Chapter XX. Straightening Out Affairs.
 

Two days after, old Mr. King was walking over the college campus, bound for Joel's and David's room in the "Old Brick Dormitory."

"I am glad I sent Jasper ahead to the hotel; I much rather pop in on the boys by myself," soliloquized the old gentleman in great satisfaction. "Ah, here it is," beginning to mount the stairs.

"Come in," yelled a voice, as he rapped with his walking-stick on the door of No. 19, "and don't make such a piece of work breaking the door down--oh, beg pardon!" as Mr. King obeyed the order.

A tall figure sprawled in the biggest chair, his long legs carried up to the mantel, where his boots neatly reposed; while a cloud of smoke filling the room, made Mr. King cough violently in spite of himself.

"'Tis a nasty air," said the tall young man, getting his legs down in haste from the mantel, and himself out of the chair, though with much difficulty; "take a glass of water, sir," hobbling over to a side table, and pouring one out, to work his way with it to old Mr. King.

"Thank you," said the old gentleman, when he could speak, and accepting it quickly, "you say truly, the air is beastly," glancing around the room in displeasure at the plentiful signs of its inmates' idea of having a good time at college. "Are Joel and David Pepper soon to be in?" As he spoke, he lifted up the cover of a French novel thrown on the lounge near him, and dropped it quickly as he read the title.

"Hey? oh! I see--a little mistake," exclaimed the tall youth, going unsteadily back to his chair. "Their room is 19, in the extension. I am Robert Bingley, sir."

"I'm very glad," cried old Mr. King heartily, "for I don't mind telling you, my young friend, that I shouldn't want Joel's and David's room to look like this."

"I don't blame you in the least, sir," said Bingley, nowise abashed, "but you needn't worry, for the Peppers aren't my kind. You must be Grandfather King?" he added.

"Yes, I am," said old Mr. King, straightening up, and throwing back his white hair with a proud gesture. "So you've heard about me?" he asked, in a gratified way.

"I should rather think we had," said Bingley, "why, all of us know about you, sir." Here he got out of his chair again. "You won't care to, after you know all, but I should like to shake hands with you, sir."

"Most certainly," responded the old gentleman heartily, "although your room isn't to your credit." Thereupon he bestowed a courtly hand-shake upon the young man, with the utmost cordiality, making Bingley, who seemed to have a good deal of trouble with his legs, to retreat to his chair in a high state of satisfaction.

"It was mean of me to ask you such a favor, sir," said Bingley, gazing up at the ceiling, "before I had told you all, but I couldn't help it, some way, and I knew you wouldn't touch my hand after you'd heard. Well, I was one of a gang who went to Joe Pepper's room last week for the purpose of lamming him."

"You went to Joe Pepper's room for the purpose of lamming him?" repeated old Mr. King, darting out of his chair.

"Yes, sir"--Bingley still kept his gaze glued to the ceiling--"but we didn't do it, though; Joe lammed us."

"Oh!"

"So the rest of the gang are going for him to-night; I'm not able to," said Bingley, trying to appear careless.

"Joel to be in such business--how could he!" fumed old Mr. King. "A gentleman--and I thought so much of his turning out well. It will kill his mother--oh, how could he?" turning fiercely on Bingley.

"See here, now," cried that individual, tearing his gaze from the ceiling, to send a sharp glance at the white-haired old gentleman, "Joe is all right; straight as a brick. You can bet your money on that, sir."

"Oh--oh!" cried Mr. King, more and more horrified, "is this what you all come to college for? I should consider, sir," very sternly, "it a place to keep up the dignity of one's family in, and that of such a venerable institution," waving both shapely hands to include the entire pile of buildings by which they were surrounded.

Bingley gave vent to an uncontrollable laugh. "Beg pardon, sir, but the dignity isn't worth a rush. We are in the old hole, and all we look out for is to have a good time, and scrape through."

"Old hole--and scrape through! Oh, dear--oh, dear!" groaned old Mr. King.

"That's what our set do," said Bingley, to give him time to recover, "Joe and Davina--ah, I mean David--don't train in our crowd; the other one, Whitney"--

"Don't tell me that he does," interrupted Percy's grandfather sharply. "It wouldn't be possible."

"No, he doesn't affect us," said Bingley coolly, "it's all he can do to take care of those eyeglasses of his; and he'd muss his clothes. Whitney is something of a softy, sir."

Old Mr. King drew a long breath of relief. But he looked so troubled, that Bingley for the life of him couldn't keep up his assumed carelessness.

"Sit down again, do, sir," he begged involuntarily, "and I will tell you all about it," and Mr. King, resuming his chair, presently had a graphic account of Joel's course in college, with a description of the trouble in his room, till the whole thing was laid bare.

"How I wish I had been here to see my boy," exclaimed the old gentleman, with sparkling eyes; "I might have helped him a bit." He stretched out a handsome fist and looked at it as admiringly as any college athlete could view his own. "Well," dropping his arm, "I am interrupting you, Mr."--groping for the name.

"Bingley, sir."

"Ah, yes; Bingley. Well, Mr. Bingley, pray go on. Did you not say that another attempt was to be made on my grandson?"

Bingley nodded. "To-night after he comes from the Association rooms," he added.

"We shall see--we shall see," exclaimed the old gentleman drily, in a manner that delighted Bingley and made him tingle all over to "be in at the death" himself.

"Dobbs has planned it to"--

"Dobbs?" interrupted the old gentleman sharply, "what family? Not the Ingoldsby Dobbs, I trust"--

"This chap's name is Ingoldsby Dobbs," said Bingley; "he's a high-flyer, I tell you! Lives up to his name, I suppose he thinks."

"Oh, I'm so sorry," mourned Mr. King; "I have known his father ever since we were boys; he's capital stock. Well, go on, Mr. Bingley, and let me know what this young rascal is up to," he added, with extreme irritation.

"He is going to have his men close in on Joe in the middle of the park. Pepper often comes that way to 'Old Brick'--short, you know, for 'Old Brick Dormitory'--with a poor miserable cuss--excuse me, sir--he's trying to get up on to sober legs. There are twenty fellows pledged to do the job, I've found out."

Bingley didn't think it worth while to mention how the plan was discovered, nor that heavy vengeance was vowed upon his head if he divulged it.

"I gave it away to Whitney. I couldn't get at Davi--er, Dave, to see if it wasn't possible to keep Joe away from that meeting."

"It would come some time--it better be to-night," said the old gentleman briefly. "Well, is that all?"

"Yes, sir; only that they are to toss a cloak over Joe's head, and carry him off for a little initiation fun."

"Ah!" Old Mr. King sat quite straight. "Thank you, Mr. Bingley," he said, getting out of his chair. He didn't offer to shake hands, and Bingley, though pretending not to notice any omission of that sort, felt considerably crest-fallen about it.

The moment the door was shut and he heard Mr. King go down the stairs, Robert Bingley ran his fingers through his hair, giving a savage pull at the innocent locks.

"Curse my luck!" he growled, taking out the angry fingers to shake them at his legs, "tied here by these two beggars, and he thinks that I'm sneaking out of standing up for Joe!"

Old Mr. King fumed to himself all the way down the stairs, becoming more angry with each step. When he reached the lower hall he turned and passed through the building instead of going out, and meeting a young collegian on a run, asked, "Have the goodness to tell me, sir, does Mr. Ingoldsby Dobbs room in this building?"

"No. 23-4-5 in the extension," said the undergraduate, not slackening speed, and pointing the direction. So the old gentleman climbed the staircase to the wing, and presently rapped on the door marked 23.

Uproarious shouts of laughter greeted him as he opened the door in response to a loud "Come in!" The noise stopped as suddenly as it was possible for the inmates of the room to check it when they saw the visitor, but not before "We'll season Pepper well and make the deacon howl!" came distinctly to his ears.

"Good afternoon, young gentlemen," said old Mr. King, bowing his white head; and holding his hat in his hand, he advanced to the table, around which sat six or eight of them. "I beg of you not to go," as some of them made a sudden movement to leave; "I should like to see you all, though I called especially upon Mr. Ingoldsby Dobbs."

A tall, wiry youth with sallow face and high-bred nose, disentangled himself from the group and came forward. "I don't remember where I have met you, sir," he said, yet extending his hand, with his best manner on.

"Aristocratic old party," whispered one man to his neighbor, "Dobbsey needn't be afraid to claim him."

"I am very thankful to say I never have met you before, young man," observed Mr. King coolly, not seeing the slender hand waiting for his, "your father honors me with his friendship. This may tell you who I am," and he threw a card upon the table.

Young Dobbs' sallow face turned a shade paler as he picked up the card and read it.

"Glad to see you--sit down, won't you?" he mumbled, dragging up a comfortable chair. "Any friend of father's is welcome here," he went on awkwardly, while the rest of the men stared at him, one of them exclaiming under his breath, "First time Dobbs' cheek deserted him, I'll wager."

The old gentleman looked first into Ingoldsby Dobbs' thin face, then surveyed them all quite leisurely. "I understand you paid my grandson, Joel Pepper, a call a short time since, when instead of abusing him, some of you got your deserts."

The men started, and angry exclamations went around the room: "He's turned coward, the mean sneak! We'll pay him up!" and remarks of a like nature being quite audible.

Old Mr. King turned on them. "Silence!" he commanded. "My grandson Joel doesn't know I am here. I heard the story since my arrival. If any one says one word against him, I'll cane him from the top of the stairs to the bottom," and he looked as if he could do it.

"'Twas Bingley, then," said Dobbs sullenly.

The old gentleman completely ignored him, addressing his words to the crowd. "There are four men in this class who are going to be protected from your insults. Those are my three grandsons and Mr. Robert Bingley; and this is to be done without appealing to the college authorities either. That puts a stop to your fine plan, Mr. Dobbs," at last looking at him, "and any other idea of the same sort your fertile brain may chance to think up. The first intimation of any hostility, and your father and the fathers of these men here with you," waving his hand at them all, "and of the others in this interesting plan, will be informed, and you will be dealt with exactly like any other disturber of the peace--villains in college or out of it ought to be served to the same punishment, in my opinion. Now have any of you remarks to make?"

It was so like Joel's invitation to "Come on and have it out now," that not a single man of them stirred.

"Then I will have the pleasure of bidding you good-by," said Mr. King, and the next moment he was outside of No. 23, while perfect silence reigned within.

Polly came slowly down Mrs. Higby's front stairs and looked at Phronsie standing at the further end of the entry.

"What's the matter, Phronsie?" at last she asked.

For the first time in her life Phronsie seemed unable to answer Polly, and she stood quite still, her gaze fastened on the big-flowered muslin curtain that swung back and forth in the breeze that came through the open window.

"Now, Phronsie," said Polly very decidedly, and going up to her, "you must tell me what the matter is."

"I can't," said Phronsie, in a low tone, "don't ask me, Polly."

"Can't tell me everything?" cried Polly. "Dear me, what nonsense, Phronsie. Come now, begin, there's a dear."

"But I am not to tell," persisted Phronsie, shaking her head. Then she drew a long breath, and looked as if she were going to cry.

"Who has been telling you things?" cried Polly, her brown eyes flashing, "that you are not to tell? It is Mrs. Cabot. I know it is, for there is no one else here who would do it."

"Don't ask me," pleaded Phronsie in great distress, and clutching Polly's gown. "Oh, don't say anything more about it, Polly."

"Indeed I shall," declared Polly. "No one has a right to command you in this way, and I shall just speak to Mrs. Cabot about it."

"Oh, no, no," protested Phronsie, huddling up closer to Polly in dismay; "please, Polly, don't say anything to her about it, please"

"Mamsie wouldn't ever allow you to be annoyed about anything," said Polly, with increasing irritation, "and if Mrs. Cabot has said anything to you, Phronsie, to make you feel badly, why, I must know it. Don't you see, child, that I really ought to be told?"

Phronsie folded her hands tightly together, trying to keep them quiet, and her cheeks turned so very white that Polly hastened to put her well arm around her, saying quickly, "There, there, child, you needn't tell me now if you don't want to. Wait a bit."

"I had rather tell it now," said Phronsie, "but oh, I do wish that Grandpapa was here," she added sadly.

"Whatever can have been said to you, Phronsie?" exclaimed Polly in dismay. "You frighten me, child. Do tell me at once what it was."

"Jasper isn't going to be at Mr. Marlowe's any more," said Phronsie, with distinctness.

"Jasper isn't going to be at Mr. Marlowe's any more." repeated Polly wildly, and holding Phronsie so closely that she winced. "Oh, what do you mean! who has told you such nonsense?"

"Mrs. Cabot," said Phronsie; "she told me this morning--and I was not to tell you, Polly. But I did not promise not to. Indeed I didn't."

"What perfect nonsense!" exclaimed Polly, recovering herself, and trying to laugh, "well, Phronsie, child, didn't you know better than to believe any story that Mrs. Cabot might tell? How in the world could she know of Jasper's affairs, pray tell?" and she laughed again, this time quite gaily.

"Ah, but," said Phronsie, shaking her head, "she had a letter from Mr. Cabot; it came in this morning's mail; she opened it and said out loud this dreadful thing about Jasper, and then she saw me, and she said I was not to tell you."

Polly dropped Phronsie's arm and rushed down the hall.

"Where are you going?" cried Phronsie, hurrying after--"Oh, Polly!"

"I am going to make Mrs. Cabot tell me everything she knows," said Polly hoarsely, and not looking back; "she shall let me have every syllable. It can't be true!" She threw wide the door of Mrs. Higby's "keeping-room" where that lady was engaged in putting a patch on the chintz-covered sofa, and talking gossip with a neighbor at the same time.

"I thought as this was a-going so fast, Mr. Higby sets it out so, and we were all so comfortable to-day, I'd get at it kinder early," said Mrs. Higby apologetically; "anything I can do, Miss Polly?" she asked, flying away from her patch, and dropping her scissors on the floor.

"No," said Polly, turning back hastily. "Never mind, Mrs. Higby."

"Now 'twas something you wanted me for," cried Mrs. Higby, ambling toward the door, "I ain't a mite busy, Miss Polly; that old patch can wait. La! I can tell Mr. Higby to set on the other end till I get time to attend to it. What was it, Miss Polly?"

Polly turned back, Mrs. Higby's tone was so full of entreaty. "Oh, nothing, only if it isn't too much trouble, would you ask Mrs. Cabot to come down stairs a moment, I want to see her."

"Oh, cert'in," cried Mrs. Higby, ambling off toward the stairs. And presently Mrs. Cabot in a pink morning gown came down the hall toward Polly, and put both arms around her.

"What is it, dear?" she asked caressingly.

"Come out of doors," begged Polly, "I can't breathe here. Come, Mrs. Cabot."

And Mrs. Cabot, her arms still around Polly, was drawn out to the old porch, Phronsie following. Then Polly shook herself free.

"Is it true?" she began--"I made Phronsie tell me--that Jasper," she caught her breath, but went on again hurriedly, "has left Mr. Marlowe?"

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Mrs. Cabot in consternation, "what shall I do? Yes; but I wasn't to tell you; Mr. King is coming back. Do wait, Polly, and ask him about it."

"I shall not wait," declared Polly passionately, facing her. "Tell me all you know, Mrs. Cabot; every single word."

"I don't know a thing about it," cried Mrs. Cabot in a frightened way, "only Mr. Cabot writes that Mr. King has made Jasper leave Mr. Marlowe. That's all I know about it, Polly," she added desperately, "and I wish Mr. Cabot had been asleep before he wrote it. Phronsie, oh! get a glass of water; be quick, child!" as Polly sank down on the old stone floor of the porch.