“‘Why, it’s the man who stole Polly’s bread!’ He almost screamed.”
“Come on, Dave!”
It was Joel’s voice, and Polly pricked up her ears. “‘Tisn’t going to hurt you. Hoh! You’re a ‘fraid-cat — old ‘fraid-cat!”
“No, I’m not ‘fraid-cat,” declared little Davie, trying to speak stoutly; “I’m coming, Joel,” and his little rusty shoes pattered unevenly down the rickety board walk.
“Jo-el!” called Polly, thinking it quite time now to interfere.
Joel scuttled behind the old woodshed, and several smothered grunts proclaimed his disapproval at the interruption.
“Now I know you’re up to some mischief,” declared Polly, “so you just come into the house, Joel Pepper, and tell me what it is.”
“‘Tisn’t,” said Joel, loudly insisting. “Don’t go, Dave,”in a loud whisper. Thereupon ensued a lively scuffle, evidently, by the noise they made.
“I must,” said little Davie; “Polly called us.”
“No, she didn’t call you,” declared Joel. “You stay here. She said ‘Joel.’”
“Bo-oys!” sang out Polly’s voice, not to have any doubt in the matter.
“There, she did call me,” cried Davie, wriggling to get free from Joel’s clutch; “she said ‘boys!’”
“She’s always calling us,” said Joel, in an injured voice, dragging himself away from the charms of the woodshed to straggle slowly back to the house.
There sat Polly on the big stone that served as a step for the back door, with her hands folded in her lap. Little Davie skipped by Joel, and ran up to her, with a flushed face.
“Now I should like to know what you’ve been up to, Joey Pepper?” said Polly, her brown eyes full on him.
“Haven’t been up to anything,” mumbled Joel, hanging his chubby face.
“Yes, you have, I know,” declared Polly, in her most positive fashion; “now tell me what it is, and right straight off, Joel. Begin.” She kept her hands still folded in her lap. “What were you going to do?”
Joel squirmed all over the little patch of ground before the flat doorstone, and dug the toes of his shoes into the dirt.
“Don’t do so,” cried Polly. “You’ll get bigger holes in ‘em. Oh, Joel, to think how naughty you are, and Mamsie away!”
At that Joel gave a loud howl, nearly upsetting Polly from her stone; then, digging his two fists into his eyes, he plunged forward and thrust his black head on the folded hands in her lap. “I ain’t naughty,” he screamed. “I ain’t, and Mamsie won’t care. O dear — ooh — ooh!”
“Tell me what you were going to do, before I can say you are not naughty,” said Polly, dreadfully frightened at his outburst, but not unfolding her hands.
“I was only going to — going to — going to — ” mumbled Joel, trying to burrow past her hands, and get into the comforting lap.
“Going to do what?” demanded Polly, still not moving.
“I was going to — going to — ” said Joel, in smothered tones.
“Stop saying you were going to,” commanded Polly, in her firmest tones.
“You told me to tell you,” said Joel. “O dear! I was going to — ”
“Well, tell then, at once; what were you going to do? Hurry up, Joe; now go on.”
“I was going to — ” began Joel again. “O dear me! I was going to — ” he mumbled, burrowing deeper yet.
“Joel Pepper!” cried Polly, in a tone that brought him bolt upright, his round face streaked with tears that his dirty little hands had tried to wipe off, the rest of them trailing over his round nose. “O dear me! Now you must go into the ‘provision room’ and stay. Don’t you remember Mamsie said you’d have to go there the next time you wouldn’t tell what you’d done?” And Polly looked as if she were going to cry at once.
“Oh, no — no!” screamed Joel, in the greatest distress, and clutching Polly’s arm. “I’ll tell you, Polly; I’ll tell.” And he began to rattle off a lot of words, but Polly stopped him.
“No, it’s too late now. I’ve said it, and you must go; for Mamsie wouldn’t like it if you didn’t.”
Thereupon Joel gave a terrible howl. Little Davie, in distress, clapped his hands to his ears. “Oh, Polly, don’t make him,” he was saying, when heavy steps came around the corner of the house. “Any ra-ags to sell?” sang out the voice of a very big man.
Joel took one black eye away from his brown hands, and shot a sharp look at him. Then he howled worse than ever.
“No,” said Polly, “not to-day, Mr. Biggs. There was a bagful Mamsie said I might sell, but I can’t get it now.”
“Sho! That’s too bad,” ejaculated Mr. Biggs. “What’s the matter with him?” pointing a square, dingy thumb at Joel. “Stomach-ache?”
“No,” said Polly, sadly, “it’s worse than that. Please go away, Mr. Biggs, and come some other day.”
“Worse’n stomach-ache,” said Mr. Biggs, in astonishment, and slapping his big hands together; “then I can’t take him with me. But t’other one might go, if you say so, marm.” He always called Polly marm, and she liked it very much. He now pointed to David.
“Where are you going?” asked Polly, while David took away his hands from his ears to hear, too.
“Why, you see, marm, Mis’ Pettingill, up to th’East Quarter — you know Mis’ Pettingill?”
“No,” said Polly.
“I do,” roared Joel, forgetting his distress. “I know, Polly. She lives in a nice yellow house, and there’s a duck-pond, and cherry trees.” He pranced up to Mr. Biggs, smiling through his tears.
“That’s it,” cried Mr. Biggs, delighted at being understood. “This boy knows.” He laid his hand heavily on Joel’s shoulder. “Well, he seems to be better now, so I’ll take him and t’other one along of me, marm, if you say so. Ye see, Mis’ Pettingill told me to come up there sometime, ‘cause she’s got a lot o’ rags — ben a-makin’ quilts, she said, all winter, and I laid out to go to-day, so here I be, on my way.”
“Whickets!” shouted Joel, the last tear gone. “Come on, Dave. Oh, won’t we have fun! I’m going to sit in the middle. Let me drive. Let me, Mr. Biggs.” He swarmed all over the big rag-man.
Little David stood perfectly still and clasped his hands in delight.
“‘Whickets!’ shouted Joel, the last tear gone”
Polly drew a long breath, and the rosy color flew out of her cheek. “You can’t go, Joe,” she said slowly. “Mamsie wouldn’t like it, after you’ve been naughty.”
Joel’s arms fell down at his side, and he stared wildly at her a moment. Then he flung himself flat on the ground and roared.
“He’s worse agin,” said Mr. Biggs, in great distress. “I guess he wants pep’mint. My mother used to give me that when I’d et green apples.”
But Polly shook her head. “He can’t go, Mr. Biggs,” she said; “but Davie can.”
At this little Davie gave a squeal of joy, and took three steps down the grass plot, but stopped suddenly.
“All right,” said Mr. Biggs, heartily. “Come on, boy; I must be off. It’s a good piece down to Mis’ Pettingill’s. And she always wants me to take time a-weighin’ her rags.” And he began to lumber off.
“I don’t want to go if Joel can’t,” said Davie, slowly, and turning his back to the red rag-wagon waiting out in the road. He twisted his fingers hard, and kept saying, “No, I don’t want to go, Polly, if Joel can’t.”
“All right, Davie,” said Polly, beginning to cuddle him; “only you must remember, Mr. Biggs won’t go again this summer out to Mrs. Pettingill’s, most likely.”
Davie shook his head again, and twisted his fingers worse than ever. “I don’t want to go if Joel can’t,” he said, while Joel roared harder still, if that were possible. So Polly had to run down the grassy slope to overtake Mr. Biggs, who was now getting up into his red cart, in front of the dangling tin dishes, brooms, and pails with which it was filled.
“If you please, sir,” she said, the rosy color all over her cheek, “there can’t either of the boys go.”
“Hey? What’s the matter with the littlest one,” cried Mr. Biggs, turning around with one foot on the shaft. “Is he took sick, too?”