IX. The Ten-dollar Bill
 

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Joel brought himself up remorsefully, trying to recover the collection of rag dolls sent spinning from her black arms.

"An' dey were sech perfec' beauties!" mourned Candace, twisting her hands sorrowfully together. "Oh, me! oh, my!"

"They aren't hurt a bit," declared Joel stoutly, precipitating the whole collection unceremoniously at her. "There they are, every single one, as nice as ever!"

"Take care," warned Candace. "Oh, my soul and body!" she mourned, "dey're all mussed up."

"You can comb it out," said Joel, longing to comfort, and forgetting it was wool from Candace's own head.

"And what'll Mis' Cabot and Mis' Alstyne say?" groaned Candace. Then she sat right down on the grass and began to pick at the dolls discontentedly. "W'y couldn't you 'a' looked whar you're goin', Mas'r Joel?"

"Have Mrs. Alstyne and Mrs. Cabot bought those dolls?" cried Joel, pointing a brown finger at them. "Oh, dear me!" He just saved himself from exclaiming, "Those horrors!"

"Yes," said Candace, smoothing a woolly head in great distress, "but I dunno's they'll want 'em now, dey've been shook up so and spilt on de groun'--oh, dear me!"

"Joel, aren't you coming with that letter bag?" and, "Joel Pepper, hurry up!" The cries were now so insistent that Joel dashed away, stopped, and rushed back tumultuously. "Oh, Candace, I'm so sorry!" He flung himself down on the grass by her side. Distress was written so plainly all over his hot face that Candace stopped in her work over the dolls to turn and regard him.

"Bress yer heart, honey," she cried, now as much worried over Joel as she had been about the dolls, "dey ain't hurt a mite--not a single grain," she added emphatically.

"Oh, Candace, are you sure?" he exclaimed delightedly.

"Not a mite," protested Candace, bobbing her own woolly head in a decided fashion. "Dear me! now I'm afraid I discomberated my turban, an' it's my spick an' span comp'ny one Mr. King give me for this yere berry occasion," and she put up both black hands to feel of it anxiously. Joel jumped to his feet and ran all around the big figure to get the most comprehensive view.

"It's all right, Candace," he reported, in great satisfaction.

"Sure, honey?" she asked doubtfully.

"Yes, yes," declared Joel quickly, prancing up in front of her. "I like you, Candace; you're just as nice as can be."

"Den gimme your hands!"--she laid the rag dolls carefully on the grass, and put out both of her black ones--"and hoist me up, honey, dat's a good chile."

So Joel stuck out his brown hands, and Candace laying hold of them, he tugged, very red in the face, till finally she set her ample gaiters on the ground and stood straight.

Up rushed Van.

"They're complaining at the post office," he squealed. "You've got to give me your bag. Folks can't get their letters. Give me the bag." He thrust out both hands.

Joel turned on him in a fury,

"You aren't going to have my bag," he screamed.

"I am, too; you're so slow, and don't give out the letters," said Van, delighted to find some chance to get the best of Joel, and quite important to be sent with a message to such an effect.

"You shan't either; I ain't slow," cried Joel, answering both statements at once, and whirling around in an endeavor to keep the bag at his back. But Van flew for it, disdaining to waste more time over arguments.

Candace stretched out a large, black hand. "See here, now, Mas'r Van, leggo dat bag." She seized him by the jacket collar with such a grip that he dismissed all thoughts of the mail bag, his one concern now being to get free from Candace.

"Ow!" he screamed, wriggling violently. "I don't want the mail bag; let me go, Candace, do!"

"See," cried little Dick, half across the lawn, to a merry party of ladies and gentlemen, who turned to follow the pointing of the small finger toward Candace and her capture.

"Oh, let me go," cried Van, very red in the face at this, and trying to duck behind her big figure, "Please, Candace."

"Let him go," begged Joel, just as much distressed; "he won't touch the bag, I don't believe, again, Candace."

"Oh, I won't, I won't," promised Van wildly. "I don't want the bag; do let me go, Candace."

"Yer see, Mas'r Joel was a-helpin' me," said Candace, slowly releasing Van's jacket collar, "an' 'twarn't none 'o his fault dat he stopped kerryin' de letters." But Van was off from under her open fingers and shot across the green in the opposite direction from little Dick and his party.

"Now I'll take my dolls to de ladies," observed Candace, bundling them up in her clean, checked apron. She sent a satisfied glance after Joel, making quick time toward the post office, then waddled off.

"Boy!" called a fine, imperious voice, as Joel dashed by a group of ladies and gentlemen. As there wasn't any other boy in sight, he might be supposed to be the one wanted; but Joel by this time was frantic to get to the post office, and with his mind filled with mortification and distress at his delay from his duty, he paid no heed to the call, now repeated more insistently.

"It's a lady," then said Joel to himself, "so I must go back. Oh, dear me!" He wheeled abruptly, and, hot and red-faced, plunged up to the group.

"What is it, ma'am?" Then he saw to his disgust that it was Mrs. Chatterton. She was surrounded by friends whom she had met abroad.

"Why didn't you come when I bade you?" she exclaimed arrogantly. "Don't you know it's your place to serve me?"

"No, ma'am," said Joel bluntly, his black eyes fixed on her face. One or two of the gentlemen turned aside with a laugh.

"What, you little beggar!" Mrs. Chatterton said it between her teeth, furious at the amusement of her friends, but Joel heard.

"I'm not a beggar," he declared hotly, and squaring his shoulders. By this time he forgot all about the mail bag. "And you haven't any right to say so"--with flashing eyes.

Mrs. Chatterton, now seeing him worked up, recovered herself and smiled sweetly. She leaned back in her garden chair and swung her parasol daintily back and forth.

"Oh, yes, you are," she declared; "we all know it, so there is no use in your denying it. Well, you get us some ices and be quick about it." She dismissed him with a wave of her beautiful arm, in its flowing, lace drapery.

But Joel did not budge.

"You don't know it." He swept the whole group with his black eyes. "It isn't as she says, is it?"

"No," said one of the gentlemen who had laughed, whirling around to bring a very sharp pair of eyes on Joel's face, "it isn't, my boy."

"Well, I must say," protested Mrs. Chatterton, an angry light coming into her cold eyes, and turning around on him sharply, "that this isn't very friendly in you, Mr. Vandeusen, to pit that upstart boy against me. Now there will be no managing him hereafter."

"Well, but, Mrs. Chatterton," broke in one of the other gentlemen, in a propitiatory voice, and leaning over her chair, Mr. Vandeusen turning calmly on his heel to survey the distant lawns through his monocle, "a beggar, don't you know--well, it isn't the pleasantest thing in the world to be called that, don't you know?"

"Particularly when one isn't a beggar," said a young lady hotly. Then she turned to Joel and laid a hand on his arm. "Don't you mind it," she said.

"And as for you, Miss Tresor, I should consider it wiser for you to be silent." Mrs. Chatterton turned on her with venom. "What do you know about these miserable Peppers that infest my cousin's house, pray tell?"

"I like them," declared Miss Tresor decidedly, not turning her head. "Don't mind it, my lad."

"I don't, now," said Joel. Then the gentlemen laughed again.

"Oh, I must go." All his long neglect of his letter-carrier duties, made so much worse by this delay, now surged over him. He raised his chubby face, over which a smile ran, and bounded off.

"Isn't he a dear!" exclaimed Miss Tresor impulsively.

"Come away, Emily," begged another young lady, seizing Miss Tresor's arm, "the old cat is quite furious; just look at her face."

"We'll leave her to mamma's tender mercies," said Emily carelessly, "she knows how to handle her. Do you remember that scene, Elinor, at Geneva?"

"Don't I!" laughed Elinor, as they sauntered off.

Well, by the time that six o'clock came, there wasn't so much as a scrap of a letter left in Jasper's post office, but, instead, a box crammed full of silver pieces and banknotes. And Miss Mary Taylor and Mr. Hamilton Dyce, and some other young ladies and gentlemen whom they drilled into the service, shut themselves up in the library and wrote as fast as ever they could make their pens fly over the paper, till little white piles appeared on the table. And Percy and Joel and Van and the other boys would rush in for these same piles to put them in the post office, to earn more money, to go into the big box. So back and forth ran these letter carriers, until even Miss Mary threw down her pen.

"I can't write another word," she cried. "I've exhausted everything I can think of. I don't want to see another letter!"

And then a card was put up outside the Wistaria arbor, "Post Office Closed." And everybody who still had money, was anxious to spend it before going home; so it was just lavished on the flower-bowers, the fancy-work table, and the candy shop.

And then, when there wasn't anything more to be bought or sold, the bands moved down nearer to the center of the big lawn, making the gay little groups all move back, leaving a broad, smooth surface, for the affair was to end in dancing on the green.

Meanwhile Grandpapa was gallantly offering his arm to Madam Dyce, and leading her up to an esplanade on the upper terrace, and, word being spread about that all the guests were expected to follow, there they found seats and little tables and a bevy of waiters to serve a delicious supper. And here the dancing on the green below by the young people could be seen in all its gayety, the setting sun casting bright gleams upon the merry scene.

"Dear me! shouldn't you think those young people would be tired enough after all they have worked," observed the old gentleman, leaning back in his comfortable chair, "to sit still and take it easy with us here?"

"No, indeed!" exclaimed Madam Dyce, "my old feet are actually twitching under my gown to dance too."

"In that case," observed old Mr. King most gallantly, "let me lead you down, and will you give me the honor?" He bent his white hair to the level of her hand.

"No, indeed," laughed Madam Dyce; "I will leave the field for the young people. But it carries me back to my youth, when you and I did dance many a time together, Horatio."

"Did we not?" laughed Grandpapa, too. And then up came some merry groups, tired of dancing, after some supper, when down they would go again, fortified and refreshed, to begin it all over once more. At last, even the lingering ones were obliged to say good-bye. The evening had shut in and the brilliant garden party was a thing of the past. The King household was resting and talking it all over on the spacious veranda, luxurious in its cushions and rugs, its easy-chairs and hammocks.

"Oh, it has been so perfectly beatific!" exclaimed Polly, in a rapture. She was curled up on the top step, her head in Grandpapa's lap, who was ensconced in a big chair with Phronsie's tired little face snuggled up on his breast. "Hasn't it, Alexia?" For Alexia was going to stay over night.

"Oh, my!" Alexia gave a sigh and squeezed Polly's hand. "I never had such a good time in all my life, Polly Pepper," she declared. "The poor children won't begin to get the fun out of it that we've had."

"Oh, those dear poor children!" exclaimed Polly, stretching out her toes, which now began to ache dreadfully; "just think how perfectly lovely it's going to be for them all summer, Alexia."

Joel caught the last words. He poked up his head from one of the hammocks.

"Well, I guess Mr. Cabot has helped a poor child to go into the country," he cried, in a pleased tone.

"I guess everybody has helped," observed Ben, "the way your letters went, Jasper! Who would think so many could have been sold!"

Jasper stopped pulling Prince's ears.

"Didn't they go!" he cried, in huge satisfaction.

"I guess you were glad to get that big bill, Jasper," shouted Joel. "My, wasn't he good to send it!"

"Eh?" asked Jasper. Everybody was chatting and laughing, so it wasn't strange that things couldn't be heard the first time. So Joel shouted it again, glad to be allowed to scream such a splendid contribution over and over. "The big bill, wasn't it prime, Jasper!"

"What are you talking about, Joe?" cried Jasper, stopping his play with Prince, as he saw Joel was terribly in earnest over something.

"Why, the big bill I gave you, that Mr. Cabot sent. Hurrah! Wasn't it fine!" Joel kicked up his heels and emitted a whistle that made Polly clap her hands over her ears.

"What big bill?" exclaimed Jasper. "What on earth are you talking about, Joe?"

Joel tumbled out of the hammock and took long leaps across the piazza floor, which landed him in front of Jasper.

"Why, that ten-dollar bill I gave you that Mr. Cabot sent to the post office," he said, in a breath.

"You didn't give me any ten-dollar bill," said Jasper, all in a puzzle; "you've been dreaming, Joe."

"I--I laid it down right by you." Joe could only gasp the words now.

"I didn't see it," said Jasper.