could do some more."

"I'm going to do it all," said Phronsie, shaking her yellow head determinedly. So she got her little wooden chair from against the wall, and set it in the middle of the kitchen floor, and then brought the little cotton bag out of the old work-basket. "I shall do it all this very one minute," she declared softly, as she sat down and drew out the snarl of thread.

"Now, boys," called Polly, as she took one look at her, and just stopped to drop a kiss on the yellow hair, "you must just come downstairs this very minute. If you don't, you can't have any breakfast."

"Coming," sang Joel, and presently down he tumbled, two steps at a time, pulling on his jacket as he went.

"Such a long time to stay abed," reproved Polly; "just think of it, it's after seven o'clock, Joel Pepper, and Mamsie's been gone half an hour!"

"An' I'm working," said Phronsie, twitching at the end of the thread with an important air. "I'm going to pick out the whole of this, I am, for Mamsie. See, Joey!" She held up the snarl, and away the spool raced, as if glad to get off once more.

"Hoh!" said Joel, "you're making it worse'n ever, Phron."

"No, I'm not," cried Phronsie, clutching the snarl with both little fists. "Oh, no, I'm not; am I, Polly?" And the big tears began to race over her round cheeks.

"No," said Polly. "Oh, for shame, Joel, to make Phronsie cry!"

"I didn't make her cry," denied Joel, stoutly, his face working badly. "I'll get the spool--I'll get the spool. See, Polly, here 'tis," and he dived under the table, and came up bright and shining with it in his hand.

"There now, Phronsie; see, Joel's got it for you," said Polly, beaming at him. "Now, Pet, I'll tell you what, let's put Mamsie's basket on the floor, and old Mr. Spool in it. There, Joey, drop him in, then he can't run away again. Now, then!"

"Mr. Spool can't run away again," smiled Phronsie through her tears, and leaning out of her little wooden chair to see Joel drop the spool in. "That's nice, Polly, isn't it? Now he can't run away again," she hummed.

"Indeed, it is," sang Polly, delighted; "he's fast now, so fly at your snarl, Pet, Mamsie'll be so pleased to think you've picked out some of it."

"I'm going to pick it all out," declared Phronsie in a tone of determination. And wiping off the tears on the back of her fat little hand, she set to work, humming away again to herself.

"Now, whatever keeps David!" cried Polly, dishing out Joel's mush from the kettle on the stove, and setting the bowl on the table.

"He's coming," said Joel, hastily. "O dear me, I wish we ever had anything, Polly Pepper, but mush and molasses for breakfast!"

"Some people don't have anything half as good," said Polly, starting for the stairs.

"What don't they have?" asked Joel in alarm, as he watched her go.

"Oh, I don't know; different things. Da-vid!" she called.

"You said they didn't have things half as good," said Joel, stopping with a spoonful of porridge halfway to his mouth. "So you know what they are, now, Polly Pepper."

"Oh, well, they don't. Plenty and plenty of people don't get near as good things as we have every day for breakfast."

"What are they, the things the plenty and plenty of people get?" persisted Joel, beginning on his breakfast comfortably, since Polly was going to talk.

"Oh--let me see," said Polly, pausing at the foot of the stairs. "Old bread, for one thing."

"Is it mouldy?" asked Joel.

"Um--yes, I s'pose so," answered Polly, wrinkling up her face. "Eat your own breakfast, Joe, and not stop to think of what other people have. Da-vid!'"

"You said 'things,'" said Joel, severely, "and you only told me mouldy old bread, Polly Pepper! What else?"

"O dear, I don't know."

"You said----"

"I mean--well, cold potatoes, for one thing. I s'pose most everybody has potatoes. Now eat your breakfast, Joey Pepper. Those are things. Eat your breakfast this minute!"

When Polly spoke in that tone, the three little Peppers knew they must obey. Joel ducked his head over his bowl of mush, and began to hurry the spoonfuls as fast as he could into his mouth.

"I must go up and see what is the matter with David," said Polly, preparing to run up the stairs. Just at this moment he appeared coming slowly down. "Oh, here you are!" cried Polly, brightly, running over to the old stove to dish out his bowl of mush. "Now, Davie, fly at your breakfast, 'cause I've got to sew all the morning just as hard as ever I can."