XIV. "Can't Go," Said Joel
 

"Joel--where are you?" Frick Mason raced in, to encounter Polly in the wide hall. "Oh, dear me!"--not pausing for an answer--"all the boys are waiting for him outside. Please tell him to hurry, Polly," for Joel's friends always felt if they could only get Polly on their side, they were sure of success, and he shifted his feet in impatience.

"I don't know in the least where Joel is," said Polly, pausing in her run through the hall. She had promised Alexia to be over at her house at nine o'clock, and there it was, the big clock in the corner stated plainly, five minutes of that hour. "Oh, dear me! I wish I could help you," and she wrinkled up her brows in distress.

Frick sat down on one of the big, carved chairs and fairly whined:

"I've chased and chased all about here, and no one knows where Joel is. Polly, do find him for me," and he began to sniffle.

"Oh, I can't," began Polly impatiently, then she finished, "Dear me! Why, I don't know in the very least where Joel is, Frick!--not the leastest bit in the world."

"Oh, yes, you can find him," said Frick, sniffling dreadfully, and beginning to wheedle and beg. "Do, Polly." He seized her gown. "The boys can't do anything without Joel, and they've sent me for him."

"And I'm sure I can't do anything"--Polly shook her gown free--"so there's no use in asking me to stand here and talk about it, Frick Mason. And just look at that clock--two minutes of nine." She pointed tragically up to the big clock. "And I promised to be at Alexia's--" The last words came back to him as she disappeared out to the veranda and down the steps, racing off as hard as she could.

Frick got off from his chair, took three or four steps hopelessly, then stiffened up.

"I'm going to find him," he announced to himself, and turning down the angle, he knocked at the first door on the left.

"Hullo!" exclaimed Joel, unlocking the door and opening it.

"Oh, you're here." Frick seized him on both sides, wishing he had twice the number of hands to employ; then he tried to run in, but Joel shook off the grasp, pushed to the door, only leaving the scantiest space to allow of conversation.

"You can't come in," he said steadily.

"Hold on! don't shut the door," cried Frick, pressing up closely and still endeavoring to get a good grasp on some of Joel's clothing. "Ow! you 'most smashed my nose, Joel Pepper."

"You must take your nose away then," said Joel decidedly, "for I'm going to shut the door if you scrouge so."

"Well, let me come in," said Frick, struggling violently. "Say, Joel, don't shut the door."

For answer Joel slammed to the door, and the key clicked in the lock.

"I said I'd do it, if you scrouged and pushed, and I must," he answered, with the air of a man performing his duty. "This is my Grandpapa's writing-room, and you mustn't come in, Frick Mason."

Frick slid down to the floor and laid his mouth alongside the crack, with the feeling that his message would be more impressive delivered in that way, since he was not to be admitted to the apartment to give it in due form.

"The boys want you, Joel; they're all waiting for us outside. Hurry up." Having delivered it, Frick got up to his feet in a hurry, confident that the door would be flung wide, to let Joel come hopping out in delight, and not choosing to be run over in the process.

"Can't go," said Joel, in muffled accents, on the other side of the door.

"What?" roared Frick, not believing his ears.

"Can't go," repeated Joel. "Go right away from this door."

"What did you say?" Frick slid to the floor again and beat his hands on the polished surface. "Say, Joel, we want you to come. We're all waiting for you, don't you understand?" He kept saying it over and over, under the impression that if he only repeated it enough, the door would open.

"And I say I can't go," declared Joel, in a high, wrathful key. "If you don't go away and let this door alone, I'll come out and pound you."

"We're going to the pond," said Frick, exactly as if responding to the most cordial request to furnish the plan. "We've got Larry's boat, and Webb is going to take his father's, and----"

"Ow--go away!" roared Joel, in an awful voice.

"And we're going to take our luncheon and stop at Egg Rock, and----"

The door flew open wildly, and Joel leaped out over Frick, flattened on the floor.

"Didn't I tell you to let me alone?" cried Joel, on top of the messenger, and pommeling away briskly, "Say, didn't I tell? Say, didn't I tell you?"

The noise all this made was sufficient to bring Jane, who didn't stop to drop her broom.

"My goodness me, Master Joel!" she said, running down from the stair-landing, "what are you doing?"

"Pommeling him," said Joel cheerfully, and not looking up.

"Well, you stop it this minute," commanded Jane, waving her broom over the two figures, for by this time Frick had managed to roll over and was now putting up quite a vigorous little fight in his own defense.

"I can't," said Joel; "I promised him."

"Oh, dear me!" cried Jane, bringing her broom down smartly on as much of the surface of either boy as was possible. "I'll scream for Mrs. Fisher if you don't stop, you two boys. I will, as true as anything!"

"Oh, no, you mustn't, Jane," said Joel. His brown fists wavered in the air and described several circles before they fell at his side; seeing which, Frick slipped out from underneath him and began to belabor Joel to his heart's content. "You mustn't, Jane," howled Joel.

"Now will you come." he cried. "Say, hurry up, Joe, we're all waiting. Come on!" His nose was quite bloody, and a dab here and there on his countenance gave him anything but a pleasing expression.

"Ugh!" cried Jane, with a little shiver. "You boys get right straight up from this floor, or I'll tell Mrs. Fisher."

Joel seized her apron string and howled:

"Jane, don't!"

"Yes, I will, too, Master Joel," declared Jane, twitching away the string; "for such carryings on, I never see. Oh, here's Mr. King; now he'll take care of you both," and she skipped upstairs, broom and all.

It was useless to try to slip away unperceived, for old Mr. King bore down upon them along the hall in his stateliest fashion.

"Dear me! what have we here?" as both boys slunk down as small as possible. "Why, Joel!"--it was impossible to convey greater astonishment in his tone--"I thought you were steady at work."

"So I was," cried Joel, stung to the quick; and jumping to his feet, he fairly beat the old gentleman's arm with two distressed little palms, "and he made me come out. I said I would pound him, and I had to. Oh, Grandpapa, I had to," and he pranced wildly around the tall, stately figure.

"Keep quiet, Joe," said the old gentleman, with a restraining hand; "and, Frick, get up. Oh, dear me!"--as Frick obeyed, bringing his interesting countenance to view, by no means improved by his efforts to wipe off the smears. "What have you boys been about?"

"He wouldn't come out," said Frick, rubbing violently all over his round cheeks, "and the boys sent me for him, and they're waiting now," he finished, with a very injured air.

"Eh--oh! and so they sent you for Joel?" said the old gentleman, a light breaking over his face.

"Yes, sir," said Frick, with a final polish to his countenance on the cuff of his jacket sleeve, "and won't you please make Joel hurry up and come out, sir? We've waited so long."

"And is that the way you respond to your invitations, my boy?" said Grandpapa, with a grim smile. "I shouldn't think you'd receive many at this rate. So you fell upon him because he asked you to go somewhere, eh?"--with a keen glance into the black eyes.

"No, sir." said Joel, "but he wouldn't go away, and I told him if he didn't, I'd come out and pound him. So I had to."

"Um--now let us see," said the old gentleman, reflecting a bit. "So you kept on at the door, eh, Frick?"

"Yes, sir," said Frick, giving up his countenance as a bad job. "I had to, 'cause the boys are waiting, you see, sir. Won't you please make Joe hurry up and come?"

"Well, now, Frick, I really believe you better go out and tell those boys that when Joel gets ready to join them, he'll make his appearance. Good-bye, Frick." Grandpapa waved him off sociably, and Frick, not exactly understanding how, or why, found himself on the other side of the big front door, in the midst of the waiting company from which he had been picked out as messenger.

"I wouldn't make such a promise again, if I were you, Joel," observed old Mr. King, gathering up the small, brown hand in one of his own; "it might be a little awkward to keep it, you know. Now, then, here we are,"--turning in at the writing-room. "Well, say no more, but fly at your task," and he seated himself in the big chair before the writing-table and took up his pen.

Thus left to himself, Joel went slowly over to the set of shelves in the alcove, from which Frick's summons at the door had called him. There were several volumes on the floor, and a blank book and some sheets of paper, showing clearly Joe's favorite method of setting to work on making lists, while sprawled on the carpet with all his paraphernalia around him. He threw himself down amongst it all, prowled around for his pencil, which, suddenly dropped when he had deserted his task, had taken the opportunity to roll off by itself. Now it added to his discomfiture by hiding.

"Plague take it!" He scowled, a black little frown settling on his brow. "Where is it?"--prowling around frantically on the carpet, with hasty hands.

"What is it, Joe?" Old Mr. King, though apparently very busy over at the writing-table, seemed to be quite well aware of everything that went on in the alcove.

"I've lost my pencil," announced Joe, in a dismal voice.

"Oh, well, that's not so bad as it might be," said the old gentleman; "come over and get another, and by and by you can find your own."

Joel advanced to the writing-table and put out a hand for the pencil, which the old gentleman laid within it, but not before he had taken a good look at the chubby face above it.

"So Frick and the boys wanted you, eh?" asked Grandpapa carelessly. "Going somewhere, maybe?"

"Yes," said Joel, not looking up, "they are going to the pond."

"Oh, really?" said old Mr. King. "And you said no, eh, Joel?"

"Yes," said Joel.

"I suppose you didn't want to go, eh, Joel?" said the old gentleman carelessly, and playing with his paper knife.

Joel's black eyes flew wide open, and he raised his head to stare into Grandpapa's face.

"Oh, yes, I did, awfully."

"Then why didn't you go?" asked Grandpapa, just as carelessly, and giving the paper knife an extra twirl or two.

Joel took his gaze off, to regard the pile of books over on the alcove floor.

"Oh, your work?--is that it, Joel?" asked the old gentleman. "So you thought you'd rather stay and finish your hour on it, eh, my boy?"

Joel squirmed uneasily. "I hadn't rather," he said at last, "but I'd got to."

"Eh?" said old Mr. King.

"I said I'd work an hour and not stop," said Joel, as something seemed to be required of him, the old gentleman waiting for him to finish.

"You mean you'd made the bargain to do this work and you couldn't back out?" said Grandpapa.

Joel looked up and nodded quickly.

"Yes, sir."

"Oh, yes. Well, now, I mustn't hinder you from your work"--old Mr. King turned briskly to his writing again--"or I shall be as bad as Frick--eh, Joel?" and he laughed gayly. "Now trot back and go at your task again."

So Joel, fortified with his pencil, marched back to sit on the floor in the alcove and take up his interrupted work, and Grandpapa's pen went scratching busily over the paper, and nothing else was heard except the buzzing of a big fly outside the window, venting his vexation at his inability to get in.

Meanwhile Frick and the knot of boys had drawn off in astonishment and dismay at the failure of their plan to get Joel Pepper into the delightful expedition.

"What was he doing?" demanded more than one boy.

"I don't know," said Frick; "I couldn't get in."

"Oh, now I know; he's got some secret," said Larry Keep, and he whirled around in vexation and snapped his fingers.

"Maybe it's a flying-machine," suggested another boy.

"Phoo! he couldn't make that in his grandfather's writing-room," said Larry, in derision, yet he looked anxious. Suppose Joel Pepper were really busy over such a splendid thing as that and hadn't told him. "Guess something else."

"I can't think what it is," said Frick, sitting down on the curbstone to become lost in thought--an example to be speedily followed by all the boys, till finally there was a dismal row of them, without a thought remaining of having the expedition on the pond, since Joel Pepper wouldn't come with them.