XXV. Joel Sells Shoes for Mr. Beebe
 

The little doctor kept a firm hold on Joel's jacket, and gazed keenly into his face. "Um!" he said.

"I wanted--to--to--help Polly," gasped Joel. "O dear me!" He was a sight to behold, as the tears washed their way down the grimy face, which was still working fearfully, as he tried to hold in his sobs.

"So you thought you'd help Polly," said Dr. Fisher, kindly; "was that it, Joel?"

"Yes," said Joel; "she'd put the putty in, and put it in----and----"

"Put the putty in?" repeated the little doctor, aghast.

"Yes, or Ben had."

"I never in all my life heard of burning putty in a stove," said Dr. Fisher, helplessly, and setting his big spectacles again, as if that might possibly assist him to understand.

"Oh, she didn't burn it," cried Joel, just as much astonished.

"Well, what did she do with it, then?" demanded Dr. Fisher. "Dear me, I always supposed a stove was meant to burn things in," and he waved his head helplessly, and regarded Joel with a fixed stare.

"She stuck the putty in the holes," said Joel, very distinctly; "don't you understand? Polly's stove is very old, and it's cracked, and she says the air comes in and then the fire goes down, so she has to stuff up all the mean old cracks. O dear me, I wanted to help her," and off Joel went in another gust of tears.

"I suppose Polly feels badly over her stove, sometimes," reflected Dr. Fisher, casting a very sharp glance on Joel. "I really wonder if she does," he added carelessly.

"Feels badly!" exploded Joel. Then he took a good long look around on all sides, and leaned over to whisper in the little doctor's ear, "She cries sometimes, Polly does."

"No!" exclaimed Dr. Fisher.

"Yes, she does," declared Joel, shaking his stubby head decidedly. "She cries dreadfully when Mamsie isn't looking. And she didn't know that I saw her, either, only I peeked behind the pantry door. And I wanted to--to--help her." He began to cry afresh at the recollection.

"Joel," said Dr. Fisher, getting up suddenly, "you've got to tell your mother how the little brown house got on fire."

"I know it," said Joel, but his head drooped, and his eyes fell.

"And the best way to right the wrong is to own up at once," said the little doctor. "I suppose she's taught you that, eh, Joel?"

"Yes, sir," said Joel.

"Well, when you've got such a mother as you have, Joel," continued Dr. Fisher, "you better treat her as well as you know how. So run along, and be quick with you," and Dr. Fisher gave him a resounding clap on the shoulder, that sent Joe flying off like a shot from a gun, while the little doctor stole off the back way, and got into his gig, and drove off as fast as he could, and thus escaped being thanked.

And the Badgertown folks got together and held a meeting in Mr. Atkins' store that very evening, and said that it was a pity that Mrs. Pepper, who was struggling so to bring up all those five children, should have such a hard time. So each man put his hand in his pocket and fished out some money; and the carpenters came next day and mended up all the holes where the axe had cut through the roof; and the whole house was cleaned and dried where the water had run down, and then there was one dollar and forty-five cents left over, for people had been so very generous.

"Just keep it, Mrs. Pepper," said the spokesman, "'twill come in handy, most likely;" and Mrs. Pepper couldn't speak, she was so taken aback. But they didn't seem to feel as if they hadn't been thanked enough, as they all went back again into the village.

Ben had been working in a distant wood-lot for Deacon Blodgett, and so hadn't heard a word of the fire until he got into the village, on his way home. Then he said he wouldn't believe it, unless he should see for himself. So he ran every step of the way home, and rushed in all out of breath. "What's happened?" he demanded of the first person he met. This happened to be Polly.

"Oh, Ben!" she exclaimed, flinging her arms around him. And then followed all the story.

And Ben continued to blink every now and then up at the ceiling, varied by hurrying out to gaze at the, roof, when he would rub his eyes. "Dear me, Polly!" he would exclaim, "it seems just like an awful dream."

"I wish it was," sighed Polly, "and I guess Joel wishes so, too."

But the next day, when the Badgertown people came with their gift, then the five little Peppers changed about to the very happiest children in the world! And as soon as the visitors had gone, the whole bunch of Peppers just took hold of hands, and danced like wild little things around the table where the pile of silver quarters and ten cent pieces lay.

"Mamsie," said Polly, when at last they stopped to take breath, "did you ever know of such good people in the world as our Badgertown folks?"

"I'm sure I didn't," declared Mrs. Pepper, wiping her eyes. "May the Lord reward them, for I'm sure I can't."

Polly suddenly left the ring of Peppers, and came close to her mother. "Perhaps you can, sometime, Mamsie," she said soberly.

"I hope so," replied Mother Pepper. "Well, well look forward to it, and take the chance, if it ever comes, you may be sure, Polly."

That night, when the little brown house was as still as a mouse, Polly heard a loud scream come pealing down from the room in the loft. Mrs. Pepper, strange to say, didn't hear it at all; poor woman, she was very tired with her work, from which she had been hurried so unceremoniously when the alarm of fire reached her, and she had lain awake all the first part of the night with a heart burdened with anxious care.

"Joel's dreaming all about the fire, most likely," said Polly to herself. So she slipped on Mamsie's old wrapper, picking it up so that she would not trip and tumble on her nose, as she sped softly over the stairs.

"Joel, hush!" she said reprovingly, "you'll wake Mamsie and Phronsie! Ben, do make him keep still!"

"I can't," said Ben, only half awake. "Hush up there, Joe!" and he turned over a very sleepy face, and tried to look at Polly.

"'Tisn't me," said Joel, in high dudgeon; "I ain't a 'fraid-cat." And Polly stared to see David sitting on the edge of the bed he shared with Joel, and tucking up his feet well under him, while he shook with terror as he cried shrilly, "They're running all up my legs!"

"Poor little thing!" exclaimed Polly, sitting down on the other edge of the bed, at the risk of getting on Joel's toes. "He's frightened," to the others. "I s'pose you've been dreaming, Davie."

"No, no!" cried Davie, huddling up worse than ever. "There goes one of 'em now!" he exclaimed suddenly, and pointed toward Polly; "he's just running under Mamsie's wrapper!"

Polly hopped off the bed in her liveliest fashion, while from under Mamsie's wrapper scuttled a black object over the bedquilt in the opposite direction. "What is it?" she cried, beginning to shake violently herself; "O dear me! are there any more of them?"

"Yes," said Davie, "there are lots and lots, Polly. O dear me!" He couldn't twist himself into a smaller knot than he was, so there he sat, as miserable as possible, with the tears rolling down his face.

"Joel!" cried Polly, giving that individual a little poke in the back, as he appeared to be going off to sleep again, "you can tell about these black things! I must know; so what is it?"

"Let me go to sleep," grunted Joel, twisting away from her fingers.

"No," said Polly, firmly, "I shan't, Joey Pepper. What are those black things that Davie--O dear me, there is another one!" and Polly hopped back upon the bed, for there was a second black creature steering straight for her in the dim light.

Joel gave a long restful sigh. "Do let me alone," he said crossly. But Polly leaned over and shook his shoulder smartly.

"See here, now," cried Ben, roused by all this, "you just sit up in bed, Mister Joel, and tell Polly all you know about this business. Do you hear?" And suddenly over came Ben's pillow flying through the air, to tumble over Joel's chubby nose.

"Nothin' to tell," declared Joel, again; but he sat up in bed.

"So you said before," said Polly; "but these black things got up here somehow, and you know all about it, I'm sure. So you've just got to tell all about it, Joel Pepper."

"It's crickets!" blurted Joel, suddenly, "an' Dave an' me brought 'em to put in Ben's bed, an'--"

"Thank you," interrupted Ben, and, "Oh, Davie," reprovingly said Polly.

"I'm sorry," said little Davie, wriggling up his toes; "I didn't know they hopped so bad. Oh, Polly, they're all running up my legs," he cried with another burst.

"Never mind," said Polly, quite reassured, "they're nothing but dear, nice little crickets. I don't care, now; but it's dreadful to see black things in the middle of the night, when you don't know what they are."

"I don't like 'em, Polly," wailed David. "I'd rather they'd be out of doors."

"But you helped to bring 'em in," said Polly. "How could you, Davie?" she added reproachfully.

"Dave didn't 'xactly help," said Joel, uneasily. "I told him he'd got to, Polly," he added honestly.

"Oh, I see," said Polly. "Well, now, Davie, you're going downstairs to get into Mamsie's bed."

"Oh, goody!" cried Davie, smiling through his tears; and stepping gingerly out of bed on the tips of his toes, lest he should meet a black cricket unawares, he skipped to the head of the stairs.

"Shake your clothes," called Polly, in a smothered voice, fearful lest Mamsie and Phronsie should wake up. Thereupon she began to shake the old wrapper violently. "We mustn't carry any of 'em downstairs," she said, while Joel set up a howl.

"Oh, I don't want Dave to go downstairs and leave me," he whined.

"Yes, you can stay up here with your crickets," said Polly, coolly, having shaken off any possibility of one remaining on Mamsie's wrapper.

"And to-morrow morning you just step around lively and pick 'em all up and carry 'em out doors," said Ben, before turning over for another nap. "Good night, Polly."

"Good night, Ben," said Polly, softly, going downstairs after Davie, who was pattering ahead, "and good night, Joey."

"Good night," snivelled Joel. "O dear me, I don't want Dave to go. Well, anyway, he ain't goin' away ever again, Polly Pepper--so there!"

The next morning, as soon as it was light enough to see them, Joel picked up all his crickets. It was no easy matter, for they made him an awful piece of work, hopping and jumping into all the corners; and, just as soon as his thumb and fingers were on them--away they were off again. But Ben had said every one must go. So at it Joel kept, until the perspiration just rolled from his tired, hot face.

"I don't like 'em, Polly," he confided, when the last one was escorted out of doors, "and I ain't ever goin' to bring one in again."

"I wouldn't, Joe," said Polly, "and it isn't nice to scare folks, I think."

"I think so, too," said Phronsie, with a wise nod of her yellow head, as she sat on the floor, playing with David.

"Think what, Phronsie?" cried Joel, suddenly.

"What Polly said," replied Phronsie, patting Seraphina, who was being shown the pictures in a bit of old newspaper that David was pretending to read.

"Hoh! Hoh!" cried Joel, bursting into a laugh. "You don't know whatever you're talking about, Phron. Does she, Polly?"

"Don't tease her," said Polly; but Phronsie didn't hear, being absorbed in correcting Seraphina, who had wobbled over on her back instead of sitting up elegantly to view the pictures.

Joel ran down the next day to see Mrs. Beebe, Mother Pepper giving the long-desired permission. Davie had a little sore throat, and he much preferred to stay near Mamsie's chair.

"Now, Joe, remember to be good," warned Mother Pepper, the last thing, when he had been washed and dressed and brushed and declared quite prepared.

"I'm going to be always good," declared Joel. "I ain't ever going to be like Ab'm," he added in disgust.

"Joel," reproved Mrs. Pepper, sternly, "don't judge other folks; it's enough for you to do to look out for yourself."

Joel hung his head, abashed.

"Well, good-by," said Mrs. Pepper, the stern lines on her face breaking into a smile.

"Good-by, Mamsie!" Joel flew back suddenly, to throw his arms around her neck, then he rushed up to do the same thing to Polly, and then to Phronsie.

"Don't kiss David," said his mother, "'cause you may take his throat."

"Then I want to kiss him," cried Joel. "Mayn't I, Mammy?" he wheedled. "I don't want Dave to have it."

"Oh, he'd have it just as much," said Mrs. Pepper, sewing away for dear life.

"How could he?" cried Joel, in great astonishment, and standing quite still. "Say, Mammy, how could he, if I took it?"

"You'd find if you took it there'd be quite enough sore throat for two," answered Mrs. Pepper. "Well, run along, Joe, you wouldn't understand, and 'tisn't necessary that you should; only you are to do as I say, that's all."

So Joel ran off, waving a good-by to David; and since he was not allowed to kiss him, he gave a rousing "Hooray," which delighted little Davie greatly, as he stood, his face pressed to the window, to see him go.

Once within Mrs. Beebe's home, it was enchantment enough. It was a good afternoon for the shoe business, Mr. Beebe having two customers. One of them was a very fussy woman who had a small boy in charge. Joel was in high glee at being called upon to help lift down ever so many boxes, until pretty near every shoe in the stock was tried on. Mrs. Beebe kept coming out of the little parlor at the back of the shop, and saying, "Ain't you through with Joel yet, Pa?" all of which made Joel feel very important, indeed, and almost decided him to keep a shoe shop, when he grew up, instead of being a stage-coach driver.

"No," said Mr. Beebe, shortly, "I ain't through with him, Ma. He's a master hand at getting them boxes down."

"Hain't you got a pair a little mite broader across the toes?" asked the woman. "Stand up and stamp in 'em, Johnny." So Johnny stood up and stamped in the new shoes.

"Real hard," said his mother. So he stamped real hard.

"I'd druther have another pair a mite broader," said the woman, discontentedly.

"I showed you some broader ones," said old Mr. Beebe. "Well, Joel, my boy, you'll have to climb up and hand down that box up in the corner. P'r'aps some of those will suit."

So Joel, who wished he could be there every day in the year, and that that woman would all the time bring in boys who wanted different shoes from any that Mr. Beebe had, climbed up like a squirrel and brought the box to Mr. Beebe.

"Now, Marm," said the shoe-store keeper, deftly whipping a good roomy pair, "I guess these are about what you want," and he laughed cheerily.

"No, they ain't either," said Johnny's mother, snappishly taking them, and viewing them critically, "they're big as all out doors, Mr. Beebe."

"Well, he wants 'em to wear out o' doors, don't he?" said Mr. Beebe, "so I guess they'll suit, at last."

"Well, they won't," said the woman, "an' you needn't try 'em on, Johnny. They're a sight bigger'n they orter be. I guess I can tell soon's I see a shoe."

"Can't Joel come now, Pa?" asked old Mrs. Beebe, presenting her cap-border in the doorway again. It was quite fine, with new pink ribbons which she had put on because she had company.

"Yes, pretty soon, Ma," replied her husband, quite worn out. "Well, I'm sure I'm sorry I can't suit you, Marm," turning to the woman, "but I honestly can't, for I've shown you every shoe in my shop. Here, Joel, we'll begin and pack 'em up again," he said, sorting the pairs out from the pile on the counter that ran across the side of the shop, and slinging them by the string that tied them together, over his arm.

"I'll see that pair," said the woman, suddenly, touching one as it dangled over Mr. Beebe's arm.

"All right, Marm," said Mr. Beebe, most obligingly. So he knelt down before Johnny again, and pulled on the shoes, and Johnny's mother told the boy to stand up and stamp in 'em, all of which was performed, and old Mr. Beebe got up and pulled out his bandanna and wiped his hot face.

"Now that's somethin' like," said the woman, with a bob of her head, while her little eyes twinkled. "I guess I know the right shoe, as well as the next one. Why didn't you show 'em to me before?" she snapped.

"You've had them shoes on twice before," said Mr. Beebe, "or at least the boy has, and first they were too broad, and then they were too narrer."

"Well, I'll take 'em, anyway, now," said the woman, laying down the money, "and I guess I know, as well as the next one, whether my boy's tried on shoes or not."

"Now, Joel," said old Mr. Beebe, when the little green door with its jangling bell had really closed on her and on Johnny, "as soon as we get these shoes back again in the boxes, you better run into th' parler, 'cause Ma's been a-waitin' considerable."

Joel, much divided in his mind whether he would rather stay in the shop altogether, with the delightful shoes, or go out and spend half of the time with Mrs. Beebe and the doughnuts and pink and white sticks he felt almost sure were waiting for him, came to the conclusion that he really couldn't decide which was the more delightful; and then the shop-door bell jangled again, and there was another customer.

This time it was a little thin old man, and although he came from another town, he seemed to be a great friend of Mr. Beebe's, who now joyfully welcomed him.

"Well, I declare, if 'tain't Obadiah Andrews!" exclaimed the shoe-shop keeper, radiantly, taking a good look at the newcomer. "I haven't seen you for a week o' Sundays, Obadiah."

"Nor I hain't seen you," declared the little man, just as well pleased, and sitting down gladly. "I'm most beat out, a-gittin' here, so I want some new shoes, Jotham, and I cal'late I'll get 'em about as nice as they make 'em here."

"I cal'late so, too, Obadiah," said old Mr. Beebe, rubbing his hands together in a pleased way. "Now, Joel, we'll get down all the shoes on this side," and he ambled across the shop, "an' you can put up the boys' sizes, afterwards, if you want to."

"Pa, ain't you most through with Joel? Oh, why, here's Mr. Andrews!" exclaimed Mrs. Beebe. Then she came into the little shop and sat down, while Mr. Beebe and Joel got out the shoes that were to be tried on. "It's so nice that I can pass the time o' day with you, meanwhilst," she observed.

But it didn't take very long to satisfy old Mr. Andrews. As soon as the first shoe was pulled on he declared it was just right, although the shoe-shop keeper offered to try on the others.

"P'r'aps these'll pinch when you get home," suggested Mr. Beebe, anxiously, "or somethin' else as bad will be the matter with 'em." But the little old man said, "No; do 'em up, Jotham."

So the shoes were rolled in paper, and tied with a red string, and then Mr. Obadiah Andrews said, "Now I'm a-goin' to set an' visit, and pass the time o' day with you, Jotham."

"So do," cried old Mr. Beebe, delightedly, counting out the change. "Now, Joel, you can pile all them shoes back, and then finish the boys' sizes, if you want to; and after that, Ma, he can go into the parlor, and be company to you."

When Mrs. Beebe and Joel finally got into the parlor, leaving the two old friends talking busily, there only remained ten minutes before it was time to go home.

"O dear me!" exclaimed old Mrs. Beebe, quite aghast, as she glanced at the clock. "Well, you must obey your Ma, and the only thing I see out of it is, you must come again." So she stuffed into a paper bag all the pink and white sticks and doughnuts that were piled so nicely, in a company fashion, on a blue plate. "There," she said, smothering her disappointment as best she could, "take these home with you, and tell your Ma I expect you again, some day. We can't help it, 'cause Pa's been so busy," as Joel ran off.

"I've sold shoes all the afternoon," he screamed, rushing into the little brown house, and for a moment forgetting the paper bag and its precious contents. Then it came ever him in a burst. "Look at this!" swinging it over Polly's brown head. She bobbed it up suddenly. "Look out!" screamed Joel, but too late; Polly's brown head bumped into the bag, and away it spun, and the doughnuts and pink and white sticks went flying all over the kitchen floor.

"Now, that's too bad," cried Polly, jumping up to help pick them up. "Oh, Joel, what a perfectly splendid lot!"

"Ain't it!" said Joel, his mouth watering to begin on them. "Here's one more," spying a pink stick behind Mamsie's chair. "Here 'tis. I've got it!" emerging in triumph, and holding it fast. "Where's Phronsie and Dave?"

"Over at Grandma's," said Polly.

"O dear!" began Joel, then he thought a minute. "I'm going to take Grandma a doughnut, Polly," he cried, dancing off, and swinging the bag, into which he had crammed all the "goodies."

He heard Phronsie singing to Grandma, which she was very fond of doing, and perched up on the side of the bed, Grandma smiling away, as well pleased as though she heard every word.

"Dave," screamed Joel, bounding in, and swinging the bag, "you don't know what I've got," and he hopped up on the bed between Grandma and Phronsie.

When Davie saw that, he got out of his chair and speedily hopped up on the bed, too. Grandma laughed till the tears rolled down her cheeks.

"I guess you'll laugh more yet, Grandma," declared Joel, untwisting the top of his bag, and bringing a pair of bright black eyes very close to it to peer within. "It's perfectly splendid!" he cried, holding his hands so no one else could see.

"Oh, Joey, do show us!" cried Phronsie, getting up to kneel on the patched bedquilt, to look over his arm.

"You may take one peek," decided Joel, suddenly, bringing his eyes away from the mouth of the bag to gaze at them. "Grandma must have the first one; then you must guess what it is."

"I guess it's doughnuts," said little Davie, "'cause you've been to Mrs. Beebe's, and besides, I smell 'em." Grandma smiled all the time, just as happily as if she had heard everything that had been said.

"There's something else," said Joel, emphatically, "but 'tisn't your guess. Now, Grandma," he held the bag close up to the old lady's cap-border, "look!"

"My!" exclaimed the old lady. "What you got, Joel?" as he twitched away the bag.

"Didn't you see?" cried Joel; "well, you may have one more peek, 'cause you are Grandma," and he brought it up again before her eyes.

"Doughnuts?" said Grandma. "My sakes! where'd you get 'em?"

"You may have one," said Joel, peering into the depths of the bag to fish out a good-sized one, that was sugary all over, which he dropped in her hands.

"Give me one," begged Phronsie, holding out both hands.

"In a minute," said Joel. "Now, Grandma, what else is in here?" giving the bag a shake.

"Hey?" asked Grandma; "speak louder, Joel."

"O dear me! I can't speak so's she'll hear," said Joel, in despair, to the others. So he shook the bag again, when the bottom of it came out, and away the doughnuts and pink and white sticks flew, and rolled all over the patched bed-quilt.

"There, now," said Joel, in disgust; "there isn't any use in anybody's guessing anything. But we can eat 'em now," he added, brightening.