XIX. Joel's New Friend
 

But no Joel "bright as a button and gay as a lark" came in sight. Instead, at a corner they were turning rapidly, Mr. King in desperation giving the order to drive to one of the boys' houses most likely to attract Joel's attention this morning, Thomas came to an abrupt halt that nearly threw the horses back on their haunches.

"What are you about there?" he cried in vexation. "Can't you keep out from under the horses' heels, I'd like to know?"

The boy thus addressed paid not the slightest attention to the irate coachman, but advanced to the carriage door. He seemed to have something the matter with his arm that would evidently have given him a good deal of bother had his mind been on anything but the desire to attract Mr. King's attention.

But that gentleman, violently jolted by the sudden pull-up of the horses, not being in the best frame of mind, called out testily, "Bless me, what is the man stopping for? Drive on, Thomas," and looked directly over his head.

Seeing which, the boy clambered up the carriage step and hung on with one hand, but so much determination was in his eyes that old Mr. King fumed out: "Make the scoundrel get down, Jasper."

"What do you want?" asked Jasper, trying to make it as pleasant as possible, before the more summary treatment set in.

"I've got to speak to him," said the boy. Thomas, gathering up the reins in one hand and the whip in the other, looked around with fury in his eye. "Shall I give him a lick?" he asked.

"No, no," said Jasper hastily, "keep quiet, Thomas."

"I've nothing to say to you," cried Mr. King in his most pompous way, and with a stately wave of his hand, "so take yourself off, boy."

"Father--" began Jasper, in a distressed tone.

"And be quick about it." The old gentleman fairly roared it out. "Thomas, drive on."

That functionary, with a very dissatisfied expression that he hadn't been allowed to use his whip when he got it all ready so nicely, now cracked it at the horses. The boy, with one hesitating glance at Jasper, slid off the carriage-step down to the street, and yelled defiantly up into Mr. King's face as the brougham spun off:

"I was going to tell you where your boy is."

"Father!" exclaimed Jasper, with a white face, "he must know where Joel is. Thomas, Thomas, stop!" For Thomas, having no other way to vent his vexation, took it out in driving as fast as possible, so he didn't hear what was going on in the coach.

"Eh?" Mr. King was saying in bewilderment. At last Jasper succeeded in getting his wishes known, and once more the horses were jerked back, for the summons was quick and sharp.

By this time the boy was off, and although Jasper peered this way and that, he could see nothing of the old blue cap that had adorned the head thrust over the carriage door.

"He knows something about Joel, Father, you may depend," persisted Jasper; "we must find him."

Frick, who had been ready to cry, all huddled down in his corner, now sat straight, for it didn't seem to be just the time for tears, and in a minute he had scrambled past Mr. King, and hopped out.

"I'm going to find him," came back on the air, as he shot off.

"Do you wait here, Father," said Jasper, following him, and leaping out, "and we'll get the boy."

But the boy, quite willing to tell whatever story there was on his mind when he jumped on the carriage step, was now of a different mind, and he ran like a deer, first down one street then another. At last, finding himself pursued by some one not at all inclined to easily give up the chase, it suddenly dawned on him that his blue cap might possibly be a means of tracing his course. So he twitched it off and tucked it under his well arm. This made it more difficult for Jasper, whose footsteps were fast gaining on him, to follow him accurately, and for the first time a horrible moment came to the pursuer when he thought that after all the boy might escape; but Frick, who had seen Jasper's nimble progress around a corner, ran down a side street, then across a garden, and came plump into the face of the boy.

"Here he is," cried Frick, the breath almost knocked out of him by the encounter. He had grasped whatever he could first lay his fingers on and held to it firmly. It proved to be the arm for which the boy had not appeared to have much use.

Once caught, the boy gave a groan, then started to run. Frick being smaller, it might be an easy matter to shake him off, even with only one available arm.

"No, you don't get away this time," said Frick, for the tall boy had him in hand now, and was marching him back to the carriage at a pace much more comfortable for all concerned. "What have you to tell us?" he was being asked.

"I would have told you then," said the boy doggedly. He couldn't help but show some suffering in his face, and Jasper, looking down to see its cause, found one arm hanging in a very peculiar manner. "You've hurt your arm," he said abruptly. "Frick, take care"--to the boy, not at all particular what he took hold of if he only got a good grip.

"Well, he shan't get away," said Frick decidedly, nipping up the end of the jacket nearest to him.

"How did you hurt your arm?" asked Jasper. Despite all his anxiety about Joel, and an awful feeling that in some way an accident had occurred that had enveloped them both, he looked into he face beneath him with real concern.

"None of your business," the boy was going to say, but instead he turned away his face, then brought it back, and defiance was written all over it. "He sassed me, that old fellow in the carriage. Did you s'pose I'd tell him after that?"

"He's dreadfully anxious," said Jasper, ignoring everything else. "You see, Joel's been gone in all this storm, and we don't know anything in the world where he is."

"I do," said the boy.

"Then, if you do"--Jasper stopped suddenly and brought his keen dark eyes to bear on the rough, defiant face--"I just hope you will tell me. And I know you will," he added, after a pause in which Frick fastened his gaze on them both wildly, luckily without discovering any use for his tongue.

The boy swallowed hard, dropped his eyes for a moment, then looked up.

"He was out on the pond."

"Out on the pond!" echoed Frick, and his hand nipping the jacket-end fell nerveless to his side.

"No one told you to speak," said the boy sharply, turning on him, "so you shut up."

"But what was he doing out on the pond in such a storm?" asked Jasper. His lips were white, but he didn't allow his eyes to waver, for it was better to have the whole story before getting back to his father.

"It didn't rain till after we'd had the row," said the boy.

"Had the row?" It seemed an eternity to Jasper, for Joel perhaps even now might be in peril, before the next question was answered, "What row?"

"Yes," said the boy, as if he were going to add, "Well, what are you going to do about it?" The next moment, he had made up his mind to tell all there was to tell. It wasn't exactly clear why, but he was giving the account in a very few words, leaving it where it ended with his seeing Joel rowing off down the pond.

And presently the two who had hopped out of the carriage, with the new boy and the one who had thrust his head in over the door, were seated in the brougham, and Thomas had turned his back on the city streets and was driving off at a furious pace for Spy Pond.

Frick collapsed now and mumbled distractedly, "Oh, dear! now Joel's----" what, he didn't trust himself to say. "And Larry's 'most killed, and----"

Jasper interrupted him sharply, "What do you say, Frick?" for it was the first hint of anything gone wrong with any of the other boys.

Then out came that story to add to the general misery, and old Mr. King sat very straight and kept saying, "Bless me! Tell Thomas to drive faster," and "Oh, bless me!" again, as he glanced over at the boy.

But no Joel. They pranced, the horses did, shaking off the rain from their wet manes, around as much of the pond as was adapted to carriages, and Jasper and Frick got out and explored the rest, at least wherever Joel would be supposed to put into port, the boy holding up the arm that appeared not to be in its usual condition and going along, too, yet unable to add any information to his original statement. At last: "Probably Joel's gone home"--it was all Jasper could do to get the words out of his white lips.

Without a word old Mr. King sank back, and waved his hand, which meant "Yes," settling down amongst the cushions hopelessly, while their faces were turned homeward.

"Hullo!" Unmistakably Joel's voice, and there he was, wet and dirty, and waving frantically from a side street for them to stop, as he made his best time to the corner.

Jasper threw wide the door. "Joe!" he cried. Thomas pulled up again, the horses by this time having become so well accustomed to this method of bringing up that they did it quite well, and there was a great to-do in the coach.

"I've been calling and calling," panted Joel, blowing like a porpoise, and running up with red cheeks, "and you wouldn't stop," he added in a very injured way.

"Well, we didn't hear you, you beggar," cried Jasper. "Come, get in with you"-- putting out both hands to assist in the process. "Where have you been, Joe?" for old Mr. King was beyond talking.

"I've been--" began Joel, glad enough to hop in; "why, where--" as his black eyes fell on the boy in the corner.

Frick had tried to swarm all over him, but Joel put out an unsteady hand.

"I came to tell," said the boy, seeing he was expected to say something.

"Oh, don't," cried Joel involuntarily; "'tisn't any matter; I don't care."

"Well, it's all out, Joe," said Jasper affectionately, who couldn't stop patting his back. Frick flew over to the opposite side and let Joel snuggle up to the old gentleman. "I'm here, Grandpapa," he said happily.

"Oh, bless me! Yes, my boy!" said old Mr. King brokenly, and fondling the little brown hands. "Well, we must get you home and out of these wet clothes as soon as possible. I don't know what your mother will say. Oh, dear me, Joe!"

"Pooh!" cried Joel, "I'm not wet."

"You're wet as a drowned rat, Joe," declared Jasper, bursting into a laugh, which was such a relief to all concerned that in a minute it really seemed like a pleasure excursion. But Joel pulled himself up.

"Oh, I'm going to see what's the matter with Jack's arm," and he leaned over and put his hand on it.

"Nothing," said Jack, trying to pull it away, but Joel held on.

"Tis, too," he said. "You're going to have it fixed. Grandpapa, won't you take him to Doctor Fisher's office? Please do."

At this Frick pricked up his ears. "Doctor Fisher isn't----"

"Frick," began Jasper desperately, "look out and see if it rains."

Frick stared in amazement, and even Joel bobbed his head over at Jasper.

"Why, doesn't it rain on your side?" he cried, his black eyes very wide.

"Never mind; do as I tell you," said Jasper, nowise disconcerted. So Frick reported that it did rain; and then Jasper began to talk so fast that Joel had no time to get in a word at all, although he tried with all his might.

"See here," he shouted at last, and his voice rang clear above every other noise, "can't we take him to Doctor Fisher's office--can't we, Grandpapa? Make Thomas turn about and take us there"--he fairly howled it now.

"And Doctor Fisher won't be there," screamed Frick, on just as high a key.

"Why not?"

It was impossible to stop the dreadful news of Larry's accident from coming now. And in a minute Frick had it all out in a burst, quite unconscious of Jasper's efforts, and well pleased at having something important to say.

"Larry's been run over by Mr. MacIlvaine's tallyho, and 'most smashed to death."