O NCE upon a time there was a little boy and he was almost five years old. And there weren't any other children near for him to play with, so he used to play happily all by himself.
He had his cat and his cart and his shovel and his hoe, and he always wore his overalls when he was playing.
They were building a house in a field near that little boy's house; and, one morning, he had heard the sounds of hammers and of mallets all the time he was at breakfast.
So he hurried to get through, and he slipped down from his chair and took off his napkin and he wiped his mouth and he turned to his mother.
She was sitting still, smiling because he was in such a hurry.
"You seem to be in a good deal of a hurry," she said.
"Yes," he said, nodding, "I am. I think I had better go over to the new house."
"To see whether the men are doing their work right?" she asked.
"You see, I have to help the mortar man," he explained.
"Good-bye, dear," she said. Then she kissed him. "Be very careful."
"Yes, I will."
Then he went out, and he got his cart, and he put his shovel and his hoe in it, and he called his cat; but no cat came. And he called her again, but she didn't come then.
So he took up the handle of his cart, and he walked over to the new house, dragging his cart behind him, with his shovel and his hoe rattling in the bottom of it.
The mortar man was still there, hoeing mortar for the bricklayers to use, for the chimneys weren't done yet.
"Hello," said the mortar man.
"Hello," the little boy said. "I came as soon as I could."
"Where's your kitty?" the mortar man asked. "You couldn't find her, could you? Well, look around behind you."
The little boy looked around behind him.
He was standing with his back to the house, so that, when he looked behind him, he saw the new house and the carpenters who were working at great beams which were on wooden horses that stood on the ground.
And he saw his cat, too. She was walking toward him, with her bushy tail sticking straight up in the air.
But the little boy was too much interested in what the carpenters were doing to pay much attention to his cat.
"What are those men doing?" he asked of the mortar man.
"The carpenters? They are cutting mortises in those girts. That is, little holes in those big beams. The ends of other beams will be made small enough to go in those holes, and they will hold the floor up."
"Mor—tar!" shouted one of the men who were building the chimney.
The mortar man hurried off with his hod of mortar, and the little boy wandered over to where the carpenters were.
His cat went, too, but he left his cart by the pile of sand.
There were two carpenters there, and they both looked up and smiled.
They had great thick chisels and heavy wooden mallets in their hands, and there was a big bit, or "borer," as the little boy called it, lying on the ground between them. And I don't know why "borer" isn't a better name for it.
There were some round holes in the beams which had been made by the borer, and the men were making those round holes square with the chisels.
One of the men had just finished a hole when the little boy came, and he went ahead to the next round hole, and he put the edge of the chisel carefully against the wood, and he struck it with the mallet.
Plack! Plack! Plack! shrieked the mallet on the chisel.
Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! the wood grunted, and it seemed to shiver when the mallet struck.
Cutting a Hole
Then there was a splintering noise and a part of the wood broke away.
Plack! Plack! Plack! screamed the mallet again.
The wood grunted again, but it was of no use, and another piece broke away.
And then the man hit the chisel again and another piece broke off, and the chisel came through on the other side of the beam.
And the carpenter drove the chisel through at the other side of the hole, in the same way; and what had been a round hole was a square one.
Then he laid the mallet down and took the chisel in both hands, and he leaned over the square hole and made the sides all smooth with the chisel.
Then he made a sort of sloping hole, a kind of a little square trench, and it went from the side of the beam into the square hole.
Then he put his tools down and looked at the little boy again and smiled.
"There!" he said. "That's done." The little boy smiled back at him.
"Is it?" he said. "What goes in that hole? I could put my hand in it."
"It's not for little boys' hands," answered the carpenter. "The end of a short beam goes in there. I'll show you. We have to make places for the chimneys to come through and so people can go upstairs without knocking their heads. Did you ever think of that?"
The little boy shook his head, and he came nearer. "Show me."
So the carpenter went to a little pile of short beams; and he took one and brought it back.
And he turned the big beam on edge, and fitted the end of the little beam into the hole.
The end of the little beam had already been made small, so that it would go in.
"There," he said. "Now here, where I stand, will be the stairs for people to go up, and there will be that other big beam on the other side. We have to leave this big hole in the floor so that a man can go on the stairs without hitting his head, you know. Everywhere else will be a floor, except where the chimneys come through. Do you understand?"
The little boy nodded. He thought that he understood, although it was not very easy to understand.
And while he was trying to understand better, there came a voice behind him.
"Hello! I wondered where you were."
And he looked around and there was his friend the foreman, and the cat had gone to meet him and was coming back beside him, and she was looking up into the foreman's face, and her bushy tail was sticking straight up into the air.
"Hello," said the little boy; and he leaned back against the horse that the beam rested on.
"Your kitty," said the foreman, "came up here all by herself, and she followed me about."
The little boy laughed.
"She's a funny kitty," he said.
The foreman stooped down.
"I think you'd better tell me your name," he said. "I like to know the names of my friends."
"My name is David," the little boy answered.
"And mine is Jonathan," said the foreman quickly. "Think of that! Now, Davie, come with me and let's see how the other men are getting on."
So David put his little hand into the foreman's big one, and they started; and David saw some men putting up a great, tall beam on one of the corners.
Two men were holding it, and another man reached up as high as he could and nailed a board to it, and the other end of the board was fastened down low, so that the tall beam shouldn't fall over when the men let go.
"What are those men doing?" David asked. "That sticks up like my kitty's tail, doesn't it?"
"So it does," the foreman said. "There'll be more of them presently, sticking up all along every side."
"Will there? How many of those sticks will there be?"
"Oh, I don't know; more than fifty, I should think."
"A cat with fifty tails." And the little boy laughed. "Did you ever see a kitty with fifty tails?"
"All sticking straight up in the air!" said the foreman. "That would be funny. She'd look like a porcupine."
"What is a porcupine?" David asked. "Did I ever see one?"
"I guess not," the foreman answered. "Anyway, I never did. It's a little animal all covered with sharp things. It's just as if your kitty's fur was about three or four times as long as it is, and every hair was stiff and sharp. There's a great rattling as they walk, I'm told. The Indians used to sew the quills—the sharp things—on their soft leather slippers, because they looked pretty."
"Tell me some more about them," said David.
"I don't know any more. See, Davie, the men are putting up another stick."
So David watched the men put up that stick, and he forgot about the porcupine, which was what the foreman wanted.
And then he watched them put up another, and then another.
"They look as if they were the bones of the house," he said.
"So they do, Davie," the foreman said, "and so they
are. And the whole frame, before it's boarded in—before
any boards are nailed on—looks like the
skeleton of a house, and so it is. They'll have pretty
near the whole frame up by the time you eat your supper;
"Am I? What are my ribs?"
"These bones." And the foreman stooped and ran his finger quickly down David's ribs, and David shrieked with laughter.
"Tickles," said David. "Show me my ribs again."
"It isn't good for little boys to be tickled too
much," said the foreman. "Now we'll go
over to the
So they turned around and went to the
Then he had to go away and the mortar man had gone away, and nobody was there but David and his cat.
And David thought that he would help the mortar man, so he filled his cart with sand and dragged it over to the mortar box and shoveled it in.
Then he took up the handle of his cart, and he called his cat, and he walked along to his house, dragging his cart.
And his shovel rattled in the bottom of it, and his cat ran on before him.
But he had forgotten his hoe. It was in the pile of sand.
And that's all of this story.