III. Deacon Brown's Nail Pile
 

"Now, boys," said Polly, as Joel pushed back his chair, "I want you to help me, that is, as soon as Davie has finished his breakfast."

"Oh, that's too bad," grumbled Joel, loudly, "when we got all our kindlings chopped yesterday, an' there ain't anything else to do. You know you said we could play to-day, Polly Pepper!"

"I didn't say all day; but of course you can," replied Polly, with a fine scorn, "if you don't want to help, Joel. I'm sure the little brown house can get along without a boy who isn't glad to make it as nice as he possibly can."

The idea of the little brown house getting along without him made Joel aghast at once, and he stood quite still. Davie laid down his spoon, and got out of his chair quickly.

"What is it, Polly?" he cried, the pink color all over his cheek.

"Dear me!" cried Polly, merrily, "the very idea of a boy trying to help who hasn't finished his breakfast. Go back and eat every bit of that mush and molasses, Davie dear; then, says I, we'll see what you can do."

"I'll be through in just a minute, Polly." David ran back and clambered into his chair, plying his spoon so fast that Polly cried in dismay, "Oh, Davie, you'll choke yourself!"

"No, I won't," said Davie, with a very red face, and swallowing hard, "it's all slipping down. There, see, Polly. I'm all through; truly I am." He got out of his chair again, and ran up to her.

"So you are," said Polly, glancing approvingly at the bare bowl. "Well now, I'll tell you, Davie, what you can do. You know that pile of old nails that Deacon Brown said Ben might have? Well, 'tisn't nice, you know, to play all day, so you may pick over some of 'em, and get the good ones out. Ben will be so surprised, even if you don't get but a few ready."

"I'm going to work all the morning at 'em," declared little Davie, gladly, hopping off toward the door.

"No, I don't want you to work but a little while," said Polly, decisively, and picking up the breakfast dishes to wash. "You can have most all to-day to play in. And then some other day, when there isn't any other work to do, you can pick over some more; and pretty soon, before you know it, they'll all be done, and Ben'll be so surprised, for they'll be ready when he wants to mend the woodshed."

"I don't want to pick over any crooked old nails," proclaimed Joel, loudly, and knocking his heels against the pantry door. "I sh'd think Deacon Brown might have given us some good ones."

"For shame, Joel!" said Polly, hurrying across the floor with the pile of dishes; "it's fine of him to give us these. And there are lots of good ones amongst 'em."

"You told me not to say 'lots,' the other day," said Joel, with a sharp look out of his black eyes to see if Polly would relent.

"So I did," she cried, and the color flew over her cheek. "Dear me, it is so hard not to say things that you don't like to hear other people say."

"Well, I don't want to pick over old rusty nails," said Joel, ignoring this remark, "and it's real mean, Polly Pepper, to make me, when I want to go and play!" And he kicked his heels worse than ever.

"I don't make you," said Polly, pouring the hot water into the dish-pan and dashing in the soap, "but I shouldn't think it was nice to go out to play right after breakfast. You might work an hour, and then you'd enjoy the play all the better."

"I'd enjoy the play now. And a whole hour, too!" cried Joel, in a dudgeon. "Why, Polly Pepper! a whole hour!"

"That's right, Davie," said Polly, smiling brightly at him, as the little fellow ran out into the woodshed. Then she began to sing, without looking at Joel.

"A whole hour," shouted Joel. But Polly kept a cold shoulder toward him, running up and down in a merry song till a little bird outside the window trilled away as hard as he could, to keep her company.

"A whole hour--" Joel ran up and pulled her dress. "It's as mean as it can be to make me work a whole hour, Polly Pepper!"

"Chee--chee--chee," called the little bird, and away Polly sang, splashing the dishes up and down in the hot soap-suds, till the old kitchen seemed full of merry bustle. Joel regarded her closely for two or three minutes, and then went slowly out.

David was up on top of the wood bin in the shed, and tugging at the box of nails that Ben had put on one of the beams.

"I can't get it down," he said. "Come help me, Joel, do."

But Joel kicked his feet on the woodshed floor. So little David gave another pull at the box, wavered, and clutched wildly at the air, and before Joel could speak, came tumbling down, and after him, the heavy box, spilling the nails as it fell. He lay quite still, and Joel only stopped to take one look.

"Oh, Polly, Dave's killed, I guess," he screamed, rushing into the kitchen, his face working fearfully.

Polly stopped her song in mid-air, and turned quite white. "Oh, no, I guess not," she said with a gasp, as she saw his face. Then she remembered Phronsie. "Come out here, Joe," and she gently pushed him out into the little entry.

"I guess I'll go, too," said Phronsie, who had been humming a soft refrain to Polly's song, and laying down the snarl carefully in Mamsie's big work-basket she went softly out after them.

"Now, Joel," Polly was saying out of white lips, "don't you scream. Think of Phronsie, and--"

"What is it, Polly?" asked Phronsie's soft voice.

"O dear me! What shall I do!" Polly turned. "Phronsie dear, you mustn't come now." Joel had sunk down and covered his face with his hands, trying not to scream. "Go right back to your chair, Polly says so. Be a good girl, Pet." She looked straight into the blue eyes wide with astonishment at being sent back.

"Please let me, Polly," begged the little girl.

"No," said Polly, firmly, "Mamsie wouldn't like it. Go back, Phronsie, and shut the door."

Phronsie turned without a word and went slowly back, and as Polly seized Joel's hand and sped into the woodshed, they could hear the kitchen door shut, and knew that she had gone back to her chair.

When Polly and Joel reached little David, Joel was beyond words, and he fell down and flung his arms around the little figure. Davie stirred and moaned. "Help me lift him up, Joe," cried Polly, hoarsely.

"I couldn't get the nails," said David, "and then they all spilled. I'm sorry, Polly," and he opened his eyes and looked up into her white face.

When Joel saw that David could speak, he gave a great gasp. "It was my fault," he sobbed.

"Never mind, Davie dear," said Polly, soothingly. "We can pick the nails up."

"I'll pick 'em up," cried Joel, delighted to find something to do, and he sprang up and went scrambling around and sweeping them into a pile with his fingers, while the big tears trailed down his round cheeks.

"See, now," said Polly, trying to speak gayly, "how the old nails have to hop into the box again."

"So they do," said David, with a wan little smile. Then he shut his eyes.

"Run as fast as you can, Joe," said Polly, "and ask Grandma Bascom to come over." Then she lifted Davie and struggled with him to a pile of grain bags in the corner. "I can't get him into the bedroom till Joel helps me, and besides, I must get Phronsie out of the kitchen first," she thought. "Oh, God! please don't let Davie die," she cried deep in her heart.

Joel flew on the wings of the wind, his heart beating like a trip-hammer, over down across the lane to Grandma Bascom's little cottage. Grandma, with a tin pan full of wet corn meal, was just going out to feed her hens, when he dashed up behind her. "Please come!" he shouted, his trembling mouth close to her cap-border. "Polly wants you!"

"Polly's here, now that's nice!" said Grandma, well pleased. "You just wait a minute, and I'll be ready to see her. Come, Biddy-Biddy," she called, and waddling off, she gathered up a handful of the wet corn meal.

"Oh, come now!" roared Joe, and seizing her hand, he pulled her back toward the kitchen. "Dear Grandma Bascom, please come; Dave's killed, I guess," and before she knew it, she was halfway to the little brown house, and in a minute or two more there she was before Davie lying on the pile of grain bags, and Polly holding his hand, and fanning him with an old newspaper.

"He's all right," said Grandma, with a practised eye; "only just fainted a bit. Now 'tisn't anything to what my son John's Abram did one summer he spent with me. Used to tumble over most every day."

"He fell," said Polly. She could say no more, but pointed up to the beam. Then she found her voice. "The box of nails--I didn't know 'twas up there, see!" and she pointed to them, where Joel had tried to gather them up.

"He fell down from there?" asked Grandma, looking up at the beam.

Polly nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Joel wrung his hands together, and stood quite still.

"In that case," said Grandma, "this boy must go for Dr. Fisher just as soon as he can."

"Run, Joe, as hard as ever you can," gasped Polly.

No need to tell Joel that. Over the fields and across lots he ran like a deer, scaling stone walls in a flash, only to reach the doctor's house to be told that he was away twenty miles into the country. Then Joel sat down on the grass by the roadside, and burying his face in his hands, cried as if his heart would break.

He didn't mind that a pair of spirited black horses were coming down the road, the bright horses all a-jingle, and the carriage all a-bloom with gay colors, and merry with cheery voices.

"What's the matter?" called somebody to him, but he cried on as hard as he could.

Then his little shoulder in his homespun jacket was shaken smartly. "See here, my boy, either you tell me what you're screaming for, or I'll pick you up and carry you off."

Joel looked up, the streams of tears making muddy paths along his face, where he had rubbed it with his grimy hands. "Dave's killed," he burst out, "and the--the doctor's gone away!"

"Come on." It was a kind face that was over him, and in a minute Joel felt himself lifted by a pair of strong arms that presently tossed him into the carriage, in amongst the occupants, while the owner of the arms jumped in beside him. "Do you know the way home?" he asked.

"Of course," said Joel; "it's the little brown house--" then he began to cry again.

"See here, my lad, look at me." Joel rolled his eyes up at the man, the rest of the people keeping quite still to listen. "You are a brave boy, I know. Now I'm a doctor, and if you'll just take me to your house, I'll have a look at that Dave of yours. Which way?"

Joel sat bolt upright as well as he could, being crammed in between a big fat man and his kind friend, and directed this way and that way, his tears all gone, and before any one could hardly think twice, the pair of black horses and the jingling harness and big carriage had stopped before the little brown house, and the doctor was springing over the stepping-stones in such a lively fashion that Joel had to run to keep up with him, until there they were, with Grandma Bascom waddling around in search of some herbs that were drying in the corner of the woodshed, and Polly still holding David's hand as he lay on the pile of grain bags. And in five minutes the new doctor had all the examination made, and Davie was sitting up, his head on Polly's shoulder; and no bones were broken, and all the trouble was the fright produced by the shock of the fall. And the color flew back into Polly's cheek, and Grandma Bascom kept saying, "Praise the Lord--and who be ye, anyway?" bobbing her cap-border at the new doctor. And he laughed and didn't tell her.

But he did tell some funny stories. And little Davie laughed; and when they saw that, they all laughed, and the people out in the carriage said, "Just like Dr. Herman," and one tall girl, with her hat all covered with red roses, said, "Uncle John is always doing such queer things. I do wish he would hurry and come. It is too bad to have our driving tour interrupted like that." And pretty soon down the stepping-stones he came, as light and quick as could be, Grandma Bascom lifting both hands and calling after him, "Well, you're an angel of the Lord, anyway," and the new doctor was laughing. But he had stopped to look into Polly's brown eyes. "Don't worry, little girl, he's all right," he said.

Joel squeezed past them through the doorway, and ran after him.

"Please stop just a minute," he begged.

"Hey?" said the doctor, turning his foot on the step. The tall girl in the hat with big red roses looked impatient enough, and beat her foot on the carriage floor, but Joel kept on.

"I like you," he burst out, "ever'n ever so much."

The doctor put one hand on Joel's stubby black hair, and turned his grimy face up. "You've got to be a man," he said; "now look out for it while you're a boy. I guess you'll do." He jumped into the carriage and drove the black pair of horses off at a smart gait down the road, while Joel stood on the roadside grass to see him go.