Chapter XIV. Joel.
 

Joel threw down his books in an uneasy way. "I must give it up; there's no other way," he exclaimed.

"Halloo, Joe!"

"You here?" cried Joel, whirling in surprise. "Come out of your hole, Dave," peering into the niche between the book-shelves and the bed. "What are you prowling in there for?"

"Oh! my cuff-button rolled in here somewhere," said David, emerging crab-wise, and lifting a red face. "Give us a hand, Joe, and help pull out the bed. Plague on this room for being such a box! There!" with an impatient shove.

Joel burst into a fit of laughter, and then stared; it was such an unusual thing to see a frown on David's placid face. "What's come over you, any way? Stand out of the way; I'll have this bed over there in a jiffy," rolling it into the center of the small room as he spoke.

David sprang to one side lightly. "Whew! what a dust you kick up," he cried, snapping his clothes gingerly.

"So you are in your best toggery," exclaimed Joel, standing straight, his labors over the bed being completed.

"Yes, I'm going to the Parrotts' to dinner," said David, hurrying off for the whisk broom to remove the last speck of dust from his dress suit. "Of course you've forgotten it, Joe, though I don't suppose you'd go, any way."

"No, I wouldn't go, any way," said Joel, tossing back his black locks from his forehead. "You forget, Dave, it's the Association night."

David let another little frown settle on his face. "No, I didn't forget that, Joe, but I do wish you'd think it possible to take a Thursday evening off once in a while for the sake of your friends, if for no other reason."

"Well, I can't," said Joel, getting down on all-fours to hunt for the button, "so don't let's go over old arguments. Where in time is that thing? oh"--and he came up bright and shining to his feet, holding the button between his thumb and finger. "My compliments to you," presenting it to David. "There, stick it in before it gets lost again, and hurry off; you look pretty as a pink."

"Stop your nonsense, Joe," cried David sharply, who hated being reminded of his girlish beauty. "Well, I'll make the usual excuses for you. Good-by," and not forgetting to pick up his walking stick with his hat, he ran off on his way to the florist's for the boutonniere that must go on before he presented himself at the Parrotts' dinner party.

Joel shoved back the bed into position with one long thrust that would have been a godsend to a lagging boat crew; then dashed to the table and sat down, doggedly throwing open the first book that came to hand.

"I'd rather chop wood," he exclaimed in the old way, leaning his head on his hands. "Whew! weren't those good days, though, in the little brown house, when we had all outdoors to work in!" He dropped his arms to pinch the muscles of one with his other fingers. "Isn't that beautiful?" he said affectionately. Then he swung them over his head, tilting back his chair restfully.

"What did Mamsie say?" he cried, bringing the chair down with a remorseful thud. "'I'd work myself to skin and bone but I'd go through creditably.' Here goes!"

And by the time that Davie was handing in Miss Lulu Parrott to dinner Joel clapped together his last book, threw on his hat, and rushed out to a hasty supper at Commons, en route to the Christian Association meeting.

Little Perkins ran up to him at the close of the meeting. "Stop a bit. Pepper, do," he begged; "Johnson's gone back to his cups, and we can't do anything with him."

A cloud fell over Joel's face. "Where is he?" he asked.

"Oh, in the little room back. He won't show his face here, and yet he can't keep away, he says. You must get your hand on him, Pepper," and Little Perkins hurried off.

Joel dashed into the "little room back." "How d'ye, Johnson?" putting out his hand "Come out for a walk, do; why, this room is stifling."

"I can't," said Johnson miserably; "you don't know, Mr. Pepper, I've been drinking, or you wouldn't ask me."

"Nonsense--but I would, though," said Joel sharply. "Come out, I say, Johnson; it's enough to make you drink again to stay in such a room."

Johnson not getting out of his chair, Joel went in and laid hold of his arm. "It's no use, Johnson," he said, "I can't talk to you here; it's too hot and close. And I do want a walk, so let's have it together. There, button up your coat," as they were well out in the hall, and Johnson flung his hat on his head with a reckless hand.

As they hurried down the steps they ran against a crowd of college boys. Johnson shrank up miserably against the stone fence, and tried to look as small as possible. Glances of recognition passed, and Joel spoke to right and left as the boys went by. But a few hisses, low and insistent, were all he got.

"Do let me go," begged Johnson, still hugging the fence, "you can't save me; and they hate you enough for such work."

"Come on!" roared Joel at him, and plucking him off from the fence with a determined hand.

"It's time we went for him," said one of the college boys, with a backward glance at Joel and his companion, "the Deacon is absolutely insulting. The idea of his speaking to us."

"Let's have it over to-night," said another. "What do you say?" to the others.

"Where's Davina?" asked another.

"Oh, Pink-and-White is out dining," said the first voice. "My pretty little girl is safe at the Parrotts'."

"Sure?"

"As a gun. Met him with a posy in his button-hole, and sweet as a little bud himself, and he told me so."

"All right. He'll stay away late, then; the Parrotts always have music or a dance after their dinners. Come on." The last speaker rolled up his sleeves, and boxed imaginary rounds in a scientific manner in the air.

"Agreed?" the tall fellow who proposed it looked over the whole crew. "Do you all want to have it done to-night?" as they came to a standstill on the pavement.

"Yes--yes."

"Hush--that cop is looking. Move on, will you? Now, not a man of you backs out, you understand; if he does, he gets worse than the Deacon will. All right."

  "We're all such jolly good fellows,
  We're all such jolly good fellows"--

Everybody smiled who passed them singing their way down town.

"It always does me good to hear those students sing. They're so happy, and so affectionate toward each other," said one lady, hanging on her escort's arm.

He, being a college man, said rapturously, "Oh yes!"

Joel, back in his own room, threw himself in his easy chair, first turning down the gas. "Just so much less of a bill for Grandpapa. Our debt is rolling up fast enough without burning up the money. Dear me, if Johnson drinks after this, I shall be in despair." He threw up his long legs, and rested them on the mantel, while he thrust his hands in his pockets, to think the better.

A knock at the door. "Come in!" called Joel, not looking around, till a rushing sound of feet trying to step carefully, called him out of himself.

"Now--now!" Two or three swifter than the others, darted for the chair, but Joel was not in it. On the other side of it, looking at them, his hands out of his pockets, he stood, saying, "What do you want?"

"Oh, come, Pepper, it's no use," said a tall fellow, wiry and agile, "too many against you in this little call. Come along," and he advanced on Joel.

"You come along yourself, Dobbs," said Joel pleasantly, and holding up a fist that looked hard to begin with, "and you'll get this; that's all."

"Come on, fellows!" Dobbs looked back and winked to the others. "Now!" there was a shoulder-to-shoulder rush; a wild tangle of arms, followed by a wilder tangle of legs, and Joel was through the ranks, his black eyes blazing, and tossing his black hair from his forehead.

"Do you want some more?" he cried, flirting his fists in the air, "or will you leave my room?"

"Lock the door!" "Get up, Bingley," and, "Stop your roaring." "No, we'll give it to you now, and no mistake." "If you won't come quietly, you shall some way, Deacon."

These were some of the smothered cries.

"Now!" and there was another blind rush; this time, over Bingley, who didn't heed the invitation to get up.

Joel, watching his chance to reach the door, had no time before they were on him, and he heard the key click in the lock.

"It's for Mamsie now, sure--and for Polly!" he said, setting his teeth hard. On they came. But Joel, in rushing through as before, was so mindful of stepping over Bingley carefully, that it lost him an instant; and a grasp firm as iron, was on his arm. The others rallied, and closed around him.

"Unhand me!" yelled Joel, beating them off. But he might as well have fought tigers, unless he could knock off, with cruel aim, the one hanging to his arm. It was no time to mince matters, and Joel, only careful to avoid the face, struck a terrible blow that felled Dobbs flat.

"Now will you go?" roared Joel, aghast at what he had done, yet swinging his arms with deadly intent on either side, "or, do you want some more?"

There lay two valiant fellows on the floor. The rest drew off and looked at them.

"You'll pay for this, Deacon," they declared under their breath.

"I suppose so," said Joel, still swinging his arms for practice; "probably you'll wait for me with kindly intent some dark night behind a tree, as you know I don't carry a pistol. Why don't you have it out now? Come on if you want to."

But no one seemed to want to.

"There'll be a row over this," said one or two, consulting together; "as long as those thin-skinned fellows don't get up," pointing to the floor, "we must wait." Suddenly the door was unlocked, and the whole crew stampeded.

"See here," cried Joel, bounding after them, "come back and take care of your two men."

But the crew disappeared.

Bingley lifted his head feebly.

"Just like Dobbs," he said, "get us into a scrape, and then cut."

"Hush--don't say anything," said Joel, rushing frantically back, "I think he's dead--oh, Bingley, I'm sorry I hurt you too."

He was rapidly pouring water into the basin, and dashing it into Dobbs' unconscious face. "I must go for the doctor," he groaned. "Bingley, he can't be dead--do say he isn't!" in a flood of remorse.

Bingley managed to roll over and look at his late leader. "He looks like it," he said; "I shouldn't think you'd be sorry, Pepper."

"Oh!" groaned Joel, quite horror-stricken, and dashing the water with a reckless hand, feeling like a murderer all the time.

"Bingley, could you manage to do this?" at last he cried in despair. "I must run for a doctor, there's not a minute to lose."

"I wouldn't go for any doctor," advised Bingley cautiously; "see; his eyelids are moving--this row will be all over town if you do."

But Joel was flying off. "Come back!" called Bingley, "I vow he's all right; he's opened his eyes, Pepper."

Joel turned; saw for himself that Dobbs was really looking at him, and that his lips moved as if he wanted to say something.

"What is it, Dobbs?" cried Joel, throwing himself down on his knees by Dobbs' side.

"Let him alone, and help me up," said Bingley crossly, "I'm hurt a great deal more. He's tough as a boiled owl. Give us a hand, Pepper."

But Joel had his ear down to Dobbs' mouth.

"Where are the fellows?" asked Dobbs in a whisper.

"Gone," answered Joel, briefly.

"Gone--and left me here like a dog?" said Dobbs.

"Yes," said Joel.

"They couldn't wait, my friend," observed Bingley sarcastically, "for people of such trifling consequence, as you and I."

"The deuce! you here, Bingley?" exclaimed Dobbs, in his natural voice, and trying to get his head up.

"Oh, you are coming to, are you?" said Bingley carelessly. "Well, Dobbs, I think you better get on your feet, and help me out, since Pepper won't; for I vow I can't stir."

"Oh, I'll help you," declared Joel, getting up to run over and put his hands under Bingley's arms, paling as he exclaimed, "I didn't mean to hurt you so, Bingley, on my honor I didn't."

"And you didn't," said Bingley, wincing with the pain, as Joel slowly drew him to his feet; "it wasn't your stinger of a blow, Pepper, but some of those dastardly cads stepped all over me; I could feel them hoofing me. There, set me in that chair, and I'll draw a long breath if I can."

"Now, I shall go for a doctor," declared Joel, setting Bingley within the easy-chair, and making a second dash for the door.

"I tell you, you will not," cried Bingley, from his chair. "Wait a minute, till I see where I'm hurt. I'm coming out of it better than I thought. Come back, Pepper."

"Really?" Joel drew off from the door, and looked at him.

"Yes; go and take care of Dobbs; he was only shamming," said Bingley, leaning his head comfortably on the chair-back. Dobbs already was on his feet, and slowly standing quite straight.

"Sure you don't want any help?" asked Joel, putting out his hand.

"Thanks, no," said Dobbs scornfully, not looking at the hand, but making for the door.

"Let him alone, Pepper," advised Bingley; "a mean, low-lived chap like that isn't hurt; you couldn't kill him," as Joel looked out anxiously to watch Dobbs' progress along the hall, at last following him along a bit.

"He's in his own room, thank fortune," exclaimed Joel, coming back, "and I suppose I can't do any more. But oh, I do wish, Bingley, it hadn't happened."

Joel leaned his elbow on the mantel, and looked down at the easy-chair and its occupant.

"Perhaps you'd rather be lying there," said Bingley, pointing to the floor, "instead, with a flopper under your ear, like the nasty one you gave me, Pepper."

"I am so sorry for that, too," cried Joel, in a fresh burst of remorse.

"I got no more, I presume, than was good for me," said Bingley, feeling the bump under his ear. "And don't you worry, Pepper, for your mind must be toned up to meet those fellows. They'll be at some neat little game to pay you up for this, you may rest assured."

"I suppose so," said Joel indifferently. "Well, now are you sure I can't do anything for you, Bingley?"

"Sure as a gun," said Bingley decidedly; "I'm getting quite limbered out; so I'll go, for I know my room is better than my company, Pepper," and he dragged himself stiffly out of his chair.

"Don't go," said Joel hospitably; "stay as long as you want to; I should be glad to have you."

Bingley turned a pair of bright eyes on him. "Thank you," he said, "but Davina will be in soon, and things will have to be explained a little, and I'm not quite up to it to-night. No, I must go," moving to the door; "I don't feel like making a pretty speech, Pepper," he said, hesitating a bit, "or I'd express something of what's on my mind. But I think you understand."

"If you want to do me a favor," said Joel steadily, "you'll stop calling David, Davina. It makes him fearfully mad, and I don't wonder."

"He's so pretty," said Bingley, with a smile, and wincing at the same time, "we can't help it. It's a pity to spoil that lovely name."

"But you must," declared Joel, growing savage; "I tell you, it just ruins college life for Dave, and he's so bright, and leads his class, I don't see how you can."

"Oh, we're awfully proud of him," said Bingley, leaning heavily on the table, "of course, and trot him out behind his back for praises and all that, but when it comes to giving up that sweet name--that's another thing," he added regretfully. "However, I'll do it, and make the other fellows, if I can."

"Good for you!" cried Joel gratefully. "Good-night, Bingley; sure you don't want any help to your room?"

"Sure," declared Bingley, going out unsteadily and shutting the door.

Joel threw himself on his knees by the side of the easy-chair, and burrowed his head deep within it. "Oh, if I only had Mamsie's lap to lay it in," he groaned, "and Mamsie's hands to go over it."

"Joe--Joe!" David flung wide the door, "where are you?" he cried.

Joel sprang to his feet.

"Here's a telegram," said David, waving a yellow sheet at him. "I just met the boy bringing it up. The folks were going to see Jasper--on a surprise party; something happened to the cars, and Polly has her arm broken--but that's all," delivered David, aghast at Joel's face.

"Polly? oh, not Polly?" cried Joel, putting up both hands, and feeling the room turn around with him.

"Yes, Polly," said David; "don't look so, Joe," he begged, feeling his own cheeks getting white, "it's only broken--it can't be bad, for we are not to go, Grandpapa says; see," shaking the telegram at him.

"But I shall go--we both must," declared Joel passionately, beginning to rush for his hat behind the door; "the idea--Polly hurt, and we not to go! Come on, Dave, we can catch the midnight train," looking at his watch.

"But if it makes Polly worse," said David doubtfully.

Joel's hand carrying the hat to his head, wavered, and he finally tossed the head-gear into the nearest corner. "I suppose you are right, Dave," he said helplessly, and sinking into a chair.