Five Little Peppers and their Friends by Margaret Sidney
X. Trouble For Joel
There was an awful pause, for everybody caught the last words. Joel slid to the floor in a little heap. Mrs. Chatterton spoke up quickly.
"It's easy enough to see where it went," and she gave a little laugh.
"Come on, Joe." Jasper sprang up and shook Joel's arm. "We'll go and hunt for it."
"I'll go, too." Van and Percy screamed it together. Now that any trouble had come to Joel, each vied with the other to see which could work the faster to help matters.
"I laid it--right down. Oh, dear me!" Joel was pretty far gone in distress by this time, and blubbered miserably, as they all raced across the greensward, Polly and Alexia following swiftly. "Hold on there, James," ordered Jasper, to one of the three men busy dismantling the post office of its improvised trimmings of pine branches.
"Eh--eh, sor? Stop, boys," said James to the workmen within the arbor.
"We have lost something," panted Jasper, as the whole group precipitated themselves up to the spot.
"Is that so, sor?" said James, in great concern. "Well, if I'd 'a' known it, I'd 'a' kept a sharp eye out for it, sor." Polly and Alexia were already in the arbor in the thickest of the green branches scattered over the floor, and the boys were picking and pulling wildly, everywhere a banknote could be supposed to hide. "What was it, sor?"
"A banknote," said Jasper, down on his knees, prowling over the floor with both hands, while Joel, who could scarcely see for the tears that streamed down his chubby cheeks, searched desperately on all sides.
"Is that so, sor?" said James, in great distress. "Well now, that's too bad. We've taken off two loads already, sor."
"Where have you put them?" demanded Jasper, springing to his feet.
"Down in the dump, sor."
"We must look that over," said Jasper decidedly. "Send your men with lanterns; don't touch a single thing here, James, I'll come back," and he sprang off.
"No, no, sor," said James, touching his cap. "Now, boys," to the workmen, "you can leave this here; get your lanterns and help the master."
"All right," said the men.
"Polly, you and Alexia keep on hunting, won't you?" called Jasper over his shoulder, as the boys flew off.
"Yes, we will," called back Polly, who would very much have preferred the pleasures of "the dump," a big dell in process of filling up with just such debris as had now been added.
"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Alexia discontentedly, "now we're mewed up here when we might be in that dear old sweet dump, Polly Pepper; and all because we're girls."
"Well, we can't help it," said Polly, with a sigh, who wished very much sometimes that she might be a boy, "so we'd much better keep at work hunting for that ten-dollar bill, Alexia."
"And Joel is so dreadfully careless," said Alexia, determined to grumble at something, and poking aimlessly at the green branches scattered on the floor. "I don't suppose we'll ever find it in all this world, in such a mess."
"We must," said Polly, a little white line coming around her mouth.
"Well, we can't, so what's the use of saying that?" and Alexia gave a restful stretch to her long arms. "Oh, me! oh, my! I'm so tired, Polly Pepper!"
"You know we must find that ten-dollar bill, Alexia," repeated Polly hoarsely, working busily away for dear life.
"Well, we can't; it's perfectly hopeless--so do keep still. Just look at all this." Alexia waved her arms at the green draperies. "I'm going to pull the rest down anyway, though; that'll be fun," and she made a dash at it.
"No, no," said Polly, on her knees on the floor, "we must leave all that till Jasper comes back. Come, Alexia, help me look over these."
"Oh, bother!" cried Alexia, in great disdain, "I don't want to poke over those old things. You know yourself it's no earthly use; we'll never find it in all this world, Polly Pepper."
There was a queer little sound, and Alexia, whirling around, saw Polly Pepper in a little heap down in the middle of the green branches.
"Oh, misery! what have I done?"--rushing over to her and shaking her arms. "Oh, Polly, do get up, we will find it, I'm positively sure; do get up, Polly." But Polly didn't stir.
"Oh, dear me!" wailed Alexia. "Polly, please get up." She ran all around her, wringing her hands. "Oh, what did I say it for! Polly, Polly Pepper, we'll find it, as sure as anything. We can't help but find it. Polly, do get up."
She flung herself down on her knees and began to pat the white face. Polly opened her eyes and looked at her.
"What did you say such dreadful things for, Alexia?" she said reproachfully.
"Oh, I couldn't help it," exclaimed Alexia remorsefully. "There! Oh, dear me! you've scared me 'most to death, Polly Pepper. Do get up." So Polly sat straight, and Alexia fussed over her, all the while repeating, "We will find it, Polly."
"Dear me!" said Polly, "this isn't hunting for that ten-dollar bill."
"Well, what's the use?" began Alexia. "Oh, yes, of course we'll find it," she brought herself up quickly. "Now, Polly, I tell you." She sprang to her feet. "Let's clear a place in this corner"--and she rushed over to it--"and then pick up every branch and shake it, and put it over here. Then we'll know surely whether that horrid thing is on the floor or not."
"So we shall," cried Polly, getting up on her feet; "that's fine, Alexia!" And they set to work so busily they didn't hear when the boys came back from their search. But the first moment she saw Jasper's face, Polly knew that the hunt was unsuccessful, and the next minute Joel threw himself into her arms and hugged her closely.
"Oh, Polly," he sobbed, "it's gone, and it's my fault."
"Cheer up, old fellow," said Jasper, clapping him on the back; "we'll find it yet."
Van and Percy stood dismally by, knocking their heels against the arbor side, and feeling quite sure they should burst out crying in another minute, if Joel didn't stop.
Polly patted his poor head and cuddled it in her neck. "Oh, Joey, we'll find it," she said, swallowing a big lump in her throat; "don't cry, dear," while Alexia sniffed and wrung her hands, fiercely turning her back on them all.
"Now, boys," said Jasper, in his cheeriest fashion, "we'll all set to work on these vines that are left. Come on, now, and let's see who will work the fastest."
"I will," announced Van, rushing over to twitch down the green drapery that had been such a piece of work for the gardeners to put up. Percy said nothing, but set to work quietly, lifting each branch to peer under it.
"Take care," warned Jasper, pausing a minute in his own work to look over at Van's reckless fingers; "you must shake each one as you pull it down, before you throw it out on the grass, else we'll have all our work to do over again. Oh, Alexia, are you coming to help?"
"Of course I am," declared Alexia. "Oh, Van, what a piece of work you are making!"
Polly was whispering to Joel, "We ought to help," when Van gave a shout, "I've found it! I've found it!"
"Hurrah!" Jasper leapt down from the railing and plunged up in great excitement to Polly and Joel. "There, old fellow, what did I tell you?" he cried with glowing face, and clapping Joel on the back again.
"Phoh!" exclaimed Percy, in great contempt, "he hasn't, either; it's only a bit of green paper."
"I thought I had," said Van, quite crestfallen, and flinging down the dingy bit; "it looked just like it."
It was too much; and Joel, who had hopped out of Polly's lap, flung himself on the floor and cried as if his heart would break. They couldn't get him out of it, so Jasper just picked him up and marched off to the house with him to give him to Mother Fisher.
And the next morning, search as hard as they could--and everybody was hunting by that time--not a trace of the ten-dollar bill could be discovered. And Mrs. Chatterton took pains to waylay Joel in the hall or on the stairs at all possible opportunities, and ask him, with a smile at his swollen nose and eyes (for he had cried so he could hardly see), if he had found it yet. But these chances became very few, for it was Jasper's and Polly's very especial business to keep guard over Joel, and try to divert him in every way. Meantime the hunt went on. And the third day, when it became perfectly apparent to the entire household that the banknote was in such a clever hiding-place that no one could find it, Joel, his tears all gone, marched into Mr. King's writing-room and up to his big table, and without a bit of warning burst out:
"I want to sell tin!"
"Eh, what?" exclaimed the old gentleman, looking over his glasses. "What is that you are saying, Joey, my boy?"
"I want to sell tin," said Joel bluntly.
"Want to sell tin!" ejaculated old Mr. King, in amazement.
"Yes, sir, just like Mr. Biggs; he got lots of money. May I, Grandpapa? Please say I may." Joel ran around the writing-table to plant himself by the old gentleman's chair.
"Oh, my goodness!" exclaimed Mr. King, leaning back in dismay, "whatever can you mean, my boy?"
"Grandpapa"--Joel laid a brown hand on the velvet morning-jacket, and brought his black eyes very close to the gentleman's face--"I've got to earn that ten dollars; I've got to, Grandpapa, 'cause I lost it." Joel's voice broke here, but he recovered it and dashed on, "And I can't do it unless you will let me sell tin. Please, Grandpapa dear. Mr. Biggs used to, in Badgertown, you know, and he took me with him sometimes on his cart, so I know how; and I can sell a lot. I can wheel it in my express wagon, and--" Joel by this time was running on so glibly, under the impression that if he didn't stop, Mr. King would be induced to say yes, that the old gentleman was forced to put up his hand peremptorily.
"There, there, Joey, my boy," he said, settling his glasses that had slipped to the end of his nose, and taking Joel's hand. "Now, then, let's hear all about the matter."
And in a minute or two Joel was perched on the old gentleman's knee, and they were having the most sociable time possible. And before long Joel forgot he hadn't laughed for oh, such a long while, and lo and behold! Grandpapa said something so very funny that they both burst out into a merry peal, that rang out into the wide hall beyond.
"Joel is actually laughing," exclaimed Polly, coming soberly down the stairs; and she was so overcome by the joyful sound that she sat right down on the step. "Oh, dear me, how perfectly lovely!" she breathed, folding her hands in delight.
"Isn't it!" Jasper slipped into a seat on the step by her side. "Now everything is going to be fine when Joe can laugh!"
"Just hear him," cried Polly, pricking up her ears to catch the blissful sound, "and Grandpapa, too. Oh, Jasper!"
"I know it," said Jasper, in great satisfaction. "Father has been so pulled down because Joe took it so hard."
"Well, you see, Joel couldn't help it," cried Polly, "because it was careless, just as Mamsie said, to leave anything without handing it to the person."
"Of course," assented Jasper quickly. "Mrs. Fisher is right; but I'm sure any one is likely to do it, and Joel was in such a hurry that day, everybody pulling at him this way and that to get letters."
"I know it," said Polly, delighted to hear Joel's part taken, "and just think how he worked before, Jasper. He helped such a perfect lot getting the flower- table ready."
"He helped everywhere," declared Jasper, bringing down his hand with emphasis on his knee. "I never saw anybody work as Joe did."
"And now to think that he has lost that money!" mourned Polly, her head drooping sorrowfully over her closed hands. "Oh, dear me, Jasper!"
"But just hear him laugh," cried Jasper, springing up; "it's going to be all right now, Polly, I do believe. Come, let's go and hunt some more for the banknote."
So they both flew off from the stairs to begin the search for the money again. For no one stopped--dear me, not a bit of it!--the hunt for the hidden ten- dollar bill. Everybody but Phronsie and little Dick searched and prowled in every nook and corner where there was the least possible chance that the ten- dollar bill could be in hiding. They had both been so sleepy on the evening of the garden party when the loss had been announced, that it fell unheeded on their ears. And afterward all the household was careful to keep the bad news from them. So the two children went on in blissful unconsciousness of Joel's trouble, while the grand hunt proceeded all around them.
When Joel emerged from Grandpapa King's writing-room, he was hanging to the old gentleman's hand and looking up into his face and chattering away.
"You know it means work," said old Mr. King, looking down at him.
"I know, Grandpapa," said Joel, bobbing his stubby, black head.
"And you must keep at it," said the old gentleman decidedly, "else no pay. There's to be no dropping the job, once you take it up. If you do, you'll get no money. That's the bargain, Joe?"--with a keen glance into the chubby face.
"Oh, I will, Grandpapa, I will," declared Joel eagerly, and hopping up and down; "I'll do every single speck of the work. Now do let us hurry and get the book."
"Yes, we'll hurry, seeing our business arrangement is all settled," laughed the old gentleman. "Now, then, Joel, my boy, we'll go down-town and buy the blank book, so that I can set you to work at once," and he grasped the brown hand tightly, and away they went.
And in ten minutes everybody knew that Joel was going to make a list of all the books in a certain case in old Mr. King's writing-room, and that Grandpapa and he were already off down-town to buy a new blank book for the work. And at the end of it--oh, joy!--Joel was to have a crisp ten-dollar bill to replace the one he had lost.