The Sandman: His House Stories  by Willliam J. Hopkins

The Plumber Story

O NCE upon a time there was a little boy, and he was almost five years old, and his name was David. 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 new house in the field next to David's house, and it was all done on the outside, but it wasn't painted.

And the men were working inside, for David could hear the hammering, and sometimes he could hear them sawing.

One morning, after breakfast, David went to his mother and said that the foreman wanted him to come to the new house that morning, for the plumbers would be there.

He didn't know what plumbers were.

"What are plumbers, mother?"

"They are men who mend the pipes, dear," his mother answered.

"What pipes?" he asked. "Are the pipes broken?"

His mother laughed. "Well, I suppose they put in the water pipes, and the bathtubs and the basins and the hot-water boiler and all those things."

David nodded, and let his mother kiss him, and then he went out.

And his cat was there, waiting for him, and his cart was there, with his shovel and his hoe in the bottom of it. And he stooped down and took hold of the handle of his cart, and he trudged to the new house, dragging his cart.

The mortar man had gone some time before, and there wasn't any sand-pile, but the foreman saw him coming.

"Hello, Davie," he called.

"Hello," David called back.

"You're just in time to go into the house with me," the foreman said.

So David dropped the handle of his cart and the foreman took hold of his hand, and they went up the steps and into the house.

The partition walls between the rooms weren't all done, and David could see right through them in some places into the next room.

And the foreman and David went through the place that would be the front hall when it was done, with the front stairs going up out of it and some carpenters were working there now and there was a great mess.

"What are the carpenters doing?" David asked.

"They're nailing on laths, Davie," the foreman answered. "Laths, you see, are the little thin sticks that go on the up-and-down sticks of the walls, and the plaster goes on them and squeezes between them. Then, when it hardens, the part that is between the laths holds the rest of the plaster up and against the wall."

David nodded, but they were in the back hall now, with the back stairs going up out of it, and he forgot the carpenters and the laths.

Under the back stairs were some stairs that went down to the cellar, and the foreman started down.

"Be careful of the steps, Davie," said the foreman. "They have to have these rough boards on them now, while the workmen are here, so that the real steps won't get all dirty and worn. When the men are almost through, about the last thing they do is to lay floors and put nice boards on the stairs."

David couldn't see very well, but he could feel that the boards of the stairs were uneven and rough, and some of them were small; but he was careful, and he went slowly, and at last he was on the cellar floor.

Far off in the very end of the cellar he saw a lantern lighted, and a flickering light which moved about, high up.

Then, as he got used to the darkness, he saw the legs of two men; and they had great wrenches and were doing something to long pipes, and they had a candle which they held close up to the pipes, so that they could see.

And the pipes went along close to the beams overhead, so that the men were all the time bumping their heads and knocking their elbows on the beams, and they didn't have room enough to work.

That was the reason why David had seen only their legs when he first came down.

It wasn't a very convenient way to work, but the men didn't seem to mind. Perhaps they were used to it.

"Are those the pipes that the water goes through?" David asked.

"Yes, Davie," the foreman said. "It comes in through the wall there, close down to the floor, from that pipe that you saw the men laying in the street.

"Then it goes up and through these pipes to the back of the cellar, and then up again to the kitchen and the pantry and the bathrooms.

"It isn't much fun being down here, is it?"

"No," David said, "it isn't."

The foreman laughed.

"Well, you wait a half a jiffy and we'll go up."

So David waited while the foreman took a paper out of his pocket.

And first he looked at the paper and then he looked at the pipes, and then he looked at the paper again.

Then he folded the paper and put it into his pocket, and he took David's hand and they went up the cellar stairs, and through a door into the kitchen.

There David saw the legs of two other men who were lying down under the sink.

They had a stump of a candle, too, for David could see its flickering light.

And there was a kind of a lamp out on the floor beyond, and it burned with a sputtering and a hissing and a roaring, and it threw a big bluish kind of a flame straight out, like water out of a hose.

David watched the men for nearly a minute without saying anything, but he couldn't guess what they were up to.

"What are they doing?" he asked at last.

"They're putting in the waste pipe and the trap," said the foreman; "but you don't know what that is, of course. They're putting in the pipe that the water runs through when it runs out of the sink."

"Oh, I know," David cried. "It's for the dirty water that the pots and pans have been washed in; the soapy water."

"That's just right, Davie."

"Well," David said, "why do they have to be lying down to do it? I should think they'd rather do it standing up or sitting down."

At that, one of the men poked his head out and smiled at David.

"You got that just right, too," he said; "but here's where it has to go, and there's no other way that I know of."

"The pipe has to be under the sink, Davie, for the water to run into it," the foreman said. "Now come on, and we'll go upstairs again."

So the foreman and David went up the back stairs very slowly and carefully, for there were rough boards on those stairs, too; and they went through a door and through the upstairs hall, and through another door into a small square room.

The foreman said that that room would be the bathroom. No plaster was on the walls yet, but the laths were all on. And there wasn't any bathtub yet, nor any basin; only some pipes sticking up out of the floor.

And David saw the bodies and the legs of two more men.

These men had their heads and shoulders through a great square hole in the floor, and their bodies and their legs were lying on the floor and sticking out straight.

David laughed. "Water-pipe men are funny men," he said.

One of the men lifted his head out of the hole in the floor and smiled at David, but he didn't say anything.

"They're putting in the waste pipe and the trap," the foreman said, "that is, the pipe that the water will run through when it runs out of the bathtub. A tub will be here, Davie, after the floor is laid."

David nodded.

"Would you like to be a plumber, Davie?" the foreman asked, smiling.

David shook his head.

"I think I'd better go now," he said. "My kitty won't know where I am."

So the foreman laughed, and he tucked David under his arm and carried him downstairs and out of the front door, and he set him down on the ground.

"Good-bye, Davie," said the foreman.

"Good-bye," said David.

And he took hold of the handle of his cart, and walked home as fast as he could, dragging his cart, and his shovel and his hoe rattled in the bottom of it.

When he got home, there was his cat waiting for him.

David dropped the handle of his cart, and ran around to the back of the house and got an old grocery box that he used to play with.

He kept all his things at the back of the house: old broken grocery boxes and old tin cans and rows of bottles, some of them filled with water and some filled with thin mud and some empty, and nails and pieces of iron and sticks but not his toys.

And David dragged the old grocery box around to the front, and put it opposite the end of a step.

Not all of the boards which had been nailed on for a cover were taken off, so that the inside of the box was hard to get at, and it was rather dark.

Then he picked up two short sticks and put them on the step.

David hurried to do all these things, and when he had them done, he hurried into the house and into the dining-room, and he climbed up in a chair and took a short candle out of one of the candlesticks which they used on the table.

Then he pushed the chair over near where the matches were, and he climbed up again and got three matches. And then he hurried out again.

He scratched one of the matches on the piazza floor and managed to get the candle lighted with that first match.

So he dropped the other two matches, he didn't know where, and he carried his candle to the grocery box, very carefully, so that it shouldn't blow out, and he reached in and put it in a corner.

Then he lay down on the step and put his head and shoulders and his arms inside the box, and he took the two short sticks in his hands.

David's mother had heard the chair scraping on the dining-room floor, when he pushed it over to get the matches, and she thought that, as likely as not, that was David, and she thought that she had better see what he was doing.

She didn't think there was any great hurry about it, and so she came downstairs in a few minutes, and she went out upon the piazza.

There she saw David's body and his fat little legs sticking out straight on the step, but his head and his arms were in the box, so she couldn't see them.

And there was a light flickering inside the box, and there was a noise of scraping and knocking, once in a while.

But she wasn't surprised.

"What in the world are you doing, dear?" she asked.

David drew his head out of the box so that he could see his mother and answer her. His face was pretty red.

"I'm a plumber, mother," he said, "and I'm doing the work in the bathroom. Plumbers always  do it this way."


Playing Plumber

David's mother laughed.

"So they do, dear, pretty nearly," she said. "Be very careful of the candle, and don't burn yourself or set the box afire, and be sure to blow it out when you are through."

And David nodded and put his head back in the box, and his mother went in, smiling.

And his cat came and stood on the cover boards that had been left on, and she put her head down and peered into the box, but she didn't get in.

And that's all of the plumber story.