THE WATER BARREL
"DAVID, Father and I are leaving one thing for you to attend to this morning," Mother said, as she took her gloves and pocketbook from the drawer and glanced out of the window to see if Father had brought the horse to the door.
"There's Father, waiting for me. Listen, dear! I want you, before you do anything else, to fill the water tank, so that it will last all to-morrow."
"I was going right down to the pasture to help Pete catch the lambs." David's voice sounded a little whining.
"No," replied Mother firmly; "bring up the water first of all, or it may not get done. Father and I will be home by six o'clock. After that one job, you can have fun all the rest of the day. Good-bye."
"Good-bye," David called, as the carriage rattled down the lane.
He walked back into the house and straight through to the kitchen. They were proud of this house David and his father and mother for it was very new and had taken a long time to build. Parts of it still were not finished. The well had not been drilled, so that all the water had to be carried from the spring, instead of being brought into the house through pipes. It was David's special work to keep water in a large barrel fastened firmly on a strong platform over the kitchen sink His mother could then draw it from a spigot connected with the bottom of the barrel.
David climbed up a few steps at the side of the barrel, and, leaning far over the rim, tried to see how much water was left. It was so low that he couldn't even touch the surface with his finger-tips He sighed and got the bucket out from under the sink. He was a strong little boy almost twelve years old and he wasn't a bit tired, but it made him sigh to think of all the things he wanted to do that cool, sunshiny morning.
After the first five buckets had been poured into the barrel, with violent splashings, David sat down on the kitchen step to rest. He could see Pete, the hired man, down in the sheep pasture.
"I wonder why it wouldn't do just as well if I finished carrying water this afternoon," he thought. "What's the difference to Mother, so long as I get it done?"
He got up and was starting down the path when he remembered the last time Mother had gone to town. She and Father had been away all Sunday, and he had promised to have the barrel filled for the Monday washing. Well, as it turned out, he had let it go and Monday morning Mother couldn't do the wash because Father, Pete and David had all gone to haul a load of lumber, and no one was there to carry in water.
David turned back, kicking pebbles impatiently. "Five more buckets, and I'll call it enough," he muttered. One bucket two buckets three four the sun was getting very hot five at last! Again he climbed the steps and leaned over the brim. The surface of the water glimmered more than half-way up the barrel, but still it wasn't nearly full.
David knew that by this time Pete had finished with the lambs and would be mending fence in the south pasture. Blue-berries were thick over there. David felt very hungry. He picked up the bucket and said to himself, "Two more, and then I'm through!" Suddenly it occurred to him that it would be fun to fill the old barrel once, really, entirely, full. Always before he had stopped as soon as possible, which meant, of course, that the supply ran out so much the sooner. He ran down to the spring with fresh enthusiasm. One bucket it slopped over and wet his shoes a little. Two buckets that time he almost stumbled over the step and spilled it all. Three buckets it certainly was getting very heavy! Four buckets " Pete called to him, "Come on down here with me, boy," and David only answered shortly, "I'm busy." Five buckets. The water didn't make much noise now when it was poured in. Six buckets David poured very slowly, looking over the edge as he did so. Close to his face was the black shadow of his own head, and the barrel was full to the brim.
"Whoopee! Pete sixteen buckets and it's chuck up. full!" yelled David, leaping madly and waving his arms with joy.
An hour later, Pete stopped digging his posthole and stared at the distant house: "David!" he cried excitedly," look at that smoke. Where's it coming from?"
David mounted to the top rail of the fence and shaded his eyes. "Seems to be out of the cellar window on this side," he answered.
Without another word, Pete ran at top speed across the fields, David after him. The kitchen was thick with smoke, which seemed to be pouring up from the cellar. Pete plunged down the steps, but was back again in an instant, coughing and choking.
"The long piece of hose from the barn run, boy, run! That wood in the cellar is smouldering!" He staggered to the sink and grabbed up the bucket.
Dragging the hose after him, David panted back again, too breathless to ask questions. He watched Pete screw one end of the hose to the spigot under the water barrel, tie a wet towel over his nose and mouth, and with a muffled "Stay right here unless I call," dive down again into the smoke.
It seemed hours to David that he alternately stood as near as he could to the cellar door, listening to Pete tumbling things around below, and climbed to peer into the tank. The water sank lower and lower. The hissing, as Pete poured it through the hose on the crackling wood, became fainter. Suppose the barrel ran dry before the fire was out! They would have to carry water in the bucket all the way from the spring. It occurred to David that he might be hauling some now, and then he remembered Pete had said, "Stay right here." Perhaps Pete was afraid the smoke might overcome him and he would need help. David did not dare to stir. The crackling had stopped entirely now only thick rolls of smoke poured up the stairway and out of the door and windows. Silence below. David was scared. Had anything happened to Pete? The smoke was lighter now. He crept on the floor close to the steps and called. He was startled to hear Pete's voice quite close: "I'm comin', boy."
For five minutes Pete lay on the grass outside, breathing very hard. He was so black that David wanted to laugh, but was afraid he would cry instead. After a while Pete rolled over and looked at the boy sitting beside him.
"Close shave, Dave! There for a while I thought the house was gone. All that dry lumber afire! Must have been started by what they call 'spontaneous combustion' in that pile of wet rags the workmen left. Say, boy" he sat up slowly "how's it ever happen that the water barrel was full? All the time I was squirtin' water I kept thinking 'If the water'll just hold out, I can save her yet.' But I never s'posed there'd be as much in the barrel as there was. Just enough to kill the last flicker and a bit less wouldn't have done!"
"I filled it chuck full this morning," David answered.
"Well, let me tell you then you saved this nice, brand-new house of your pa's from burning to a cinder! Put it there, old chap!" David's hand was swallowed up in Pete's grimy fist, and he grinned proudly.