XVII. Joel's Adventure
 

Joel rushed along at a breakneck pace to make up for lost time. How good it was to sniff the fresh air, and to be free, and then to think of that hour put into solid work over the book-list! Why, he glowed all over with delight at the very thought.

"Whoopity-la!" Down the bank of Spy Pond into one of the curves most frequented by the boys of his set, he ran. "My! but I'm glad to get here, though! Hey, there?"

There was no response as Joel dashed into what the boys called their camp, a rough enclosure the wealthy men who owned the pond on the outskirts of the town had allowed to be built. As some of the boys were their own sons, every indulgence in the way of using the pond had been granted, and Mr. Horatio King being the largest owner and the most indulgent, Joel's set, to a boy, decided to call it the "King Camp." It was in a knot of pines, and in the summer was a most attractive place, overrun with vines and creepers and gay with the colored boat- cushions that were always thrown about.

"Hey there!" shouted Joel again, running about within and without the little wooden structure. "Are you all deaf? Hey--whoopity-la!" but nobody answered, save a little bird from the tip of the tallest tree.

Joel stood transfixed with amazement; then he dashed off suddenly down a descent to the little cove. "It must be that they are out on the pond," he said to himself, in vexation, and he craned his neck and peered up and down the shining water as well as he was able for the many curves. "But I don't see how they can be, for Larry's boat is here"--he had dashed up again to the camp--"and Mr. Hersey's, that's the one they would take"--surveying the collection of rowboats and dories drawn up on the beach--"and Webb's father's and Porter Knapp's." Besides, there was a goodly number of others, all in such situations as by no means suggested a party expected to be on the pond at short notice that morning.

"Well, I'm going out, anyway," declared Joel, snapping his fingers, "and catch up with them. Most likely they've taken the fishing-tackle; I won't stop for that." So, pushing off his row-boat, he picked up the oars and headed down the pond in the direction most likely in his mind to overtake them.

But although he pulled lustily at his oars and ran his boat in and out the curves and hallooed and shouted, he didn't catch a glimpse of them; and the pine groves and wooded glens that ran down to the curving bank only echoed his own calls, or sent a bird note out to him. There wasn't the first suggestion of a boy anywhere about.

"Where in the world are they?" cried Joel in vexation, resting on his oars. "Hi- -there they are!" He turned suddenly, knocked against one of the oars, it slipped, and before he knew what it was about, there it was in the water. And to make matters worse, the sound that had filled him with delight proved to be a big, black dog, scrambling through a thicket of underbrush, and coming out to stare at him from the edge of the pond.

"Oh, you beggar!" exclaimed Joel, not to the dog, but to the oar drifting off quickly. It was an easy thing, however, so he thought, to recover it, and he made no special haste to paddle along as best he might after it. Just at this moment another boat came suddenly in sight around a curve. It didn't hold Joel's friends, but a wholly different set, some city boys who had no rights on the pond. And having stolen their opportunity, and helped themselves to a boat down below, they meant to have as good a time as possible, knowing it would probably be their last. So here was a grand chance, a boy alone in a rowboat, and at their mercy, one of his oars drifting off.

"Hi--fellows!" When they saw it, they yelled with glee.

The black dog on the bank, who belonged to them and was following, as best he might, their course, danced about and gnashed his teeth in his rage that he couldn't join actively in the excitement, sniffing at the water and drawing back as it lapped his feet.

"Now then, look alive," cried the one who appeared to be the leader, and the whole crew bent to their oars with a right good will; and grinning all over their faces with the prospect of fun ahead, they made straight for Joel in his boat.

Joel drew himself up, his black eyes flashing, and paddled with all his might. But it was no use; his boat went round and round, or zigzagged along, and in a trice the unlucky oar was seized by the triumphant crew, as it was drifting off into some lily pads, and drawn with a worse yell than ever into their boat. Good luck! here would be easy game!

"Now then!" There was no limit to their delight as they saluted Joel in every conceivable way best fitted to get him worked up. "How are you, snob? Don't you want your oar?" and such things, every boy contributing at least a few selections to the general hubbub, the black dog on the bank emitting shrill, ear-splitting barks of distress.

"Give me back my oar," roared Joel, sitting very straight and unconsciously rolling up his sleeves.

"Hi there! Come on and fight, if you want to," cried several of the crew, with sneers and catcalls, and they brandished the oar at him over their heads, yelling, "Why don't you come on and fight?"

"If you don't give me back my oar," cried Joel angrily, and paddling for dear life toward them, "it 'll be worse for you, I can tell you. My Grandpapa----"

He was drowned in a storm of yells: "Your granddaddy? Fellows, this baby is talking of his granddaddy," and they screamed in derision, snapping their fingers and swinging the oar as high as they could tantalizingly at him.

Round and round went Joel's boat, describing a series of curves, that despite all his efforts only carried him away from his tormentors. What he would have done, had he reached them, hadn't entered his head, his only thought being to get up to them. In the midst of this interesting proceeding, a sharp clap of thunder reverberated over their heads, to be almost immediately followed by a piercing gleam of lightning. It produced the greatest consternation in the boat- load, and a sudden jump on the part of nearly every boy in it, made it careen, then turn completely over, and before they were fully aware, every single one was in the water, screaming and struggling wildly.

In the upset Joel's oar had been carried out, too; and as it happened to drift toward him, he leaned over the side of his boat, managing to reach it with the other one.

"Don't catch hold of each other," he yelled, his mind intent on helping some of them into his boat. But as well talk to the wind. The boys who couldn't swim-- and most of them were in that plight--were grabbing this way and that, to seize upon anything that would give them a support.

"Catch hold of your boat," roared Joel at them. But instead of that, some of them preferred to catch hold of his, the consequence being that it would soon have been upset, had he not screamed at them (and they knew he meant it), "I'll bang you across the head if you try it"--lifting his oar sturdily.

"You fellows who can swim, hold up the others, and I'll take you all off to the bank, if you won't crowd."

And seeing that this was all they could get, and that Joel was as good as his word, one after another was helped in, the others wisely catching hold of the overturned boat--an example speedily followed, till all were either in Joel's boat and rowing quickly off to shore, or hanging to their own craft.

The leader of the crew huddled sheepishly down over his oar, which Joel handed him to do some of the rowing, and he didn't look at the owner of the boat, till, just as they neared the bank, he glanced up suddenly and said:

"Say, you, I s'pose you'll tell on us."

"What do you take me for?" cried Joel, in extreme disgust, and plying his oar briskly. All this time the rain had come down in torrents, till there wasn't much difference between the boys who had been in the water and the one who had kept out, and the lightning played over their heads in unpleasant zigzag streaks, and the thunder rolled and rumbled.

The leader shivered and ducked till he couldn't by any possibility be said to look at Joel.

"Well, I would if I was you." The words came in a burst from a boy supposed to be in such a half-drowned condition that he wouldn't care to take part in any conversation, who was crouched down in the bottom of the boat. "I'd tell every single thing about it." He raised himself and shook his fist at the leader's very face. "If it hadn't been for you, Mike," he said, "we wouldn't have come."

"Don't fight," said Joel, in consternation at any such settling of their differences in his boat; "you'll upset us all."

"Humph!" the boy in the bottom of the boat sneered. "He won't fight, Mike won't," he said.

And really Mike didn't look as if he would, for he crouched and cowered lower yet, till Joel began to say, "Give me the oar," for it wabbled so that it played a small part only in getting the craft to the shore.

"Some other fellow take it," said the boy who had done all the talking. "I would"--he lifted a red and ashamed face--"only my arm----"

"Is it hurt?" asked Joel, rescuing the other oar from Mike, whose nerves seemed to have all gone to pieces.

"D'no; never mind," said the other boy, looking more ashamed still. "Here, Jimmy, you take the oar, and row lively now." So, with Jimmy's help, the boat ran up to the bank.

"There you are," cried Joel, as they were dumped out, to keep company with the big, black dog, who sniffed them contemptuously and walked around their dripping bodies as they sank on the bank. This wasn't the kind of fun he had meant when he followed his master out, and not at all to his taste.

But Joel was just in his element, and when he brought the rest off from the overturned boat, he couldn't conceal his satisfaction.

"Some one has got to tell about that boat." He pointed to the overturned one.

"I knew you would blab." Mike turned, his shame disappearing, to grow red with passion.

"Shut up." It was the other boy that roared at him, who, injured arm or not, could somehow inspire the former leader with fear. "I'm going to tell myself; an' if any of you fellows has got spunk, he'll tell, too." It was such a battle cry that Mike's head went down. He knew as well as afterward that his leadership was gone, and that every one of the crew had gone over to the other boy.

"Hi--yes, we'll tell." If Jack, their new leader, could decide to, they would follow him, and they yelled it out much better than any one would suppose possible after their fright, turning their backs on Mike.

"That's good," said Joel, bobbing his black curls, from which the rain was streaming, at the whole bunch of boys in approval, and taking up his oars he prepared to move off. "If you'll only tell about the boat."

"Oh, I say"--Jack seeing that he was now the recognized leader, was going to do the whole thing up in good shape--"we're much obliged, and who are you, anyway?" he broke off awkwardly.

"I'm Mr. King's grandson," said Joel "Well, good-bye."

"Mr. King's!" Jack gave a roll over and groveled in the wet moss. "Oh, it's all up with us, fellows," he groaned. The black dog, who belonged to him, came and licked him all over, glaring between whiles at Joel, as if he were the cause of the whole trouble. The bunch of boys said nothing, but shivered in silence.

"Well, good-bye," said Joel, as he pushed off, feeling it necessary for some one to speak, "and I hope you haven't hurt your arm much," to the recumbent figure.

"Don't let him hurt these chaps--your grandfather I mean." Jack threw up his head and pointed to the boys. "Only get Mike licked. We'd all of us like that."

"What?" cried Joel over his shoulder, stopping his busy oars.

"Why, when you tell him how mean we used you, don't let him get those chaps into trouble, 'cause----"

"When I tell him!" cried Joel. "What do you mean?"

"Why, of course you'll tell him," blurted Jack. Mike had taken to his heels and was making quick tracks with his sodden shoes through the undergrowth. Things were not going to his taste now.

"See here." Joel made quick passes now with the oars, and brought his boat up alongside the bank. "I'm not going to tell my Grandpapa about what you've done, 'Tisn't any matter."

"You ain't?" cried Jack, getting up so quickly he upset the next boy, who rolled over the big, black dog. "Great Scott! You ain't going to tell the old gentleman?"

"No," said Joel, "I don't care anything about it; you didn't hurt me any."

"Well, if I ever!" It was all that Jack, the leader, could get out. And Joel, seeing there was nothing to wait for, set to work again, and presently amid the rain and the lightning gleams, his boat was only a little speck on the surface of the pond, as viewed by the group of boys on the bank.