XXVI. Miss Parrott's Coach and the Coasting
 

It was snowing tiny flakes when Joel's eyes popped open, and the small, feathery things whirled against the little paned window, as if they would very much like to come in.

"Dave--Dave!" cried Joel, poking him, "get up--it's snowing!"

David's eyes flew quite wide at that, and he sat up at once. "Oh, Joel," he squealed, as he watched the flakes, "ain't they pretty!"

"Um! I guess so," said Joel, springing into his clothes; "they're nice for snowballs and to slide on, anyway."

David reached over for one blue woollen stocking on the floor by the side of the bed, and sat quite still with it in his hand, regarding the snowy whirl.

"You ain't got dressed a bit," cried Joel, spinning around, "and I'm all ready."

"So will I be all ready," cried little David, pulling on the stocking with all haste, and flying at the rest of his clothes with alacrity. "Wait, Joe--do," as Joel began to clatter downstairs.

"Can't," said Joel, racing off, "I'm going to get the sled."

"Wa-it," called Davie, half crying.

But Joel was in the woodshed, hauling out the precious sled that Ben had made for the boys out of some boards and old sleigh runners that had been given him. He was dragging it out with a dreadful noise from the corner where it had stayed all summer, when Polly came running out.

"I don't believe it's going to snow much," she said, squinting at the feathery specks. "You won't want your sled to-day, boys."

"I'm goin' to have it ready," said Joel, with another pull.

"Well, I'll help you," said Polly, taking hold of one end. "Dear me, I do think this is the most splendid sled in all the world," she exclaimed enthusiastically. "I don't see how Ben could make it so nice."

"Ben can do anything," declared Joel, tugging away.

"I know it," said Polly, with pride. "Well, I wish he had time to go coasting all he wants to," she added sorrowfully.

"Maybe he will have, this winter," suggested Joel, who never could bear to see Polly sad.

"P'r'aps," said Polly; "but there's always wood to chop in the winter, Joe. There--here it comes!" as the big sled tumbled out with a rush, to be dragged into the middle of the woodshed floor.

David now came running downstairs, and Phronsie, hearing that the sled was to be drawn out, pattered into the woodshed, too. "Oh, Polly," she cried in rapture, "now I'm going out to ride on it this very minute," and she danced round and round, clapping her hands in glee.

"O dear me!" cried Polly, pointing out of the little low window. "See, Phronsie, there's only the leastest little bit of snow. Why, I do verily b'lieve it's going to stop."

At this dreadful suggestion, every one of the little Peppers in the woodshed rushed to the window, and Joel flung wide the door, so that a cold blast, carrying a feathery cloud of little flakes, swept in.

"Oh, Joel!" exclaimed Polly, "shut the door, Phronsie'll catch cold." Joel was already out in the house-place, dancing about, declaring it was going to be awful deep, and they could make a snow man soon, he guessed; so little Davie ran and pushed to the door, shutting off all chance of hearing the rest of what he was saying. He was gone some time, and the others ran into the kitchen, for Polly declared they would get no breakfast that day if she did not hurry up, and David and Phronsie thought it much nicer to watch the snowstorm from those windows than from the little tucked-up window in the woodshed. The consequence was that Joel ran in just as they had begun breakfast, in a fine glow, his cheeks very red, and his chubby nose as well. "Why didn't you come?" he demanded, with sparkling eyes.

"Where?" cried Polly. "Oh, Joe, what have you been doing? Your face is as red as fire."

"And your nose is red, too," said David.

"I don't care," said Joel, slipping into his seat. "Give me some mush, Polly, do!" he begged hungrily, passing his bowl. "Oh, 'twas just prime, I tell you!"

"What?" asked Polly, quickly. "You keep saying it's fine, and don't tell us what you've been doing. That isn't polite," she added, for Polly was quite particular as to her manners, and liked to be very genteel before the other children.

"Oh, I've been riding in Miss Parrott's coach," said Joel, trying to appear as if this were an everyday occurrence, and eating on as if nothing had happened. Miss Parrott lived in an old ancestral house, about two miles from Badgertown. She was very rich, but kept entirely to herself, and drove about in an ancient coach, the envy of all the villagers. "And I called you all to come, and you wouldn't."

"Oh, Joel Pepper!" cried Polly, greatly shocked to think of the splendid chance they all had missed, and dropping the big spoon with which she was serving the mush, "you never called us one single bit!"

"No, you never did!" added David, solemnly, and looking at Polly with all his eyes.

"Never did!" echoed Phronsie, shaking her yellow head positively. "Polly, I want some more mush, I do."

"Yes, I did, too," spoke up Joel, loudly.

"Joel!" reproved Mother Pepper.

"Well, I did, Mamsie," repeated Joel, in a very injured tone. "I called just like this, 'come quick! and ride in Miss Parrott's coach;' so there!"

"O dear me!" cried Polly, passionately, sitting back in her chair, "I'd rather have gone in that coach than have done anything else, and now you've been, and we never'll get a chance again. Never in all this world!"

"How did it happen, Joel?" asked Ben. "Do tell the whole story from the beginning."

"Why, you see it was this way," began Joel. "Polly, give me some more mush, do," passing his bowl.

"O dear me, do tell first, Joe," cried Polly, impatiently. "I don't know where the spoon is," for the big spoon had tumbled off to the floor, and she hadn't seen it go in the excitement.

"Joel, get a clean one," said Mrs. Pepper, "and then pick up the other; it's likely it fell down."

So Joel hopped out of his chair and got a clean spoon for Polly, and then dived under the table and came back with the other spoon. "Now begin and tell us all about it," said his mother. "No, Polly, you needn't help him the mush till he's told."

So Joel, seeing he wasn't to get the mush until the whole story how he got his ride in the Parrott coach was related, began at once, and rattled it off as fast as he could. "The--man--that-- drives--it--stopped--an'--I--was--in--th'--yard--an'--he--said-- don't--you--wanter--all--hands--o'--you children--to drive-- I've--got--to drive a--piece--down th'--road--an' I--called-- and--called--you--an'--we--went--an'--that's all. Now give me some mush!"

"If we only had known!" mourned Polly, clasping her hands. "Is it lined with green satin, Joel?" she asked suddenly.

"I don't understand," said Mrs. Pepper, in a puzzled way. "Where were you, Joel, when Miss Parrott's man asked you? And you didn't go bareheaded, and without your coat?"

"Out in the yard, Mamsie," answered Joel. "Polly, do give me some mush," for Polly was so absorbed waiting to hear if Miss Parrott's coach was really lined with green satin, that she had forgotten all about Joe and his breakfast. So now she hastily dipped out the mush into the bowl that was waiting for it. "Is it really lined with green satin, Joel?" she cried breathlessly.

"I don't know," said Joel, all his attention upon his bowl of mush.

"I most know it is," said Polly, leaning her elbows on the table, and her head upon her hands, to think how it would really seem to be riding in a coach lined with green satin.

"And now I never shall go," she ended.

"Why didn't you come back for us?" asked David, suddenly. He hadn't eaten anything since Joel had rushed in with the wonderful story, and between Polly's disappointment and his own, was in a great state of distress.

"Oh, I thought you were coming right off," said Joel, swallowing rapid mouthfuls; "and then, when I got into the coach, the man that drives Miss Parrott said he couldn't wait no longer."

"Any longer, you mean," corrected Mrs. Pepper.

"Yes'm," said Joel; "and then we drove off."

"You see, we had to shut the door to the woodshed," said Polly, "'cause Phronsie would catch cold if we didn't, and we didn't hear a single word when you called, Joel Pepper; not a single one!"

"Where'd you go?" asked David, suddenly.

"Oh, down to the Centre," said Joel, "to two--no, I guess four stores, and then he brought me home--that is, almost home. He dropped me at the corner."

"O dear me!" exclaimed Polly.

"Oh, jolly! look at the snow!" screamed Joel, flying out of his chair. And sure enough, while they had been so engrossed, there it had been coming down faster and faster, until it was a powdery veil, almost too thick to see through.

So somewhere in the middle of the morning, Joel and David started off with their sled, drawing on their mittens with the greatest satisfaction, and bobbing good-by to the others watching them from the windows.

All went well, until Joe proposed that they should go to Simon's Hill, a long steep thoroughfare some two miles distant, that swung at the bottom very abruptly into the turnpike. And trudging off there, they climbed it with despatch, and began to coast down.

"Oh, whickets!" cried Joel, who was steering, little Davie hanging on behind, more than three-quarters afraid, though he wouldn't let Joel see it for all the world. "Gee-haw-gee-haw-whee-dimp-dump," as they flew over the rises, bumping and twisting from side to side.

"Oh, take care, Joe," screamed David, in terror, "we most went over," for on one side the road ran down abruptly into a thicket of evergreen and scrub oaks.

"Hoh, we're going straight!" sang out Joel, "you're always such a 'fraid-cat, David Pepper."

"I ain't a 'fraid-cat," protested Davie, "and I want to go home to mother."

"Well, you are going down again, eleven, no, I guess sixty times," declared Joel, "after this. Gee-whiz-bump-bump-bang!" This last was brought out of him by a sudden slewing to the side, where the slope ran off to the evergreen, scrub oak thicket; but Joel missed the edge by about an inch, so he screamed with delight, and whizzed safely down the rest of the hill.

"I ain't going down ever again," said David, "not once, Joel," as they flew along and the cold air swept his pale cheeks.

Just then, along the turnpike toward the abrupt turn of the hill-road, was coming an ox-pung, loaded with wood, and driven by old Farmer Seeley, who was almost as blind as a bat and deaf as a post.

"Hi!" screamed Joel, whizzing along. "See us come down," but Farmer Seeley neither saw nor heard, and just then he concluded to steer his team up as near as possible to the hill-road. Joel saw this, and yelled, but he might as well have screamed to the hill. It was all done in a moment. Down flew the clumsy home-made sled, that couldn't be turned in a second; Joel frantically steering to get past the big awkward team, that was blocking up the way, David clinging to him in a dumb helpless terror. Z-z-rr-thud! and the first thing that old Farmer Seeley knew, four small arms and legs were waving frantically in the air, and thrown suddenly, with a mixture of boards and runners, against the ox-team of wood, with an awful crash; and then all was still.

"Land o' Goshen!" ejaculated Farmer Seeley, at the crash. "What's that 'ere? O my gracious Peters!" as he saw what it was as well as he was able, for his poor eyes. And getting off from the team he went to the spot, shaking so in every limb, that he could hardly walk.

There was no sound beneath the upturned sled, where it lay just as it had been thrown against the wood-pung, and for one dreadful moment Farmer Seeley thought the two boys to whom the small legs and arms belonged were dead, and he shook so his false teeth rattled in his head, and he sat right down in the snow.

"I must dig 'em out," he said to himself in a cold fright, "for they've druv their heads clean into the snow, and they may get stuffocated, if they ain't already dead."

So he did the best he could in that work, proceeding only a little way, when Joel bounced up suddenly, shook his black hair, and rubbed his eyes. "Oh, I remember," he said.

"Now, see here--you boy," screamed old Farmer Seeley, angrily, "I'll have you took up, whoever ye be, a-runnin' into my ox-team, an' a-buntin' into my wood. Um--I will!"

"Get Dave out," cried Joel, who cared very little for whatever the old man might say, and pawing the snow wildly. "Help me get Dave out."

"I can't help none," said the old man, querulously. "I'm stiff in th' jints, an' beside, you've scart me to death, eenamost."

"Oh--oh!" screamed Joel, in a frightful panic. "Dave--get up, Dave!"

But David lay like a little log of wood, as still as those on the old pung.