The Pile of Bricks
A builder's truck had jolted as it drove up the village street, and some old bricks had fallen out, right in front of the little girl's house. They were piled up against the door so that she could not open it. Oh dear, what should she do? Fortunately the window was low, so she climbed in and out of the window whenever she left her home or returned to it.
One morning, while she was getting out this way, a stranger in the street came forward to help her down.
"Thank you, sir," she said politely.
"Why do you climb out through the window?" he asked.
"I always do," she explained, "because there is a pile of old bricks blocking up the door."
"Then why don't you move them, my dear?"
"What, me?" she laughed. "Hardly! I'm far too small to shift a pile of bricks!"
"I see," he said. "Well, suppose someone else were shifting them, where do you think they might be put?"
She thought for a moment. "Over the wall into the waste land?" she suggested.
The stranger nodded his approval. "Yes, that would be a good place, out of everybody's way. Now, my dear, throw one over, just to mark the place."
The little girl picked up a brick from the pile and pushed it over the top of the wall. It fell with a thud into a clump of nettles on the other side.
"Ah!" remarked the stranger, smiling. "I see you are big enough to move the bricks, after all!"
"I can carry one or two of them, of course, but not the whole pile."
"Why not?" he asked. "The others are no heavier than the one you have disposed of. Let me see. You have taken one away this morning. Do another at dinner time, and another at tea time. That will be three for today. Do the same tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.... You can leave out Sunday. That will be eighteen bricks every week, seventy-five a month. In a few months' time, say before Christmas, you will have shifted the whole pile, and will be able to use your door again."
The girl gasped. "But I don't want to be moving old bricks every day until Christmas!"
"Oh, I'm sorry," said the stranger sadly. "I thought you wanted to shift that pile of bricks. Of course, if you don't want to, there's nothing more to be said."
"But I do want to," she protested. "Only...."
"Well, it's up to you."
A few days later, the little girl met the stranger again, up in the village.
"Good morning, my dear," he said. "I was just thinking of you and your pile of bricks. Come with me into this barn; I have something to show you."
They pushed open the big wooden door and went inside. It was dark, until their eyes got used to it; but there was a strong smell, like the smell of the butcher's, the baker's, the grocer's, the vegetable market, and all the food-shops of the village mixed together. On the floor of the barn were some dead sheep, a dead cow, and a lot of dead chickens. There were sacks of corn and great piles of potatoes, carrots, cabbages and other vegetables; huge cans of milk, baskets of eggs, barrels of butter, and piles of sugar, salt, tea, cocoa and suchlike. Also a large cistern of water.
"There!" said the stranger. All this is what you are going to eat before Christmas. It is your personal allowance. You must eat all of it, including the cow and the sheep, and you will easily finish it before the end of the year."
The girl gasped. "You must be joking! How could I possibly get through all that food ! Why, even to look at it makes me feel sick!"
"Take it easy," said the stranger. "A little at a time. You have already had your breakfast this morning. Soon you will eat your dinner, then your tea. Three meals a day, seven days a week. Thirty days in the month - March, April, May...."
The stranger stopped his calculations, because the girl was making her way out of the barn. "Where are you going?" he called after her.
"I'm going home," she said. "I want to start moving that pile of bricks!"